Energy Department Awards CUNY Energy Institute $4.6 Million

September 14, 2010 | City College

Professors Sanjoy Banerjee (top left) and Stephen O'Brien (left) are project directors for two grants totaling $4.6 million over three years from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Project Agency - Energy (ARPA - E) to develop rechargeable energy storage systems from low-cost materials and nanocomposite capacitors that can be printed in thin films, respectively. Professor Dan Steingart (above), shown using a printing device, is a principal investigator on both projects.

Two Projects Funded By Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy

The CUNY Energy Institute, based at The City College of New York (CCNY), was awarded two grants totaling $4.6 million over three years in the latest round of funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). They are among the 43 grants totaling $92 million announced July 12 by U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu for cutting-edge research projects to dramatically improve how the United States uses and produces energy.

“ARPA-E conducted an intensely competitive selection process, evaluating over 500 proposals for this round of funding,” said Dr. Sanjoy Banerjee, director of the Energy Institute and distinguished professor of chemical engineering in the Grove School of Engineering at City College.

“We’re ecstatic to have two of our grants funded. The funding is an important vote of confidence for our work to help America achieve energy independence, and these projects are another important collaboration between the Grove School and City College’s Division of Science.”

ARPA-E is a newly created agency for energy technology research and development funded through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. It is intended to bring a sense of mission to energy research that will attract many of the United States’ best and brightest minds, especially, those of students and young researchers. Its approach emphasizes high risk, “out-of-the-box,” transformational energy research that industry by itself cannot support but where success would provide dramatic benefits for the nation.

“We are delighted and honored to be working with ARPA-E”, said Dr. Stephen O’Brien, CCNY associate professor of chemistry and member of the Energy Institute. “They are a unique body of experienced professionals and are already working closely with us in order to help shape the goals of the projects.”

The two Energy Institute projects focus on energy storage. The first project, funded at $3.0 million, is lead by Professor Banerjee. In partnership with Rechargeable Battery Corp. and Ultralife Corp., the Energy Institute will develop a low-cost, grid-scale electrical storage system using a flow-assisted, rechargeable zinc-manganese oxide battery.

The second project, funded at $1.6 million and lead by Professor O’Brien, will develop, in partnership with Columbia University and University of California Berkeley, a new form of capacitors (called “metacapacitors”) that will have applications in power conversion efficiency for solid state lighting.

The two projects will be funded over three years. The battery project is funded through ARPA-E’s GRIDS program (grid-scale rampable intermittent dispatchable storage); the metacapacitor project from the ADEPT program (agile delivery of electrical power technology).

The first project aims to develop a battery that can transform the chemistry and low-cost materials found in disposable consumer-grade alkaline batteries – zinc and manganese oxide – into a long-lasting, fully rechargeable energy storage system. “Grid-scale storage of surplus power from solar and wind resources is essential to further development of renewable energy sources,” Professor Banerjee said. “Without storage capability, the grid will destabilize.”

He added that improved energy storage would reduce the need for excess generating capacity to handle peak load demand. Power produced during off-peak periods could be stored and injected back into grid to cope with demand surges that occur on hot summer days, for example.

However, two research problems need to be addressed before grid-scale energy storage can be achieved. Zinc electrodes do not change and discharge uniformly, resulting in the build-up of dendrites that can short out the battery. Additionally, manganese oxide is not a reliable source of hydroxyl ions, which produce energy.

The Energy Institute hopes to address these problems by producing a flow-assisted battery and has demonstrated a zinc and nickel oxide battery that proves the basic science behind the concept. “These work well, but are expensive compared to manganese oxide,” Professor Banerjee said. “Manganese oxide could reduce the cost by a factor of two of three per unit of electricity stored.”

The Institute plans to replace the nickel with reversible electrodes that use material innovations achieved by Rechargeable Battery Corp. It aims to produce a 25 kW rechargeable storage system that can last through 5,000 charging and recharging cycles, be produced for under $100 per kWh and show strong potential for scaling to megawatt-hour levels in grid-scale electricity storage.

The second project builds on nanotechnology and nanoelectronics techniques developed by the team. The aim is to produce nanocomposite capacitors using barium titanate nanocrystals that can be printed or deposited as a thin film in combination with other electronics to produce integrated power conversion or energy storage electronics devices. The study will focus on converting AC to DC to power LEDs (light-emitting diodes), which are very sensitive to changes in current levels.

“A great deal of energy loss occurs when we transfer electricity from power source to a useful device, but it’s the price we pay for getting the device to work,’ said Professor O’Brien. “A good example is converting electricity (electrons) to light (photons). New lighting technology, such as solid-state lighting, greatly improves energy efficiency over incandescent lighting, but it requires more sophisticated power source technology.’

“The metacapacitors will have built-in switches that will help in the control and conversion of power to the lighting source, but also this technology could be potentially be used for many devices, such as solar cells,” said Dr. Daniel Steingart, an assistant professor of chemical engineering who is a principal investigator on both projects. “If it scales the way we want, it will enable switching (between energy sources) on the grid to be done cheaper.”

Besides Professors Banerjee, O’Brien and Steingart, Dr. Alex Couzis, Chair and Herbert G. Kayser Professor of Chemical Engineering, is working on the projects. Electrical engineering expertise will come from Professors Ioannis Kymissis and Peter Kinget of Columbia University and Professor Seth Sanders of University of California – Berkeley.

Eight PhD candidates and several post-docs are supported by the grant, which was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This support will contribute to development of excellence in graduate education at City College and CUNY and will provide lab experience opportunities for undergraduates, Professor Banerjee noted.

About Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA – E)
Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA – E) was established in 2007 as an agency within the U.S. Department of Energy to spur innovation in energy research and bridge the gap between basic energy research and development and industrial innovation. It was modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the agency responsible for technological innovations such as the Internet and the stealth technology found in modern fighter aircraft. ARPA-E received $400 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act enacted into law in April 2009.

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