Highlights in 2017
New clean energy innovation policies and/or strategies
The United States is moving forward swiftly with a true “all of the above” energy strategy founded on a new energy realism to drive clean energy progress through innovation. This includes a definition of clean energy that recognizes the role of nuclear energy and high-efficiency fossil fuels in the energy mix for the foreseeable future, as well as the strong progress of cost competitive renewable energy technologies in the marketplace. Cutting edge research and development (R&D) in highly efficient fossil fuels, next generation nuclear reactors and fuels, renewable energy technologies, storage, and energy efficiency remains a critical element of the overall energy and economic strategy of the United States.
Top clean energy innovation successes in 2017
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) engages in a wide range of R&D activities in energy and basic science. Research at DOE’s National Laboratories is widely recognized in the scientific community as cutting edge. In 2017, DOE researchers won 33 of the 100 awards given out by R&D Magazine and received a special recognition award for the most outstanding technology developments with promising commercial potential. The annual R&D 100 Awards are given in recognition of exceptional new products or processes that were developed and introduced into the marketplace during the previous year. The following three illustrative examples of clean energy innovation successes in 2017 are among a wide range of innovation breakthroughs across DOE programs:
- Petra Nova, the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture project, was completed on-schedule and on-budget with the commencement of operations in April 2017. The large-scale demonstration project, located at the W.A. Parish power plant in Thompsons, Texas, is a joint venture between NRG Energy (NRG) and JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corporation (JX). Funded in part by DOE and originally conceived as a 60-megawatt electric (MWe) capture project, the project sponsors expanded the design to capture emissions from 240 MWe of generation at the Houston-area power plant, quadrupling the size of the capture project without additional federal investment. During performance testing, the system demonstrated a carbon capture rate of more than 90 percent. The successful commencement of Petra Nova operations also represents an important step in advancing the commercialization of technologies that capture CO2 from the flue gas of existing power plants. Its success could become the model for future coal-fired power generation facilities. The addition of CO2 capture capability to the existing fleet of power plants could support CO2 pipeline infrastructure development and drive domestic enhance oil recovery (EOR) opportunities.
- DOE announced nearly $67 million in new nuclear energy research, facility access, crosscutting technology development, and infrastructure awards in 28 U.S. states in April 2017. In total, 85 projects were selected to receive funding that are helping to advance innovative nuclear technologies. These awards provide funding for nuclear energy-related research through the Nuclear Energy University Program, Nuclear Science User Facilities, and Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies programs. In addition, a number of nuclear technology developers will receive access to unique research capabilities and other assistance consistent with the goals and objectives of the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative. This was in addition to the successful completion of DOE’s Advanced Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Licensing Technical Support Program.
- Building on the momentum of the installation of the first U.S. offshore wind farm off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island in 2016, DOE supported a broad portfolio of offshore wind and wave research, development, and demonstration projects in 2017. DOE has allocated over $200 million to offshore wind research and development projects for technology development and market barrier removal, as well as advanced technology demonstration. In addition, DOE’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) and Oregon State University concluded detailed negotiations in 2017 around the development and operation of the Pacific Marine Energy Center South Energy Test Site (PMEC-SETS), a world-class wave energy test facility to be constructed off the coast of Newport, Oregon. Initial operation is expected beginning summer 2021. The site will accommodate up to 20 wave energy converters in four test berths at one time, while supplying up to 20 MW of electricity to the grid.
Top activities delivered in support of the Innovation Challenges in 2017
Some key examples of U.S. international engagement under MI in 2017 include:
Carbon Capture Innovation Challenge: The United States co-led the Carbon Capture Innovation Challenge with Saudi Arabia in 2017. The goal of the Carbon Capture Innovation Challenge is twofold: first, to identify and prioritize breakthrough technologies; and second, to recommend research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) pathways and collaboration mechanisms. The challenge is intended to focus on early stage research and development, as opposed to deployment activities or policy initiatives. In September of 2017, the United States and Saudi Arabia hosted an Expert’s Workshop to determine high impact research areas to focus CCUS R&D. The workshop, attended by over 200 researchers from 17 different countries, developed a set of priority research directions which can serve as a guiding document for future R&D activities. The report is expected to be published concurrently with the workshop, and serve as a basis for further conversations. The Carbon Capture Challenge continues to build upon the outcomes of the workshop, including developing communication and collaboration mechanisms, coordination of research and development, and identifying funding opportunities that can accelerate technology performance and result in further cost reductions.
Clean Energy Materials Innovation Challenge: The United States co-led the Clean Energy Materials Innovation Challenge with Mexico in 2017. As part of cooperative activities, the U.S. Department of Energy supported a 3-day Energy Materials Innovation Workshop hosted in Mexico City on September 11-14, 2017. This invitation-only workshop convened more than 50 preeminent scientists and experts in advanced theoretical and applied physical chemistry/materials sciences, advanced computing, machine learning, and robotics. The workshop’s agenda was designed to identify critical R&D priorities and gaps in clean energy materials innovation processes and propose opportunities for deeper collaboration. These efforts culminated in the release 0n 25th January in Mexico City, the Clean Energy Materials Innovation Challenge released a “Materials Acceleration Platform: Accelerating Advanced Energy Materials Discovery by Integrating High-Throughput Methods with Artificial Intelligence” report on January 25, 2018. The Expert Workshop Report calls for integrating material sciences with next-generation, high performance computing, artificial intelligence (machine learning) and robotics to accelerate the pace of materials discovery. Among the recommendations are the development of “self-driving/autonomous laboratories”, “smart and super-fast materials factories” that automatically design, perform and interpret experiments in the quest of new high-performance, low cost energy materials.