U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Vehicle Technologies Program
R&D 100 Awards
High-Energy Concentration-Gradient Cathode Material for Plug-in Hybrids and All-Electric Vehicles (Argonne National Laboratory). Argonne and several partners have developed a novel high-energy and high-power cathode material for use in lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries especially suited for plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles. It provides much higher energy and longer life than any other Li-ion cathode material, and as such is also ideal for batteries in hybrid vehicles and a wide range of consumer electronics applications.
Graphene Nanostructures for Lithium Batteries, co-developed with Vorbeck Materials Corp. of Jessup Md. and Princeton University (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory). Small quantities of graphene—ultra-thin sheets of carbon atoms—can dramatically improve the performance and power of lithium-ion batteries. Graphene Nanostructures could lead to the development of batteries that last longer and recharge quickly, drastically reducing the time it takes to charge a smartphone to as little as ten minutes and charging an electric vehicle in just a few hours.
Advanced Ceramic Film Capacitors (Argonne National Laboratory). Argonne's ceramic-film capacitor bridges a technology gap that addresses a critical need of the next generation of electric-drive vehicles. It substantially reduces the weight, volume and cost of capacitor materials of the inverters that will be used to power the motors of electric vehicles. The ceramic film—a lanthanum-modified lead zirconate titanate—is deposited on an inexpensive metal foil that can be stacked on or embedded into printed wire boards. The arrangement frees surface space, increases reliability and minimizes electromagnetic interference and inductance loss in the inverter. And because the capacitor is made of ceramic and metal, degradation due to high-temperature when the engine is running is eliminated.
Sulfur-Carbon Nanocomposite Cathode Material and Additives for Lithium-Sulfur Batteries (Oak Ridge National Laboratory). Technology that enables a more reliable, safer, and longer-lasting battery system to aid in the harnessing, storage, and use of electricity from renewable energy sources.
Thermomagnetic Processing Technology (Oak Ridge National Laboratory). Technology that enhances materials performance with an 85% higher stretch capability strength, enabling lighter weight designs.
Spatially Resolved Capillary Inlet Mass Spectrometer (SpaciMS) (Oak Ridge National Laboratory). The technology provides detailed insights into chemical processes through fast-response, noninvasive gas composition measurements. Equipped with this specialized tool in the test cell, Daimler Chrysler brought their 2007 Dodge Ram pickup truck to market, fully compliant with 2010 environmental standards.
Armstrong Process CP Ti and Ti Alloy Powder and Products, (International Titanium Powder, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, BAE Systems, AMETEK, the National Energy Technology Laboratory, and Red Devil Brakes). The Armstrong Process is a new method of producing titanium powder that reduces costs significantly. Titanium's strength, low mass, and corrosion resistance make it ideal for many manufacturing uses, but it is prohibitively costly because of the difficulty and expense of extracting it from ore. The Armstrong Process extracts titanium from ore much more cheaply than conventional methods, making titanium feasible in many new applications. This is the most significant development in the titanium industry in 50 years and can produce titanium continuously, unlike other methods.
Oxygen Sensor (Argonne National Laboratory and Ohio State University). This compact oxygen sensor can monitor combustion processes in coal-fire plants, petrochemical plants, blast furnaces, glass processing equipment, and inside internal combustion engines. Because the sensor can withstand high temperatures up to 1,600°C, it can monitor in real-time, providing performance information that is important to manufacturers seeking to increase energy savings and efficiency. The first sensor to not require an external air supply, it uses an internal reference air chamber that is sealed by a unique bonding method that joins the sensor's protective ceramic housing components together without altering the ceramic's ability to conduct oxygen. By eliminating the need for costly and bulky high-temperature external plumbing for reference air, this small sensor provides unsurpassed oxygen-sensing accuracy for a cost that is approximately one-twentieth that of conventional oxygen sensors.
Powertrain System Analysis Toolkit (Argonne National Laboratory). Powertrain System Analysis Toolkit (PSAT) helps narrow the technology focus of hybrid electric vehicle research to those configurations and components that are best suited for achieving a project's specified goals. PSAT can simulate an unrivaled number of predefined configurations (conventional, electric, fuel cell, series hybrid, parallel hybrid, and power split hybrid). Because of its accurate dynamics component models, PSAT can be implemented directly and tested at the bench scale or in a vehicle (using its extension for prototyping, PSAT-PRO). PSAT is transportable from the virtual world of component modeling and simulation to the emulated environment of component control in hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) testing.
