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Here’s what we are hearing:
Trek Inc., a designer and manufacturer of high-voltage amplifiers and electrostatic voltmeters has established a strategic partnership with M4 Sciences LLC which leverages technical strengths from both companies to provide high-productivity ultraprecision machining technology for use in aerospace, automotive, commercial, consumer, industrial, medical, military/defense, optics and space applications. M4 Sciences, W. Lafayette, Ind., is a designer and developer of advanced technologies for ultraprecision machining. M4 Sciences is commercializing a range of devices based on their innovative patent-pending modulation assisted machining technology. MAM is a productivity-enhancing cutting/drilling technology which controls chip formation, improves cutting fluid effectiveness, removes the need for peck cycles, and increases process stability and feed rates. It can be used in a wide range of metals/alloys such as aluminum, cast iron, cobalt-chrome, copper, stainless steel, steel, tantalum and titanium. Trek partnered with M4 Sciences to design and develop high-voltage amplifiers that meet the demanding specifications involved in driving their patented piezo-based machining tools.
Ultra Electronics, AMI recently delivered 45 of its Roamio D245XR fuel cells for use by the U.S. military in unmanned aerial systems. The contract award for this delivery is valued at more than $2 million. The Roamio D245XR is the most advanced power technology available today, providing unparalleled long duration flight of more than eight hours in small UAS platforms. The delivery is the latest in a series of multiunit manufacturing runs of small propane-fueled solid oxide fuel cell technology. AMI continues to follow its manufacturing plan that has successful deliveries to the Army, including 30 units to the Rapid Equipping Force, 15 units to the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center and 10 units to the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center. All branches of the military have tested AMI fuel cells. The ROAMIO D245XR weighs significantly less than a traditional battery pack or other power source, reducing the overall weight burden of putting advanced UAS payloads and flight duration capabilities into small squads and making it possible for the system to be operated by only one or two warfighters.
Rubicon Technology Inc., a leading provider of sapphire substrates and products to the LED, semiconductor and optical industries, today announced that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has allowed Rubicon’s patent application entitled, “Intelligent Machines and Process for Production of Monocrystalline Products with Goniometer Continual Feedback.” The patent covers Rubicon’s equipment and process developed to perform in-situ orientation of its sapphire crystals within the various fabrication tools used by the company. Rubicon’s customers in the LED, SoS/RFIC and optical markets all have specific and distinct requirements for the crystal planar orientation of the sapphire products used in their applications. The new patented orientation technology provides greater precision in sapphire planar orientation and eliminates time-consuming steps by performing the orientation at the fabrication tool. These resulting efficiencies will ultimately translate into savings for Rubicon customers.
Resco Products, Inc. (Pittsburgh, Pa.), announced that president and chief executive officer Bill Brown has informed the Board of Directors of his decision to retire after 14 years with the company. The Board of Directors has elected John Midea, former president and chief operating officer at Ennis Traffic Safety Solutions, to succeed Brown as chief executive officer. Brown will remain a member of Resco’s Board of Directors. Midea earned his MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and held various senior leadership positions at The Valspar Corporation and Georgia-Pacific Corporation. Midea graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1987 and was selected for the Naval Nuclear program upon graduation and served for six years as a submarine officer.
Defense contractor Lockheed Martin has won a $3 million contract to integrate solar panels into Cleveland-developed fuel cells for the Marines. Lockheed and Cleveland-based Technology Management Inc. have been developing and marketing portable fuel cells to the military for more than two years. TMI’s cells can generate electricity from the diesel-like fuel mix the military uses for its vehicles and generators. The military is looking for alternatives to the noisy diesel generators it uses to power computers and other electronic devices in war zones. In 1994, the Army estimated that fuel can make up 70 percent of the material (by weight) brought to war. Fuel has been a logistical problem in Iraq and Afghanistan, requiring the military to use delivery convoys that have become targets of insurgent groups.
Army Corps of Engineers, through its Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, has issued a Multiple-Award Task Order RFP for $7 billion in total contract capacity to procure reliable, locally generated, renewable and alternative energy through power purchase agreements. The $7 billion capacity would be expended for the purchase of energy over a period of 30 years or less from renewable energy plants that are constructed and operated by contractors using private sector financing. ”We believe the Federal Renewable and Alternative Energy contract will provide the Army with an important means to achieve its goal of one gigawatt of renewable energy projects by 2025, “says Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh.
A line of optical polishing pitch that is made from all-natural wood resin, rather than petroleum byproducts, and can precisely match the optics being polished is available from Meller Optics Inc. of Providence, R.I. Gugolz polishing pitch from Meller is made from all-natural wood resin, instead of petroleum byproducts, and comes in five grades, from very-soft to very-hard with melting points from 52°C to 87°C. Allowing users to exactly match pitch hardness to the optics being polished, this pitch is ideal for blocking, lapping, and polishing virtually any optical substrate material.
