October 05, 2011


News and Events


Maryland Tops U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011

Photo of a compact modern home.

The University of Maryland’s first place entry in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011.
Credit:Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu declared the University of Maryland the winner of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 on October 1. Purdue University took second place in the competition, and New Zealand (Victoria University of Wellington) garnered the third-place award in the 19-team event. The public event ran from September 23 to October 2 on the National Mall’s West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C.

Team Maryland, runner-up in 2007, entered WaterShed, which proposed solutions to water and energy shortages, and was inspired by the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. Their team’s entry was judged the best blend of affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. En route to the top prize with a score of 951 out of a possible 1,000 points, Maryland took first place in the architecture contest and tied for first in the hot water contest, which requires a daily 15-gallon draw of water in 10 minutes or less for bathing or washing. They also took second in the market appeal contest, which considers livability, and in the appliances contest, which measures how efficiently they refrigerate food and power washing machines, dryers, and dishwashers. See the Solar Decathlon blog.

On September 30, Solar Decathlon organizers corrected the affordability contest results after discovering a minor error in the scoring spreadsheet calculations. The new numbers changed the outcome of the juried contest, which used a professional estimator and gave teams a maximum score for achieving a target construction cost of $250,000 or less. With its E-Cube more accurately valued at $249,568.09, Team Belgium (Ghent University) moved into the tie for first place with Parsons the New School for Design and Stevens University (which includes Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at The New School). The cost estimation of Parsons NS Stevens did not change. Purdue University, which had been awarded first place earlier, dropped into second, as the value of its INhome was estimated at $257,853.70 instead of $249,568.09. See the Solar Decathlon blog.

The Solar Decathlon, launched in 2002 and organized by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is a free opportunity for the public to learn how to save energy and save money. It also trains the nation’s next generation of engineers and architects with approximately 15,000 students participating in the contest over the past decade. Teams this year came from universities in California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia, as well as Belgium, Canada, China, and New Zealand. For more results, see the Solar Decathlon final scores and the Solar Decathlon website.

DOE Awards $156 Million for Groundbreaking Energy Research Projects

DOE announced on September 29 awards of $156 million for 60 cutting-edge research initiatives under DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) agency that are aimed at dramatically improving how the United States produces and uses energy. The new ARPA-E selections focus on accelerating innovations in clean technology while increasing U.S. competitiveness in rare earth alternatives and breakthroughs in biofuels, thermal storage, grid controls, and solar power electronics. The selected projects are located in 25 states, with 50% of endeavors led by universities, 23% by small businesses, 12% by large businesses, 13% by national labs, and 2% by nonprofits. This round of selections brings the total of ARPA-E awards to date to 180 projects, 12 program areas, and $521.7 million.

Ten of the selections are part of the new Plants Engineered to Replace Oil category, which has projects seeking to create biofuels from domestic sources such as tobacco and pine trees for half their current cost, making them cost-competitive with fuels from oil. For example, the University of Florida—Gainesville will increase the production of turpentine, a natural liquid biofuel isolated from pine trees. The type of pine tree developed for this project is designed to increase the turpentine storage capacity of the wood, upping turpentine production from 3% to 20%. Another 14 projects are part of the Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies category, which is designed to fund early-stage technology alternatives that reduce or eliminate the dependence on rare earth materials by developing substitutes in electric vehicle motors and wind turbines.

Additionally, 15 projects in the High Energy Advanced Thermal Storage section aims to develop revolutionary cost-effective thermal energy storage technologies. Among them, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will pursue its HybriSol thermal energy storage device, or a heat battery, that captures and stores energy from the sun to be released onto the grid later. Fourteen projects in the Green Electricity Network Integration area will explore innovative control software and high-voltage hardware to reliably control the grid network. Finally, seven projects will collaborate with DOE’s SunShot Initiative under the Solar ADEPT program, which focuses on integrating advanced power electronics into solar panels and solar farms to extract and deliver energy more efficiently. See the DOE press release, the list of projectsPDF, and the ARPA-E website.

DOE Finalizes Seven Loan Guarantees Covering Solar, Bioenergy Projects

Photo of a large farm tractor in a field.

Biofuels from biomass harvested in farm fields such as this one are one energy source boosted by the latest DOE loan guarantees.