CF8C-Plus: New Cast Stainless Steel for High-Temperature Performance (Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Caterpillar). CF8C-Plus is designed to drastically improve high-temperature durability, performance, and reliability based on Oak Ridge National Laboratory's unique engineered microstructure alloy development methodology. The engineered microstructure method dramatically changes CF8C-Plus from steel that cannot be used above 600-650 degrees Celsius to steel that can be used up to 850 degrees Celsius and resists failure during creep, mechanical fatigue and thermal fatigue. Developers said that end users like Caterpillar or commercial foundries like MetalTek will benefit from CF8C-Plus because it is a cost-effective product with higher performance and immense reliability.
Spiral Notch Torsion Test (Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Inventure Labs). The Spiral Notch Torsion Test (SNTT) is a portable testing and analysis system that yields precise data on the fracture toughness of many different kinds of materials. The strength of materials is used as part of the basis for setting standards in structural design. However, until now, techniques yielded only gross approximations of fracture toughness. SNTT is suited to test many materials, including metals, alloys, ceramics, composites, polymers, carbon foam, and concrete.
Unique Catalyst Opens the Door to Fuel-Cell-Powered Vehicles (Argonne National Laboratory). The autothermal reforming catalyst developed by Argonne makes it possible to convert hydrocarbon fuels into hydrogen gas. The catalyst is at the heart of a small, lightweight reformer in a fuel processor. With recent improvements, a unit that could supply enough hydrogen for a passenger car is about the size of a 20-oz. soda bottle (less than one liter). The catalyst works with a variety of fuels while maintaining high hydrogen yields. It is also tolerant of sulfur, a catalyst poison present in petroleum fuels. The process used in the reformer — catalytic autothermal reforming (ATR) — allows a fuel-cell vehicle to run on gasoline, natural gas, propane, ethanol, or methanol. This process could also help make fuel cells more attractive as power sources for homes, commercial buildings, and remote locations. Argonne executed a license and negotiated a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with a major catalyst producer. The license should make the material available to fuel reformer designers, system integrators, and fuel cell manufacturers when the material is developed into a commercial catalyst.
Charging Algorithm Extends Life of Lead-Acid Batteries (National Renewable Energy Laboratory [NREL] and Recombination Technologies and Optima Batteries, Inc.). Although nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries are more expensive than valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) batteries, NiMH batteries have been preferred for electric vehicles (EVs) because of their higher specific energy and longer cycle life. However, by extending the cycle life of VRLA batteries by three to four times, the current-interrupt charging algorithms software developed by NREL and Recombination Technologies and Optima Batteries makes the VRLA more efficient and competitive with NiMH batteries. The team's work is based on the hypothesis that VRLA batteries reach a premature end-of-life with "normal" constant current and voltage charge because of insufficient recharge at the negative plate and the "oxygen cycle" or recombination reactions interfering with recharge of the negative plate. Regardless of how VRLA batteries are charged in EV-type duty cycles, the life to 80% of initial capacity is usually 150-200 cycles. This brief lifespan probably results from the lack of compensation for the changing role of the oxygen-recombination cycle in the ways most VRLA batteries are charged.
Catalyst Material for a Plasma-Catalyst Device (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Delphi Research Laboratories, and Ford Research Laboratory). The catalyst materials for plasma-catalysis engine exhaust treatment materials convert harmful engine exhaust emissions into components of clean air. Engine emissions include harmful oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and can pose a serious health risk; these emissions also threaten the environment by contributing to the formation of acid rain; they are also precursors to ozone, the major component of smog. Delphi is funding research to develop a complete, integrated nonthermal plasma-catalyst system. The resulting commercial engine exhaust aftertreatment system will be capable of reducing NOx and soot emissions from diesel-powered vehicles.