Los Angeles-based American Elements, which supplies rare earths, neodymium, lithium, indium and other green technology elemental materials to the US military and national labs and 40 percent of the Fortune 50, including GE, Honeywell, GM and Boeing, urged Senate democrats to pass the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act. The House of Representatives has already passed the bill. The law fast-tracks new critical metal mines by setting timeframes for reviews, challenges and the filing of lawsuits. It presently takes an average 40 years to site a new metal mine in the US today. ”It is time environmentalists who object to this law appreciate the whole supply chain to building the energy efficient non-polluting America we all hope for our children. They cannot both oppose critical mineral mining and demand the government build a green technology future. The two approaches are mutually exclusive”, says Michael Silver, CEO of American Elements.
As Eileen notes in her post, the DOE has updated its assessment of factors affecting the availability of critical materials for energy applications, particularly in regard to rare earth elements. To give readers a quick sense of what has changed in a year, I put together comparisons of the criticality charts in the 2010 and 2011 reports.
The above chart, as indicated, demonstrates how the short-term risk evaluations are evolving. In brief, the short term concerns have increased in regard to europium and terbium, and they now join dysprosium as being in the most important/highest risk sector, while the importance of yttrium has been elevated.
Likewise, the graphic below shows the medium-term risks are shifting, but little has changed in what elements are considered to be critical (in red).
People in the renewable and alternative energy business talk about an “energy portfolio,” where the electricity deposited on the local grid will be generated from a mix of what the local natural resources offer (solar, wind, wave power, geothermal) and power plants that can be built anywhere (nuclear, coal).
Like all natural resources, the distribution of energy resources varies. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., recently released an interactive tool, the RE Atlas, that maps the locations of potential renewable energy resources in the US.
In the press release, Dan Getman, whose NREL team developed the tool says, “Ease of use and breadth of data make RE Atlas an excellent tool for policymakers, planners, energy developers, and others who need to better understand the renewable resources available in the United States. RE Atlas is an important addition to NREL’s suite of geospatial tools, because it brings together so many renewable energy datasets in one easy-to-use tool.”
Those datasets include a rich collection NREL maps of energy resources, geographic data and maps, EPA site information, links to research and much more. The energy resources that the atlas maps are
• Hydro (existing small projects)
• Geothermal (potential hydrothermal sites)
• Biomass residue
• Geothermal (enhanced geothermal system)
• Concentrated solar power
• Solar photovoltaic
• Wind speed - offshore
• Wind power class - onshore
• Wave power density.
Renewable energy resources are distributed as one would expect across the country, and it is interesting to see how broad the swaths of intensity are. For example, solar photovoltaic is most intense in the most southern regions of the Southwest, but it is decently intense in the entire southwestern quadrant of the US. Biomass, too, which would seem to be region-independent, is most intense across the Midwest from the Dakotas down through Missouri.
The intensities of each energy resource are not given in a common energy unit like joules or BTU, but according to the units used to quantify that energy type, which makes it difficult to compare magnitudes of energy available unless you are familiar with the unit conversions. For example, the units for solar photovoltaic energy are kWh/m2/day, biomass is expressed in thousand tons/year, geothermal is categorized into ranges (class 1-5), etc.
The 189-page report evaluates the issues relevant to critical materials for wind turbines, photovoltaic thin films, electric vehicles and energy efficient lighting in terms of criticality, market dynamics and technology. The report looks at the rare earth elements that are most used in energy technology and also other elements, such as lithium (see graphic).
Here are the highlights adapted from the executive summary.
Sixteen elements were assessed for criticality in wind turbines, EVs, PV cells and fluorescent lighting. The methodology used was adapted from one developed by the National Academy of Sciences. The criticality assessment was framed in two dimensions: importance to clean energy and supply risk. Five rare earth elements — dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium — were found to be critical in the short term (present-2015). These five REEs are used in magnets for wind turbines and electric vehicles or phosphors in energy-efficient lighting. Other elements-cerium, indium, lanthanum and tellurium — were found to be near-critical. Between the short term and the medium term (2015-2025), the importance to clean energy and supply risk shift for some materials.
In the past year, the prices of many of the elements assessed in this report have been highly volatile, in some cases increasing tenfold. This Strategy includes a chapter exploring market dynamics related to rare earth metals and other materials [including growing demand and slow response from global suppliers, university activities, business reactions to price volatility and material scarcity and roles for government.
Building on the 2010 Critical Materials Strategy, this report features three in-depth technology analyses.
Rare earth elements play an important role in petroleum refining, but the sector’s vulnerability to rare earth supply disruptions is limited. Lanthanum is used in fluid catalytic cracking, an important part of petroleum refining. However, lanthanum supplies are less critical than some other rare earths and refineries have some ability to adjust input amounts. Recent lanthanum price increases have likely added less than a penny to the price of gasoline.
