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Research Overview

The center will have several research thrusts some of which have also been identified as national priorities in the President’s recent State of the Union address:

 

Renewable Energy Sources

The center will focus on harnessing power from nontraditional energy sources. Detailed models of geothermal activity, regional weather, and oceanographic patterns developed in the campus’ SUNY-wide Marine Sciences Research Center will be used to explore the use of renewable energy sources. Emphasis will be placed on natural resources which are abundant in the Northeast region of the country, such as wind, water, geothermal, and ocean energy. Biomass is another source of renewable energy, which is plentiful in our region, easily stored and safely transported, but whose potential for energy generation and efficient combustion has not been fully explored. Solar energy, though less abundant in the Northeast, can never the less be efficiently harnessed using advanced technologies. In collaboration with Albany Nano Tech nanofabrication facility, we will focus on design and fabrication of highly powerful photovoltaic cells using nanostructured composites and semiconductors such as amorphous silicon, CdTe, and Cu(In,Ga)(S,Se)2.

 

Hydrogen

Fuels
The conversion to hydrogen based fuels and energy storage within the next 40 years was identified as a national priority: for example, the President’s 2007 budget will provide $289M to accelerate the development of hydrogen fuel cells. In the near term systems that specialize in the integration of renewable energy with hydrogen storage and fuel cells show great promise. Renewable energy sources frequently depend on climate and weather conditions and hence are intrinsically intermittent. Hydrogen provides a means to store renewable energy for later use with fuel cells.

The center will coordinate research efforts among federally funded programs already ongoing at Stony Brook, SUNY Farmingdale, and BNL on biomass and micro-organism generation of hydrogen, nanostructured ion exchange membranes for hydrogen processing, high power density miniaturized fuel cells, biomimetic fuel cells, and self assembled nanostructures for ultra high capacity hydrogen storage. The amount of methane gas that is tied up as hydrates beneath the seafloor and in permafrost is several orders of magnitude higher than all other known conventional sources of methane and is sufficient to meet our energy needs for several decades. The characteristic instability of methane hydrates ice-like cages made of water molecules surrounding individual methane molecules are only stable under certain temperature (< 20ºC) and pressure (> 2MPa) conditions -- provides a technological challenge to efficient mining and safe transport. Hence a large interdisciplinary collaboration among various groups at BNL and Stony Brook has already been established in order to study the kinetics of methane hydrate formation in underwater sediments and develop methods for mining this abundant natural resource.

 

Fuel Cells
Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) in combination with hydrate integrated systems can form an extremely efficient version of SOFC where waste heat from the internal reactions can be used for thermal recovery of hydrates. Another commonly used fuel cell, the Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cells, also called Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cells are popular for automotive applications which require high power. A PEM fuel cell uses hydrogen fuel and oxygen from the air to produce electricity. The PEM fuel cell system represents an alternative power source to traditional, combustion-based technologies and batteries. In practice, fuel cells are connected through the bi-polar plates to form a fuel cell stack to provide high power. Good performance of the stack requires high electrical and thermal conductivities of plates, ease of distribution of fuel, oxidant, residual gases, and water without leaks, ability to withstand mechanical loads during operation, and high resistance to corrosion when in contact with an acidic electrolyte, oxygen, heat and humidity.

The Center for Fuel Cell Development at SUNY Farmingdale has developed new aluminum bipolar plates with protective corrosion resistant coating for PEM fuel cell power stacks. This innovative technology for metallic power stacks is much safer, more efficient and more economical than the graphite plates that are commonly utilized as the standard material for the PEM bipolar plates. This new technology provides at least a 12% savings in hydrogen consumption because of lower resistive losses which occur when aluminum rather than graphite coated surfaces are used.

Design of high performance cells can also be achieved through molecularly engineered membranes, which incorporate catalytic nanoparticles of platinum or palladium. These particles are resistant to corrosion, yet their high surface to volume ratio and quantum structure renders them highly efficient in hydrogen storage. Research at Stony Brook in collaboration with the BNL/CNF has shown that these particles can be incorporated into polymer electrodes that are malleable, permeable to hydrogen and yet highly conducting. Further research in the design and implementation of these advanced nanocomposites, with polymers that can withstand extreme conditions, while communicating internal conditions with continuous self diagnosis, can make these cells a commercial reality.

