ARPA-E Update

By on Sep 10, 2020 in Energy

Earlier this year, The Balance Sheet summarized some energy technology projects sponsored by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which carries out R&D for the U.S. Department of Energy. Here are a few more active projects.

Warm and cool on demand

Syracuse University seeks to improve comfort for office building occupants with a near-range micro-environmental control system. The system would store the cooling produced by the compression system at night and release it as a cool breeze of air to make occupants more comfortable during the day. And when heating is needed, the system would draw heat from its phase-change material and deliver warm air.

Syracuse claims that the control system, combined with an expanded set-point range, could save more than 15% of the energy used for heating and cooling while maintaining occupant comfort. “If successful, [the control system] could increase energy efficiency, reduce emissions produced by powering traditional HVAC systems, and enable more sustainable heating and cooling architectures for energy-efficient building design.”

Building breath test

Specialized sensors tip off a building’s HVAC system that carbon dioxide-exhaling people are around and need ventilation. A Purdue University team is working on small-scale sensing systems that would use mass and electrochemical sensors to detect the presence of CO2.

The Purdue team believes that combining two unique sensing technologies into a single package for monitoring CO2 levels could reduce building energy use by nearly 30% without sacrificing occupant comfort.

Chopping home energy costs

Meanwhile, researchers at Texas A&M University are looking at new detection solutions for residences, specifically enhanced pyroelectric infrared sensors that track occupancy and activity.

Whereas such detection sensors traditionally can only notice people in motion, Texas A&M’s proposed system would identify non-moving heat sources. Quantitative information on movement would come from an “optical chopper” that temporarily interrupts the flow of heat to the sensor, allowing the device to detect both stationary and moving individuals. A central hub would accept wireless data from the sensors and override the home thermostat as needed to adjust temperatures, producing energy savings of up to 30%.

Upgraded DERs, smart microgrids

Distributed energy resources (DERs) are decentralized, small-scale electrical generation units located close to the load they serve. They typically use renewable energy sources including biomass, solar, wind and geothermal. While offering significant potential for providing services to the power grid, “there are few load-shifting strategies in use at grid scale that are capable of balancing current levels of intermittent energy production,” says a University of Michigan research team, which seeks to change that by devising new load-control strategies for improving grid reliability.

The team is developing three testing environments to identify issues the grid faces with increased levels of energy from distributed and renewable generation. “This project will establish credibility for load control at scale, improve the economics/reliability of the grid, and contribute to U.S. energy security and environmental goals,” the team says.

Another DER-related project explores a new type of design for microgrids, which are local energy grids that can disconnect from traditional grids and operate autonomously. The University of Tennessee and its project partners see “an urgent need to develop cost-effective design and controller solutions for community based microgrids to promote integration of renewable DERs, while enhancing the grid reliability and resilience.”

Key steps in that enhancement include upgrading microgrids with smart grid capabilities like intelligent switches and high-speed communication links. “If successful, innovations from the project could improve grid resiliency, lower costs, and promote the growth and integration of distributed energy resources,” according to the project description.

Learn more about these and other ARPA-E research projects.

Yardi has its own innovations for improving energy efficiency for commercial and residential properties. And they’re available now.