Industry Market Trends
New DOE Lab Spearheads Research in Renewable Energy Technology
October 9, 2013
- Electricity Laboratories, dedicated to power systems integration, smart power, energy storage, electrical characterization, and energy systems integration.
- Thermal Laboratories, dedicated to thermal systems, thermal storage materials, and optical characterization.
- Fuel Laboratories, dedicated to energy systems fabrication, manufacturing, materials characterization, electrochemicals, energy systems sensor, fuel cell development, and high-pressure testing.
- Data, Analysis and Visualization, which includes labs for the ESIF Control Room, the visualization room, the National Fuel Cell Technology Evaluation Center, and high-performance computing.
"In part to make the resource available to other industry partners, so that we can continue doing third party proprietary analysis," she said. "Specifically asking questions like if the solutions going to be applicable to real-world situations."
In third party analysis, Kurtz explained, NFCTEC can do research for outside companies without revealing the data to anyone else, and can publish the durability status, and how the project is moving toward the durability targets of the different applications.
For example, NFCTEC began operations a year ago with analysis of fuel cell vehicles and buses, and is now studying forklifts and backup power.
"Some of those early markets are relatively new, but we're looking at stationary fuel cell systems, and then the infrastructure required for those different systems," Kurtz said. "Let's say you have a forklift that is in operation in an in-user facility, and it's operating in a six-hour shift, and while it's operating, it's collecting data.
"We take that data, store it, and analyze on how it's performing, looking at things like how often is the hydrogen infrastructure being maintained."
NFCTEC performs analysis on both lab and real-world applications, Kurtz said.
"One of the unique pieces about this (ESIF) facility is that the labs are not isolated," Kurtz added. "The labs can communicate back and forth."
Inside one of the Electricity Labs near the NFCTEC facility, a Colorado-based company which has contracted with ESIF is working on a potential energy breakthrough. The company, Advanced Energy, is testing its 1 MW solar-inverter.
An inverter transforms the variable direct current from solar panels into an alternating current that can be put on the grid. At ESIF, the inverter is being tested for utility-scale and commercial arrays, projects 200 times the size of a home-system inverter. Mike Dooley, the VP of marketing for Advanced Energy, said the advantage to conducting tests at the new ESIF facility is being able to replicate problems on a full-scale replica grid. "It's very hard to simulate a grid, but essentially they've built a facility where you have a lot of simulations of what a grid would be, and what could happen," Dooley said. "To see how the inverter can add stability to the grid itself, and how quick the response needs to be, in quick situations, and how you can minimize problems, is huge. "You can do a much broader range of tests with this. There's no other facility like it. Major utilities don't want you experimenting on their grid; they're afraid of grid instability. So getting to test on this is a very big deal for us." On the vast majority of solar installations, inverters are necessary, as solar panels generate a DC current, and you need to move that to an AC current before you can put the energy on a grid. Dooley predicts that research at the new ESIF facility will spur innovation. "You can simulate things in a week that would take years on an actual grid," he said. "Here you can 'force' things to happen that would maybe occur one time in 10 years on a utility grid."