Conventional Fuels

Conventional fuels will still remain a primary source of energy for power generation. Consequently the thrust of the energy center program is to mobilize advanced technology to increase the recovery of traditional fuels, optimize conservation, and preserve the quality of the air and the environment. Development of wireless remote visualization and sensing technologies are central to these efforts in order to monitor the safety, ensure the reliability and maximize the efficiency of the energy transmission and distribution systems. There are two major thrusts in this area that will be undertaken by the center.

Despite being one of the oldest sources of energy, coal still leads the list of the President’s Advanced Energy Initiatives, since it still provides more than 50% of the power used to generate electricity across the nation. The major technological and economic hurdle is the construction of completely emissions-free coal burning plants. This challenge is now being met by a BNL/ USB/Farmingdale collaboration where innovative nanotechnologies are being explored to produce selective catalysts that filter the air and eliminate sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. Carbon sequestration: Even carbon dioxide, the least detrimental output, can be safely sequestered and reused through new technologies. The overall carbon sequestration scheme currently involves: 1) CO2 capture from stationary sources (e.g., power plants), 2) transport of captured CO2, and 3) CO2 burial in ocean or deep aquifers. The major focus of new research in the center will be to develop alternate cost-effective pathways. We are looking at several options that go beyond just burying CO2. These are: (a) Formation of CO2 Hydrates for subsequent energy generation. This forward approach visualizes CO2 capture followed by catalytic CO2 hydrogenation to produce liquid fuels essentially recycling carbon and closing the carbon production cycle. (b) Developing pathways to utilize supercritical CO2 (Sc CO2) to replace organic solvents in polymer synthesis and processing and in cleaning of extremely large areas, such as LNG pipelines of organic residues.

 

b) Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)
LNG is an efficient source of energy which burns with far lower emissions than fossil fuels. The demand for LNG is predicted to grow by 30% in the next decade as new power plants are built which try to meet or exceed the increasingly stringent federal air-quality regulations. Even though plentiful reserves still exist, most are far from the markets. Hence research in the center will focus on engineering more efficient means of storage, transport, and monitoring new nanocomposite materials that are UV resistant, self extinguishing and can withstand large temperature extremes will be designed. Built in electronic sensing chips can be incorporated which will transmit wireless code to ensure the safety and security of LNG infrastructure.

Due to its inherent volatility, natural gas distribution is anther area of concern in populated areas. The distribution lines are prone to corrosion, leaks, and more recently terrorist threats. Yet, natural gas is usually mined far from the areas where it is used. Hence a major thrust of the center will be addressing problems associated with safe and efficient storage and transport of LNGs. The relevant issues to be addressed here are: (a) Purity of the natural gas delivered to the end user (b) Monitoring the distribution lines for leaks and environmental impact, (c) Remote wireless sensing, fault diagnosis, and warning of malicious tampering and possible terrorist sabotage.

It is inevitable that in the short run conventional fossil fuels will continue to be an important source of energy. Consequently the development of advanced technologies that allow enhanced recovery from existing wells, increase the accuracy of prospecting, and the safety of operations under extreme climate conditions are of high interest. Extensive research in these areas, in partnerships with international oil companies (Conoco, Exxon/Mobil) and New York State industries (CEWIT industry partners), are already in progress at Stony Brook and Brookhaven National Laboratory. These efforts will be further coordinated by the center and integrated with other research in wireless communication, cyber security, conservation, power transmission, and environmental remediation.

 

Conservation

Through a partnership between National Grid, Stony Brook and BNL we have the capability to build and test experimental houses where heating and cooling is generated using experimental designs for boilers and heat exchange units, while electricity is derived from thermal and other alternative sources. Wireless sensors are used to provide information regarding the distribution and use of energy and the data is fed into multi variable unit operation simulators which can model energy flux and dissipation. Through investigation of the entire unit and optimization of the system as a whole, rather than the individual components, we can demonstrate that more than 200% in energy savings can be obtained. With the combination of advanced materials technology, computational models, wireless sensors and conventional engineering protocols, we hope to design the homes of tomorrow which will be 100% efficient in their use of energy.

