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 research and development (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 the 2021 selections of the TCF. WPTO has selected three projects in 2021, all focused on developing different applications of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s (PNNL) patented Superhydrophobic Lubricant Infused Composite (SLIC) technology. SLIC provides antifouling performance, durability, and decreased hydrodynamic drag without using toxic materials that can help prevent biofouling of water power civil works in both freshwater and marine environments.
- Enhancing Lifetime and Reducing Costs for Fish Diversion Netting Structures: Fish diversion netting in the United States is not protected with biofouling resistant coatings and presents a fundamental challenge for hydropower owner/operators’ operations and maintenance (O&M) costs. PNNL will work with a number of project partners (including WPTO’s Fish Passage Prize finalist Prometheus Innovations) to adapt and demonstrate SLIC’s antifouling capabilities for flexible fibrous structures commonly used in fish diversion. Through both lab and field-based testing in freshwater and seawater commercial environments, PNNL will evaluate the performance of SLIC to reduce biofouling of netting and anchor lines to enable longer operational lifetimes, reduced costs, and more reliable operations for fish diversion structures.
- Scale up, Field testing, and Optimization of Nontoxic, Durable, Economical Coatings for Control of Invasive Mussels at Hydropower Facilities: Invasive mussels present a significant monetary challenge for the hydropower industry, with annual O&M cost estimates ranging between $100M-$1B/year. Traditional antifouling coatings have been less viable in recent years due to environmental restrictions and poor efficiency at lower water flow velocities commonly seen around hydropower structures. Leveraging insights from their 2018 Topic 1 award as well as industry connections made through participation in the Energy I-Corps Program, PNNL will conduct extensive field testing with partners such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation to validate the performance of SLIC in freshwater environments and to build further trust with the hydropower industry. Topic 2 will also prioritize lab testing with industry partners to verify SLIC’s ability to meet industrial and consumer product performance needs such as shelf life and cure time, and to ultimately encourage interest in technology transfer.
- Scale up, Field testing, and Optimization of Nontoxic, Durable, Economical Coatings for Control of Biofouling and Corrosion on Marine Energy Devices and Facilities: PNNL’s second Topic 2 award applies a similarly structured lab and field-based testing methodology but specifically focused on marine environments. Fouling and cleaning requirements within the maritime industry create significant safety concerns and are a key source of O&M costs, accounting for in upwards of 15% of total marine energy system costs. SLIC has the potential to not only reduce the levelized cost of energy for marine energy devices, but to also reduce hydrodynamic drag and fuel consumption for many different maritime devices. Key project objectives include final lab-based performance tests to measure SLIC’s saltwater-based durability, friction, and compatibility with other paint and primer types. The team will also work with coatings industry partners to co-develop blends of SLIC with solvents, curing agents, binders, and pigments to assess tensile strength, shelf life, cure time, and any impact on other performance metrics. PNNL’s Marine and Coastal Research Laboratory and project partner Taylor Shellfish Farms will also provide needed field test sites as part of the project.
DOE's Office of Technology Transitions announced the 2020 selections of the TCF. WPTO funded four projects in 2020, including several with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), as well as one co-funded with the Wind Energy Technologies Office.
- Deep learning for fish identification from sonar data: American eels are vulnerable to hydropower turbine mortality during outmigration from inland waters to the sea. Due to the protracted nature of outmigration, cost-effective monitoring requires a high degree of automation for efficient data analysis. Imaging sonar is an effective technology for fish migration monitoring. PNNL will work to develop the software tools and supporting data sets—which started under a previous WPTO-funded PNNL project with the Electric Power Research Institute—to develop machine learning tools for automating the identification of eels with sonar data. Core project tasks include building a sonar image database of eels and non-eel objects, developing an image classification algorithm as a software tool, and establishing a user-friendly graphical interface to automatically identify and enumerate eels site passage.
- Optimization of the autonomous sensor fish device for understanding interactions of aquatic animals: PNNL’s Sensor Fish is a small autonomous device filled with sensors that analyze the physical stressors that fish experience when passing through or around dams and other aquatically located structures. Licensed to Advanced Telemetry Systems in 2019, PNNL continues to develop new methods of optimizing the design and applications of the Sensor Fish. This award will focus on developing three new forms of the device: (1) an autonomous Marine Sensor Fish to study interactions of aquatic animals with marine energy technologies; (2) two versions of a Flexible Sensor Fish design with embedded sensors to characterize blade strike testing for hydropower turbines; and (3) optimization and commercialization of the Sensor Fish Mini for small hydro deployment and physical model testing.
- Optimization and commercialization of the juvenile eel/lamprey acoustic transmitter and micro-battery: Since 2015, PNNL has been developing the smallest acoustic fish transmitters in the world, which have been designed to provide hydropower facility owners and operators the information needed to develop effective strategies for improving the environmental performance of their facilities. This TCF project will focus on optimizing an injectable micro acoustic transmitter designed for tracking and analyzing two sensitive species in American Eel and Pacific Lamprey. Primary tasks include optimizing the design by enhancing firmware, improving frequency accuracy, improving acoustic signal strength, and reducing the size of the transmitter; optimizing and commercializing the devices’ micro-batteries by conducting two trial runs of battery production; and developing an advanced manufacturing process for the transmitter.
- Advanced drivetrain lubricants for enhanced reliability in harsh conditions: Wind power plant operation and maintenance requirements represent a significant portion of costs throughout industry. Many limiting factors stem from insufficient protection provided by the current state of the art in materials and lubricants relative to harsh operational conditions on drivetrains (a challenge similar to that facing many marine energy developers today). Argonne National Laboratory has developed and patented a new class of nanotechnology-based lubricant that is capable of forming protective layers on contacting surfaces that are thicker and more robust than current lubricant technology. Argonne will work with several project partners, including GE Renewable Energy and Exxon Mobil Corporation, to optimize this new lubricant for drivetrain applications, conduct custom benchtop testing for rapid performance evaluation, and execute full-scale drivetrain testing and field trials. While the target market for this award is the wind industry, this lubricant has potential for marine energy applications in the future.
DOE’s Office of Technology Transitions announced its 2019 TCF 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.