High-Thermal-Conductivity, Low-Density Graphite Foam (Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Poco Graphite). The key to this patented carbon foam is its thermal conductivity, which is equivalent to that of aluminum, but at one-fifth the weight. Because of its superior heat transfer characteristics, the material could allow auto designers to place the radiator somewhere other than at the car's front end. The foam could also displace heavy cooling fans, metallic fins, and heat sinks in electronics. Graphite foam, which is nearly 100% graphite, features an open-cell structure that improves heat transfer to a working fluid, like the coolant in a radiator. Unlike other carbon foam products, which act as insulators, the material conducts — or removes — heat.
Compact Microchannel Fuel Vaporizer (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory). This miniature fuel vaporizer is a key component of a multistep fuel processing system that will convert gasoline in a vehicle to hydrogen. Hydrogen is needed to operate fuel cells to power electric cars, which have low emissions compared with conventional automobiles powered by standard internal combustion engines. Hydrogen is not available at filling stations, and systems to convert gasoline to hydrogen have been too large to fit in a car. This compact fuel vaporizer is small — about the size of a soda can — and weighs four pounds. The entire fuel processing system is expected to be less than 10 liters in volume. This technology brings the fuel-cell-powered automobile a step closer to reality.
Clean Diesel Technology (Argonne National Laboratory). This technology will allow diesel engines to operate more cleanly and efficiently. Researchers made the diesel fuel burn more completely by adding extra oxygen to the engine's air supply under specific, optimized engine conditions. The oxygen-rich air is supplied by separating it from ambient air using membranes that act as a chemical filter. The process reduces visible smoke and minimizes production of both particulate matter and nitrogen oxides.
Near-Frictionless Carbon Coating (Argonne National Laboratory). A coating developed by Argonne offers friction coefficients of 0.001–0.006 — about 50 times lower than that of Teflon. The most promising applications appear to be those that operate in essentially air-free environments, such as bearings for ultrahigh vacuum instruments; certain mechanical seals; and selected cryogenic, space, and aircraft applications. Among the most promising automotive and engine applications are turbocharger rotors, piston rings, gears and bearings, air-conditioning compressors, and fuel injector components.
Production of Chemicals from Biologically Derived Succinic Acid (Argonne National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Applied Carbochemicals). This unique process can be used to make chemicals from corn. Researchers applied genetic techniques to create a mutant bacterium that is the key to the new process. The chemicals can be incorporated into polymers and solvents for use in clothing, fibers, paints, inks, food additives, and other industrial and consumer products.
Metal Compression Forming (Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Thompson Aluminum Casting Company). Researchers have developed a process for manufacturing pore-free cast aluminum components with properties comparable with those of forged parts but at one-third the cost.
Variable-Conductance Insulation Catalytic Converter (National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Benteller Industries). This catalytic converter reduces cold-start emissions. Pollutants emitted during the first minute or two of vehicle operations, before the catalytic converter heats up to effective temperature, cause about 70% of automotive pollution.
Thin-Film Rechargeable Batteries (Oak Ridge National Laboratory). These solid-state batteries are less than 10 micrometers thick. They have energy densities unequaled by any other battery technology, can be cycled thousands of times, and can be fabricated on a variety of substrates — in any size and shape — to meet specific application requirements.
Single Fermenter Cellulosic Biocatalyst (Zymomonas mobilis) (National Renewable Energy Laboratory). A metabolically engineered bacterium ferments both glucose from cellulose and xylose from hemicellulose simultaneously, making it possible to produce ethanol from cellulosic biomass feedstocks in a single process.
Gelcasting (Oak Ridge National Laboratory). Gelcasting is a way of making complex ceramic shapes quickly, simply and economically using conventional equipment. A mixture of ceramic powders in a solution of organic monomers is poured into a mold and is polymerized, forming a gel filled with the ceramic powder. Gelcast shapes are strong enough to be machined, if necessary. The technique's simplicity and green body properties give it advantages over other processes such as slip casting and injection molding.
Ethanol from Corn Fiber (National Renewable Energy Laboratory and New Energy Company of Indiana).
Bi-axial High-temperature Fatigue Extensometer (Oak Ridge National Laboratory). The bi-axial high-temperature fatigue extensometer accurately measures creep deformation in materials at high temperatures. Reliable information on creep in materials is needed in structural design applications. The bi-axial, high-temperature fatigue extensometer detects small changes in the capacitance between two rods that are in contact with the test specimen. Virtually all commercial high-temperature testing machines now use the bi-axial high-temperature fatigue extensometer.