Department of Energy Announces $57M for Small Businesses in Phase III Xlerator Program; Algal Biofuels, Advanced Vehicle Technologies and Fuel Cells Included

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is awarding $57 million, including nearly $11 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to support clean energy technology commercialization projects for 33 small businesses across the country. These projects, funded as part of DOE’s Small Business Phase III Xlerator program, will help small businesses develop manufacturing processes to scale up production of their new, proven technologies.

Included among the selected projects is one for algal biofuels, three for vehicle technologies and four for fuel cells. Other awards included funding for renewable energy resources, industrial and building energy efficiency, a modernized electricity grid, cleaner fossil fuels, and the next generation of nuclear power.

These Phase III Xlerator awards are a first for the Department of Energy and build on the DOE’s existing efforts under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs. Previously, the SBIR and STTR programs through the Department of Energy have only been funded through Phase II.

Companies that had previously received DOE SBIR or STTR funding were eligible to apply for the Phase III grants. The awards range from $500,000 to $3 million and will provide small innovative companies with the staying power they need to develop the processes that are necessary to reduce the manufacturing costs for their products and enable manufacturing at scale. Overcoming cost and scale challenges is critical for small businesses to successfully bring their ideas to the marketplace, DOE notes.

Algal biofuels ($3 million)

  • Renewable Algal Energy, LLC (Kingsport, Tenn.) - Algal Biodiesel via Innovative Harvesting and Aquaculture Systems - Renewable Algal Energy LLC, will leverage its experience in algal aquaculture, harvesting, and extraction, to demonstrate at small commercial-scale, improved, low cost, energy-efficient methods for harvesting and dewatering algae that contribute to an algal oil product that is cost-competitive with petroleum. The integration of their technology with up- and down-stream processes will reduce technical and economic risks for future scale-up to a full-scale commercial process. DOE Funding: $3,000,000

Vehicle Technology ($7 million)

  • Electron Energy Corporation (Landisville, Pa.) - High Performance Permanent Magnets for Advanced Motors. Electron Energy Corporation’s Phase III effort will further the development of standard grades of high resistivity magnets through pilot production, beta site testing, and commercialization. These high resistivity magnets can reduce motor eddy current and increase motor efficiency, as well as address cost reduction by testing automated production processes. This program can impact hybrid vehicle markets and wind energy industries through this improved magnet composition, helping to revitalize the once-strong U.S. manufacturing base for permanent magnets. DOE Funding: $3,000,000

  • Materials Innovation Technologies, LLC (Fletcher, N.C.) - Advanced Materials for Lightweight Vehicles. Materials Innovation Technologies will develop low cost carbon fiber composite manufacturing technology to address the need for cost-effective, high volume production, lighter-weight components for automobiles and other vehicles by designing, manufacturing and testing several target components. This project will (1) develop rapid processing technologies for carbon fiber reinforced polymers for use in primary and secondary structures of passenger vehicles; and (2) show that the concepts can be cost-effectively incorporated into the high-rate, high-volume manufacturing of commercial passenger vehicles. DOE Funding: $3,000,000

  • Strategic Polymer Sciences, Inc. (State College, Pa.) - Compact High Temperature DC Bus Capacitors for Electric Vehicles. Strategic Polymer Sciences will develop advanced compact DC bus film capacitors for electric vehicle power inverters using novel electroactive polymer dielectric compositions with high temperature stability, high dielectric constant, low dielectric loss tangent, and low leakage current. Prototype capacitors will meet DOE capacitor targets and enable significant reduction in electric vehicle power inverter size and cost. DOE Funding: $1,000,000

Fuel Cell Technologies: Advanced Materials and Bio-Fueled Solid Oxide Fuel Cells ($6.6 million)

  • Dynalene, Inc. (Whitehall, Pa.) — Large Scale Testing, Demonstration and Commercialization of the Nanoparticle-based Fuel Cell Coolant. Dynalene will demonstrate a patented fuel cell coolant that showed significant potential in Phase I and Phase II research for improving fuel cell durability and reducing system size, weight, and operating cost. The coolant, which contains ion-exchange nanoparticles and non-ionic corrosion inhibitors, will undergo long-term (5000-hour) testing under freeze-thaw conditions. Testing will be conducted in-house as well as in subcontractor facilities. The Phase III research will test the coolant under severe fuel cell operating conditions such as temperature cycling and high electric fields to validate the previous encouraging results using the coolant. DOE Funding: $1,000,000

  • Giner Electrochemical Systems, Inc. (Newton, Mass.) — Dimensionally Stable High Performance Membrane. Giner will scale-up a process for producing a dimensionally stable membrane (DSM) for use in fuel cells. The membrane exhibits exceptional in-plane (i.e., X-Y) dimensional stability with changes in relative humidity and temperature. Consequently, the membrane is not only suitable for freeze/thaw cycling but also for relative humidity cycling during normal fuel cell operations. This project will take the membrane molding methods that were generated in Phase II, apply them to a roll-good process and demonstrate that these membranes retain the necessary properties for scale-up to a continuous process. DOE Funding: $1,500,000

  • InnovaTek Inc. (Richland, Wash.) — Power Generation from an Integrated Biomass Reformer and Solid Oxide Fuel Cell. InnovaTek will integrate and demonstrate a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell system (3 to 30 kilowatts) for distributed energy generation using a non-food, renewable biomass power plant and a proprietary steam-reforming process. The bio-oil that will be used in the process is made from agricultural and forestry residuals, such as wood saw dust, through the fast pyrolysis process. This integrated power system can reduce the burden on the electrical grid and decrease the use of fossil fuels in electricity generation. It will provide additional environmental benefits through zero net carbon emissions and lower NOx emissions compared to conventional combustion-based technologies. DOE Funding: $2,200,000

  • TDA Research Inc. (Wheat Ridge, Colo.) — Bio-fueled Solid Oxide Fuel Cells. TDA Research will demonstrate a low-cost, high-capacity sorbent that can remove both hydrogen sulfide and organic sulfur species from biogas, reducing their concentration to the parts per billion level. TDA originally developed the sorbent to remove sulfur-bearing odorants from natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas. In this Phase III project, TDA will extend the use of the sorbent to biogas by integrating it into a 10-kW Solid Oxide Fuel Cell system, where it will desulfurize the incoming gas, in order to prevent degradation of the fuel cell stacks and poisoning of the catalysts used in the fuel processor. The system will use a biogas from an anaerobic digester at a wastewater treatment plan. DOE Funding: $1,900,000

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