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Brookhaven Develops Clean, Sustainable Energy Alternatives

Innovative solutions

James McBreen has been working with industry in researching and developing materials for better lithium-ion batteries.

Under DOE’s energy-resource mission, the biofuel project is just one of several alternative-energy research initiatives under way within Brookhaven’s ES&T Department. By focusing on basic and applied research and technology development of clean, sustainable energy products and processes, the goal is to transfer to industry technology that solves world-wide energy challenges in an innovative, economically feasible fashion.

Encompassing energy and economic modeling, energy-infrastructure reliability, proliferation-resistant reactor designs, and energy production, transmission, and storage, current projects include:

Wind-energy research: Interest in wind energy in the New York metropolitan area is escalating, and several proposals for large-scale land and offshore wind turbines are under review by local power companies. Designing sturdy foundation structures is one key to the success of these projects, so Brookhaven researchers are now evaluating the dynamic response of large wind turbine systems and assessing alternative foundation materials. A computational method now under development will be a significant technical advance and may lead to a commercial software package. Alternative foundation materials being studied include concrete with high fly ash content, as well as fiber-reinforced concrete.

Marita Berndt and A.J. Philippacopoulos display samples of the high-efficiency grout they developed for use in geothermal heat-pump systems. The computer monitor shows a model of thermally induced stresses in these systems.

Study of corrosion-resistant geothermal materials: Working with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Brookhaven researchers are: performing corrosion testing of nickel-chromium-molybdenum alloys; evaluating coatings and mortars for resistance to sulfur-oxidizing bacteria; exploring non-destructive test methods; and field-testing various coatings and cements, with the goal of reducing geothermal energy costs. Brookhaven researchers received an R&D 100 Award and a Federal Laboratory Consortium Technology Transfer Award for developing a high-performance coating system that is highly effective in highly corrosive environments, such as geothermal power plants and chemical processing facilities.

Development of battery materials: For hybrid and electric vehicles, the focus is on advanced cathodes for high-rate lithium ion batteries. Using the material characterization abilities of the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven (see pages 18-21), researchers are also exploring novel methods of producing fuel-cell electrocatalysts that require substantially reduced amounts of platinum, the most expensive component of a fuel cell.

Cogeneration of heat and electric power: Seen as an important option for achieving large gains in energy efficiency, combined cooling, heating, and power technologies are a possible energy solution even for the individual home. Brookhaven is now serving as a host site for the demonstration and testing of integrated thermal technologies, such as gas- and oil-fired microturbine power generators, absorption chillers, and fuel cells.

Natural gas production and storage: Vast quantities of natural gas are trapped in ice structures known as methane hydrates, which are found in permafrost and beneath the ocean floor. Brookhaven researchers have expertise in performing structural studies of methane hydrates and so have teamed with other national laboratories to participate in a DOE effort to establish the fundamental properties of these hydrates. The goal is to permit the safe harvesting of trapped methane by 2015.

Clean hydrogen production: Brookhaven researchers are studying catalysts that can streamline the hydrogen-production process and speed the implementation of hydrogen-based fuel cells in a host of transportation and other applications. A novel, low-temperature process of producing “pure” hydrogen recently patented by a Brookhaven scientist, may help address one of the most significant difficulties in developing efficient and affordable fuel cells: how to extend the life of the catalysts that make them work.

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