The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Technology Transitions, and the Technology Transfer Coordinator, oversees the expenditure of DOE technology transfer funds and is responsible for implementing the Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF) authorized in section 1001 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The TCF leverages R&D funding in the applied energy programs to mature promising energy technologies with the potential for high impact. It uses 0.9% of the funding for the Department’s applied energy research, development, demonstration, and commercial application budget for each fiscal year from the Office of Electricity, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, and Office of Nuclear Energy. These funds are matched with funds from private partners to promote promising energy technologies for commercial purposes.
The goal of the TCF is two-fold. First, it is designed to increase the number of energy technologies developed at DOE’s national labs that graduate to commercial development and achieve commercial impact. Second, the TCF will enhance the Department’s technology transitions system with a forward-looking and competitive approach to lab-industry partnerships.
DOE’s Office of Technology Transitions announced its 2019 TCF—a program that transitions research and development (R&D) funding to applied energy programs to advance promising technologies with the potential for impact across industry—selections. Among the selections are four WPTO projects with PNNL, NREL, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
- Autonomous acoustic receiver systems for 3D tracking and monitoring real-time fish survival: PNNL’s project focuses on two technologies that will augment the lab’s Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System (JSATS) which uses the smallest acoustic transmitters in the world with receiving systems to remotely track fish. The laboratory will develop a fully functional prototype of its Real-time Autonomous Acoustic Detection System which will estimate fish movement in near real-time to optimize hydropower operations. Additionally, PNNL will advance its Machine Learning Autonomous Tracking System, which allows for 3D acoustic-tagged fish tracking. PNNL will collaborate with commercial autonomous acoustic receiver vendor Advanced Telemetry Systems Inc. (ATS) throughout prototype development.
- A miniaturized long-life low-frequency acoustic transmitter for fish tracking in marine environments: Partnering with ATS, PNNL will pilot a small, long duration acoustic transmitter that can be used to track the three-dimensional location of marine animals. The new prototype is similar to the transmitter currently used in the JSATS model for hydropower, but will be adjusted for lower frequencies in marine environments. Advancing technologies to better track and understand the movements and behaviors of marine mammals, fish, and other protected species is crucial to the development of the marine energy industry.
- Significant Cost Reduction Potential for Wave Energy Conversion Devices with Variable Geometry Modules: Supported by research from University of Massachusetts Amherst, NREL will design, model, and test a bottom-fixed variable-geometry oscillating surge wave energy converter (VGOSWEC). Similar to how wind turbines adjust the pitch of their blades when faced with increasing wind speeds, this technology is designed with variable geometries that can change shape when interacting with waves. This design has potential to not only reduce capital costs through reduction of materials and load on WECs, but can also be adapted for a variety of different types of wave energy devices.
- Autonomous Benthic Macroinvertebrate and Larval Fish Imaging and Identification System: In collaboration with OceanSpace Sensors, ORNL will lead the development of a new hardware and state-of-the-art software prototype capable of automatically imaging and classifying benthic invertebrates and fish who dwell at the bottom of their aquatic environments. This technology could replace the need for labor-intensive and costly manual review of organisms in biological monitoring. ORNL will work with OceanSpace to advance the current Zooplankton Optical Imaging System prototype toward imaging and classifying accuracies greater than 95%.
DOE announced over $20 million in funding for 64 projects supported by OTT TCF. With additional matching funds from the private sector, these projects will advance promising commercial energy technologies developed at DOE National Laboratories and strengthen partnerships with private sector companies to deploy these technologies to the marketplace. Three water power projects were selected for funding.
- Lab-on-a-Fish transmitter: PNNL will develop and prototype an acoustic Lab-on-a-Fish transmitter that can monitor the behavior and physiology (e.g., motion, pressure, temperature and heart rate) of a tagged aquatic animal. The transmitter will be capable of transferring current and historical sensor data to receivers, which will provide valuable information for long-term animal behavior studies. Because the Lab-on-a-Fish can provide locations of tagged aquatic animals, it can also function as a sensor for remotely calculating specific river conditions. Data generated from tools like this can be a major asset for acquiring or reapplying for a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission operating license, which requires evidence that dam operations do not significantly impact fish populations or endangered species.
- Super-hydrophobic lubricant infused composite material: Biofouling and corrosion from invasive mussel species can present operational and environmental challenges to hydropower systems as well as marine energy infrastructure. With TCF funding, PNNL and BioBlend Renewable Resources, LLC, of Illinois—a leading producer of environmentally-friendly lubricants—will develop and demonstrate nontoxic, durable, and economical coatings known as super-hydrophobic lubricant infused composite (SLIC) material. The lab's proprietary coating will reduce colonization and attachment through a renewable, abrasion-resistant and slippery antifouling surface. PNNL will utilize research facilities operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and by the Bureau of Reclamation in addition to lab's Marine Science Laboratory over the course of one year to refine and mature the coatings for future commercialization.
- Cold spray repair technique: Cavitation occurs when air bubbles form and breakdown due to rapid pressure variations in water moving through a turbine, which can lead to turbine material erosion and efficiency loss. Standard modes of equipment restoration, such as arc welding, can result in additional impacts to turbines due to heat and melting as well as delays in operation. PNNL has developed a cold spray repair technique, which involves high velocity dispersal of metal particles to a damaged area to create a weld with potential for improved hardness and wear resistance. Funding from TCF will enable optimization of the material used in the cold spray as well as the procedures for application and evaluation of the technology. Additionally, PNNL will conduct field tests in collaboration with Oregon-based Bonneville Power Administration's Technology Innovation Program on a damaged hydropower turbine currently operated by Idaho Power.
DOE announced $19.7 million in funding to help businesses move promising energy technologies from DOE’s National Laboratories to the marketplace. This second Department-wide round of funding through the OTT TCF will support 54 projects—including hydropower—across 12 National Laboratories involving more than 30 private-sector partners. The TCF works to expand the commercial impact of DOE’s portfolio of research, development, demonstration, and deployment activities.
- Commercialization of Sensor Fish Technology to support hydropower development: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), has been working diligently on a diverse set of tools to better understand and mitigate the impacts of hydropower development on its surrounding environment. Over the past 15 years, PNNL has developed and improved a small device called the Sensor Fish that measures the physical forces fish experience as they pass through hydroelectric facilities such as dam turbines and spillways. The Sensor Fish provides researchers with quick, reliable feedback on changes in pressure, acceleration, strain, turbulence, and other forces as the neutrally-buoyant device moves through hydro facilities—providing a close picture of what the fish would experience.
DOE announced nearly $16 million in funding to help businesses move promising energy technologies from DOE’s National Laboratories to the marketplace. This first Department-wide round of funding through the TCF will support 54 projects—including hydropower—at 12 national labs involving 52 private-sector partners. The TCF is administered by OTT which works to expand the commercial impact of DOE’s portfolio of research, development, demonstration and deployment activities. In February of 2016, OTT announced the first solicitation to the DOE National Laboratories for TCF funding proposals.
- Solid State Processing for Improved Performance of Current and Next-Generation Hydropower Components: Materials science applications may reduce the cost of deploying new hydropower or extend the lifespan of existing hydropower projects. State-of-the-art techniques developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory can reduce the number and duration of outages and replace dated techniques that risk damage to ancillary systems. The goal of this project is to kick start the U.S. hydropower industry’s use of solid-state processes to dramatically enhance the performance and service life of new and repaired hydropower components.