PNNL to Give Helping Hand to Small Green Energy Businesses

Hydropower costs could be reduced, buildings could use less energy and adhesives could be made from plants under three new projects announced today by the Department of Energy.

DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is being awarded a total of $625,000 to advance these technologies. The three projects are part of the first round of funding for DOE's new Small Business Vouchers Pilot. Nearly $6.7 million in total funding was announced today to support technologies being developed by 33 different small businesses. Each small business will also provide an additional 20 percent in cost-share funding or in-kind services for each project.

"The Small Business Vouchers pilot allows innovative entrepreneurs greater access to the world-class resources and brilliant minds in our (national) labs," said David Danielson, assistant secretary for DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. "These partnerships can help small businesses solve their most pressing technical challenges — and help bring clean energy technologies to commercialization much faster."

Initially announced in July 2015, the pilot will help small clean energy firms receive technology assistance from DOE's national laboratory system. PNNL is among five national labs leading the pilot and will specifically support small business in three areas: bioenergy, water power and buildings.

DOE also announced today that more small businesses can now apply to receive vouchers through the second round of this program. Second round applications are due April 10. More information can be found at the Small Business Vouchers Pilot website.

Computers help make better hydro turbines

Improved, screw-shaped turbines could generate electricity in small U.S. waterways such as irrigation canals. These hydro turbines, called Archimedes Hydrodynamic Screw turbines, already are widely used in European waters. To lower their cost and make them more feasible for use in the U.S., Kennewick, Washington-based Percheron Power, LLC, wants to make these turbines out of composite materials instead of metal.

PNNL engineer Marshall Richmond and his team will use advanced computer models to help Percheron advance its turbine designs. The researchers will run the models on PNNL's Constance supercomputer to compare the performance of different turbine designs and predict the strength requirements for turbines. Percheron will use the results to build prototype composite turbines and test them in a lab and in the field. PNNL is being awarded $200,000.

Advancing algorithms for energy-efficient buildings

Small and medium-sized commercial buildings could cut their power bills with the help of national lab-developed algorithms that improve lighting, heating and cooling systems by identifying systems that aren't working as intended — such as thermostats that don't change temperatures at assigned times — and correcting them. But while these algorithms have worked well in experiments, they need further refinement to be ready for real-world use.

PNNL engineer Michael Brambley and his team will help Lake Oswego, Oregon-based NorthWrite make these algorithms ready for commercial use. PNNL will test and validate algorithm performance and help NorthWrite adapt them for the company's cloud-based software, among other tasks. The algorithms involved were developed by PNNL and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. PNNL is being awarded $300,000.

Improving plant-based chemical production

The cost and carbon footprint of synthetic rubbers, latex and adhesives could be reduced by making them from plants instead of petroleum. Berkeley, California-based Visolis, Inc. has developed a new process using fermentation and catalysts to convert plant-derived sugars into isoprene, a chemical from which those materials are made.

PNNL and National Renewable Energy Laboratory will help Visolis scale up its process and produce samples that will be tested to ensure the process creates a quality chemical. PNNL engineer Karthi Ramasamy will lead a team that improves half of the process, while NREL will improve the other half. PNNL will receive $125,000 for the project and NREL will receive $175,000.

For more information, see today's DOE announcement. The full list of 33 companies being awarded vouchers today is available on the Small Business Vouchers Pilot website.