Manufacturers of wind power and electric vehicle technologies are pursuing strategies to respond to possible rare-earth shortages. Permanent magnets containing neodymium and dysprosium are used in wind turbine generators and electric vehicle motors. Manufacturers of both technologies are currently making decisions on future system design, trading off the performance benefits of neodymium and dysprosium against vulnerability to potential supply shortages. For example, wind turbine manufacturers are deciding among gear-driven, hybrid and direct-drive systems, with varying levels of rare earth content. Some EV manufacturers are pursuing rare-earth-free induction motors or switched reluctance motors as alternatives to PM motors.
As lighting energy efficiency standards are implemented globally, heavy rare earths used in lighting phosphors may be in short supply. In the US, two sets of lighting energy efficiency standards that come into effect in 2012 will likely increase demand for fluorescent lamps containing phosphors made with europium, terbium and yttrium. The first set of standards applies to general service bulbs. The second set of standards applies to linear fluorescent lamps. The projected increase in US demand for CFLs and efficient LFLs corresponds to a projected increase in global CFL demand, suggesting upward price pressures for rare earth phosphors in the 2012-2014 timeframe, when europium, terbium and yttrium will be in short supply. In the future, light-emitting diodes (which are highly efficient and have much lower rare earth content) are expected to play a growing role in the market, reducing the pressure on rare earth supplies.
The executive summary also outlines DOE’s strategy, which is three-fold: diversify global supply chains (systemic risk management), develop substitute materials and improve recycling/reuse. The strategy was developed through a series of DOE workshops held between Nov. 2010 and Oct. 2011.
The six appendices provide much of the specifics, such as detailed evaluations for each element, market share data for each energy technology, congressional legislation, joint governmental international conference information, DOE funding activities and REE use in refineries.
The report appears to be well organized and comprehensive. The addition of subheadings to the table of contents would have been helpful for navigating quickly through the document.
So much materials science research and news revolves around energy and its generation, storage and efficient use. It’s easy to overlook materials issues relating to the delivery of electricity, especially the “smart grid.”
Steve Bossart of DOE’s NETL will be giving an invited talk on materials for the smart grid at the Materials Challenges in Alternative and Renewable Energy meeting Feb. 26-March 1, 2012 in Clearwater, Fla.
Based on the abstract of his talk, materials research for the smart grid falls into two categories: Using electricity better and managing electricity delivery better. The latter include devices like solid-state circuit breakers, relays and switches, solid-state transformers, current limiters, static VAR compensators, high-voltage direct converters and AC/DC inverters.
Bossart explains the smart grid in a 2009 interview with Joe Culver, which is posted on the NETL website. The video is a little long, almost 18 minutes, but Bossart provides a clear description of what a smart grid is, how a smart grid improves on the current power delivery system, the business case for smart grid power delivery and more. His descriptions of an intricate infrastructure system are well organized and easy to follow.
He begins by defining a smart grid, “We tend to think of the smart grid in terms of its functionality instead of a specific group of technologies. A specific group of technologies limits you in terms of what you can do with a smart grid.” He goes on to describe seven functionalities of a smart grid. A smart grid, he says,
1. Enables consumer participation in the grid,
2. Accommodates all kinds of storage and generation options in a plug-and-play mode,
3. Enables new products, services and markets,
4. Provides power economy needs of a digital society,
5. Optimizes assets already on the grid system and operates them more efficiently,
6. Anticipates and responds to disturbances,
7. Has operation resiliency to attack and natural disasters.
Bossart develops each of these points (and others in the video) with enough detail to educate the viewer without wandering too far into technical specifics.
The MCARE meeting is organized into 11 symposia, including one on the electric grid. Organizers are putting the program together now, and it should be available by Dec. 14, 2011. The other symposia are Batteries and Energy Storage, Biomass, Geothermal, Hydrogen, Hydropower, Materials Availability for Alternative Energy, Nanocomposites and Nanomaterials for Energy, Nuclear, Solar Power and Wind.
Abstracts for the six plenary talks are available on the website, as is the list of invited speakers for the symposia.
Here is the full abstract of Bossart’s invited talk:
TITLE: Materials Research for Smart Grid Applications
ABSTRACT: Our nation is transitioning to a Smart Grid, which can sense and more optimally control the transmission, distribution, and delivery of electric power. The control of the electric power system is becoming more challenging with the addition of distributed renewable power sources, energy storage systems, electric vehicle charging, building and home energy management systems, smart appliances and devices capable of demand response, and other technologies. These assets coupled with a smarter grid can provide many benefits including reducing peak demand and electricity consumption; better efficiency and reliability in distribution network, remote meter reading, improved outage management, automated feeder reconfiguration, improved maintenance by monitoring equipment health, and providing ancillary services to enhance grid stability and reliability. Materials research can enhance many applications made possible by smart grid. Materials research can result in reduced cost, increases in operating voltage and current, faster switching and sensing speed, better thermal management, greater efficiency, better protection, and longer life for many devices including solid-state circuit breakers, relays and switches, solid-state transformers, current limiters, static VAR compensators, high-voltage direct converters, and AC/DC inverters.