DOE announced between September 28 and September 30 that it finalized seven loan guarantees totaling more than $5.9 billion for solar energy projects in California and Nevada, as well as a bionenergy project in Kansas.

DOE announced five loan guarantees for photovoltaic (PV) projects. It finalized a $1.237 billion guarantee to support the 250-megawatt (MW) PV California Valley Solar Ranch Project, sponsored by SunPower Corporation, in San Luis Obispo County, California. The department also finalized a partial guarantee for a $1.4 billion loan to support Project Amp, a solar generation project that includes the installation of approximately 752 MW of PV solar panels on about 750 existing rooftops owned and managed by Prologis in 28 states and the District of Columbia. Another loan guarantee, for $646 million, will support the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch 1 Project, a 230-MW cadmium telluride thin-film PV solar generation facility in North Los Angeles County, California. DOE reported that it finalized partial loan guarantees of $1.46 billion to support the Desert Sunlight Project. The 550-MW project in Riverside County, California, is expected to be one of the world’s largest solar PV plants, using approximately 8.8 million cadmium telluride thin-film solar PV modules. And the agency announced a $337 million loan guarantee to Mesquite Solar 1, LLC to support the development of an innovative 150-MW PV project in Maricopa County, Arizona.

Overall, the five PV projects are expected to power a total of 347,000 homes and fund more than 2,570 jobs. See the DOE press releases about the Solar Ranch, Project Amp, Antelope Valley, Desert Sunlight, and the Mesquite Solar projects.

A different form of solar is supported by DOE’s $737 million loan guarantee for the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, a 110-MW concentrating solar power tower generating facility in Tonopah, Nevada. Using molten salt as the primary heat transfer and storage medium, the project will be the first of its kind in the United States and the home to the tallest molten salt tower in the world. The Crescent Dunes will deploy 17,500 heliostats (mirror assemblies) that will collect and focus the sun’s thermal energy to heat molten salt flowing through an approximately 640-foot tall solar power tower. It is expected to fund 600 construction jobs and 45 permanent jobs while producing enough electricity to power more than 43,000 homes. See the DOE press release on the Crescent Dunes project.

On September 29, DOE announced that it finalized a $132.4 million loan guarantee to Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass of Kansas to support the development of a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant. The project will fund approximately 300 construction jobs and 65 permanent jobs in rural Kansas, converting approximately 300,000 tons of agricultural crop residues into 23 million gallons of ethanol per year using an innovative enzymatic hydrolysis process. See the DOE press release about the Abengoa Bioenergy project.

DOE’s Loan Programs Office has issued loans, loan guarantees or offered conditional commitments for loan guarantees totaling nearly $40 billion to support more than 40 clean energy projects across the United States. See the Loan Programs Office website.

DOE Backs University Clean Energy Business Competitions

DOE announced on September 27 that it has awarded $2 million over three years for six regional awardees to create and administer a network of student-focused business creation competitions. The goal is to inspire young entrepreneurs to found innovative, clean energy companies. The six regional competitions will encourage college students from across the country to develop successful business plans and join a new generation of clean energy leaders. This national initiative will provide student participants with the skills needed to create new businesses, and transform promising energy technologies from U.S. universities and national laboratories into innovative energy products.

The winners represent DOE’s first ever funding for regional competitions that will funnel into a DOE national competition. The new regional competitions build on DOE’s history of supporting the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Clean Energy Prize to establish broader innovation and commercialization efforts, and to build a nationwide energy entrepreneurship “ecosystem.”

Each of the following selected regional competitions will receive $360,000 over three years to host their respective regional competition. The Northeast region winner is MIT, which has successfully run the MIT Clean Energy Prize, co-sponsored by DOE and NSTAR utility, for the past four years. In the Southeast region, the University of Maryland will base its ACC Clean Energy Challenge on a collegiate sports conference—the Atlantic Coast Conference—as a model to build on an existing foundation of clean energy research and entrepreneurship programs. The Eastern Midwest region winner, the Clean Energy Trust of Chicago, will capitalize on experience from three existing competitions, including the Clean Energy Challenge, the Cleantech Open, and the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge. The Western Southwest region winner, Rice University, will take its Rice Business Plan Competition and create the DOE Clean Energy Prize, institutionalizing a sustained clean energy track within the Rice Business Plan Competition. The Western Midwest region winner, the University of Colorado Boulder, will support its Cleantech New Venture Challenge, an annual student-based cleantech competition that helps develop partnerships between regional entrepreneurs and innovators. And, the Western region winner, the California Institute of Technology, in partnership with the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles, will stage the First Look West event and adopt the best practices of other existing regional competitions.

