The Heat is ON this Summer at ARPA-E
It’s July, and it being the middle of Summer means temperatures are rising and Americans across the country are doing their best to manage the heat in different ways. While people in business and residential spaces seek to keep temperatures as cool and comfortable as possible and electricity costs low (check out this throwback blog about some ARPA-E projects working to do just that), managing heat and thermal energy is also extremely important in almost every aspect of energy technology development.
Heat itself - or more specifically thermal energy - is involved in over 90% of all energy technologies. Because heat is such an integral part of the energy ecosystem, there exists a great opportunity to develop new technologies to efficiently store and utilize the heat generated as a byproduct of energy processes, manage heat in high-temperature generation spaces, and develop new approaches for the manufacture of heat exchangers to increase industrial efficiency.
Many ARPA-E programs are dedicated to managing and utilizing heat in an effective way, including our HEATS, HITEMMP, and most recently our ULTIMATE programs. The projects in these programs work to use the heat generated in energy processes in different ways, so that businesses and consumers can lower costs, improve efficiency, and decrease their carbon footprints.
Learn how these programs are “heating up” the development of innovative new ways to manage heat across a range of energy applications:
Launched in 2011, ARPA-E’s High Energy Advanced Thermal Storage, or HEATS program, worked to develop ways to store thermal energy generated by renewable solar and nuclear power.
HEATS projects focused on three specific technical challenges to do this:
- Developing high-temperature solar thermal energy storage capable of cost-effectively delivering electricity around the clock and thermal energy storage for nuclear power plants capable of cost-effectively meeting peak demand,
- Creating synthetic fuel efficiently from sunlight by converting sunlight into heat, and
- Using thermal energy storage to improve the driving range of electric vehicles (EVs) enabling thermal management of internal combustion engine vehicles.
HEATS projects worked to develop solar power generation technologies that would allow for storage of electricity for use 24 hours a day, as opposed to generation just when the sun is shining on a solar array. They also worked to find cost-effective and efficient ways to store nuclear energy so that emissions-free nuclear power plants could deliver on-demand peak power as opposed to only baseload power generation. A few HEATS teams even worked to develop technologies for vehicle applications, both to operate on synthetic fuel derived from the sun’s heat, and to improve HVAC systems for electric vehicles to allow them to travel farther.
All of these different efforts in developing cost-effective thermal storage technologies can allow for the growth of renewable and nuclear energy generation, decreasing reliability on fossil fuels across many end-use sectors and lowering electricity costs for consumers.
“Turning up the heat” in a different way, the High Intensity Thermal Exchange through Materials and Manufacturing Processes (HITEMMP) program was announced in 2018 with a focus on developing new approaches and technologies for the design and manufacture of high temperature, high pressure, efficient, and highly compact heat exchangers. Heat exchangers, like those developed through HITEMMP, have a wide range of industrial and residential uses, and are particularly crucial in electricity generation, transportation, and waste heat recovery applications.
Most current heat exchangers in use today are limited by how their structure limits their maximum heat transfer rates – meaning how quickly a structure is able to transfer heat from the “hot” side of a heat exchanger to the “cool side” – as well as by performance limitations based on how they are integrated into the greater structure of a surrounding system that may prevent a device from reaching maximum efficiency. HITEMMP teams are working to address both challenges, developing physical designs and cost-effective manufacturing processes that optimize device structure with suitable advanced materials for a range of operating conditions.
HITEMMP projects work to specifically develop technologies for heat exchangers capable of operating for tens of thousands of hours in temperatures and pressures exceeding 800°C and 80 bar (1,160 psi) respectively. The ability to operate at these extreme temperatures can increase efficiency and help boost performance of many industrial processes, passing along cost efficiency to consumers further down the road.
One of our “hottest” new programs launched in 2020, the Ultrahigh Temperature Impervious Materials Advancing Turbine Efficiency, or ULTIMATE program, works to develop technologies for use in gas turbine applications across the aviation and power generation industries. ULTIMATE projects are working to develop technologies, allowing turbines to operate continuously at 1300 ºC (2372 ºF) in a stand-alone material test environment.
Modern modeling and design advancements have allowed ARPA-E and ULTIMATE to identify an opportunity to work past technological limitations that have plateaued in recent years in gas turbine development. ULTIMATE projects not only work to be able to operate at extremely high temperatures past the current industry standard, but also to endure the extreme stresses posed on turbine blades in power generation processes. The program addresses these challenges through development of novel refractory alloys of required properties, development of compatible heat resistant coatings that can be used to enable gas turbine inlet temperatures of over 1800 ºC (3272 ºF), and complex materials manufacturing geometries that can be integrated into system designs to allow for peak performance.
Almost 35% of all electricity production in the United States comes from gas turbine power generation. With such a large mix of domestic energy production coming from this space, the ULTIMATE program is working to “heat up” efforts where a great opportunity exists to increase efficiency, lower energy usage, and decreasing carbon emissions in aviation and power generation.