The regional competitions will be completed by May 1, 2012. Panels of expert judges will select a winning team from each region to advance to the finals. The six regional winners will each receive $100,000 in DOE prize money and a chance to compete for the National Grand Prize at a competition held at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. in early summer 2012. See the DOE press release and the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Commercialization website.

Administration Announces $12 Million i6 Green Investment

The Obama Administration announced on September 29 the six winners of the i6 Green Challenge, an initiative to drive technology commercialization and entrepreneurship in support of a green innovation economy, increased U.S. competitiveness, and new jobs. Projects in Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, New England, and Washington will each receive up to $1 million from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) to help speed up commercialization based on new research. They will also get up to $6 million in additional funding and technical assistance from DOE, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, and Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology and United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The winning projects include: Iowa Innovation Network i6 Green Project in Ames, Iowa; Proof of Concept Center for Green Chemistry Scale-up, Holland, Michigan; iGreen New England Partnership; Igniting Innovation Cleantech Acceleration Network in Orlando, Florida; Louisiana Tech Proof of Concept Center, Ruston, Louisiana; and the Washington Clean Energy Partnership Project, Washington State.

First announced at the White House launch of Startup America in January, i6 Green follows last year’s inaugural i6 Challenge, which focused on accelerating high-growth entrepreneurship in the United States. This year’s competition concentrates on promoting Proof of Concept Centers methodologies, which support all aspects of the entrepreneurship process, from assisting with technology feasibility and business plan development, to providing access to early-stage seed money, as well as making available a variety of mentors who can offer critical guidance to innovators. See the DOE press release and the i6 Challenge website.

First Entry Joins High-Efficiency Commercial AC Challenge

DOE announced on October 4 that it has received the first official submission by a manufacturer to a voluntary challenge for a new generation of high-efficiency air conditioners for commercial buildings. DOE will begin testing the new Daikin McQuay’s “Rebel” unit from McQuay International to determine whether it meets the high energy-efficiency performance levels outlined by the challenge. The challenge aims to reduce current AC energy use by 50% to 60%. The challenge is part of DOE’s broad efforts to partner with industry in support of innovative building technologies that will reduce energy use, save money, and increase competitiveness.

The new performance criteria and challenge were developed through DOE’s Commercial Building Energy Alliance. DOE brought together major U.S. companies representing a significant portion of the U.S. market to develop new performance criteria for 10-ton capacity commercial air conditioners, also known as rooftop units or RTUs. Participating companies have shared their intent to purchase equipment that meets the challenge. Entrants to the challenge will undergo testing by DOE in partnership with its Oak Ridge and Pacific Northwest national laboratories.

Commercial buildings currently account for 18 percent of U.S. energy use. Nationwide, if all the 10-ton commercial units currently sold in a given year were built using these criteria, businesses could save about $50 million a year in energy costs. Those savings would continue to add up over the life of the unit. See the DOE press release, previous coverage in EERE Network News, and the Commercial Building Energy Alliances website.

Hydrogen Student Design Contest Inspires and Opens Doors

Since 2004, the Hydrogen Student Design Contest has challenged university students from across the globe to use their skills in design, engineering, economics, environmental science, business and marketing to devise innovative hydrogen energy applications for real-world use.

“You have to be innovative and you have to stretch yourself—it was a powerful experience for all of us,” said Juliette Bohn, who, along with fellow team members from Humboldt State University, won the 2005 competition.

As part of the competition, which is co-sponsored by the DOE’s Fuel Cell Technologies Program, the Humboldt State University design team submitted a proposal for a hydrogen power park that converts landfill gas to electricity, heat, and hydrogen vehicle fuel.

The team’s proposal generated significant buzz at the competition. “We received a very good response, a lot of industry partners were interested in our design,” said Juliette. There was so much interest that Chevron Corporation, along with Humboldt State’s Schatz Energy Research Center, worked with the students to fund feasibility studies that allowed them to explore options for bringing their concept from design to implementation. See the Energy Blog post.

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