 

Smart Grid Power Distribution Systems

One of the first steps in power conservation is to maximize the efficiency of the power distribution system. The Stony Brook departments of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science have active research programs in neural network pathways, communication switching protocols, security encoding, and high data throughput networks. Through a partnership with SUNY Maritime, which has an extensive computational program in calculating traffic flow , evaluating the economics of transportation grids and switching stations, an effective research program will be developed for applying these computational techniques to the evaluation of power distribution networks and designing “smart grids” capable of making decisions in case to remediate local failure in one of the nodes, optimize distribution when cogeneration from multiple sources is activated, and providing early warning if terrorism or outside tampering is suspected.

The success of this project is also dependent on the industrial partnerships. LIPA is currently working with an international consortium of utilities and businesses on the development of Smart Grid technology. Its goal is to link electricity with communications and computer control to create a highly automated, responsive and resilient electric power delivery system. This intelligent, self-healing grid will be designed to continuously send, receive and process data on system conditions, component health and power flows, as well as pass information among intelligent electronic devices, generators, system operators, marketers and consumers. The strategy is long term given the level of investment, yet is one that needs to be undertaken. Yet even as we evolve, LIPA intends to have an even more reliable system, with better control and advanced customer services to meet the challenges of a 21st Century customer.

LIPA has just recently announced demonstration projects to begin the introduction and testing of Smart Grid technology using broadband power line (BPL) capabilities as the communications medium. LIPA therefore envisions working through the computational partnership with SBU, BNL, Maritime, etc., to build on the partnership project by utilizing wireless, sensor and information technologies created through the Center. The goal is to develop and test advanced energy utilization capabilities that could be integrated with manufacturing automation processes, and to test these capabilities through the demonstration project. LIPA further envisions working with the partnership to apply the capabilities developed for manufacturing to all other key market segments of the local economy, improving on overall efficiency through better energy utilization, higher reliability and power quality, and ultimately, lower cost.

 

Education and Training

Finally, implementation of new energy policies, energy conservation technology and the transition to new energy sources requires a strong partnership with the public. This can only be achieved through community outreach and education. Stony Brook University, SUNY Farmingdale, and Brookhaven National Laboratory have strong ties with the local community that were established over the years through relations with community boards, affiliations with the major regional business organizations, and an extensive network of public education forums. (i) The center will sponsor conferences on new energy sources and technologies to provide a forum for scientific exchange between leading experts in the field and highlight the latest developments in energy related technologies. The conferences will follow the successful model of the The Farmingdale Solar Energy Center which has trained a total of 350 students in 23 workshops since 2001. More than 3000 people have attended Farmingdale Solar Energy Center’s public seminars. The purpose of these seminars was to bring awareness to the general public on the relatively new technology of photovoltaics, energy conservation and the overwhelming advantages of renewable energy. The Solar Energy Conference has been an annual feature of the Center since 2002. Each year the conference has worked successfully with a theme and involved more than 200 participants. The conference and workshops have been funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and Long Island Power Authority. (ii)The center will sponsor workforce training courses and inaugurate graduate and undergraduate degree programs in energy related fields. SUNY Maritime has one of the only Graduate training and licensing programs for operators of vessels transporting liquefied fuels such as LNG’s and conventional fossil fuels. They operate “the Empire State” a 17,000 ton, 565-foot training vessel (figure 4) and a seven million dollar Center for Simulation and Marine Operation containing a state-of-the-art full bridge simulator and, with a grant from the Conoco Corporation, a simulator of an LNG terminal, has been added. The licensing programs and cadet training courses will be enhanced by the program in basic energy sciences and environmental conservation which will be offered to all SUNY students in the center. In addition, both SUNY Maritime and Stony Brook University are planning a joint graduate certificate program in energy conservation, security, and technology which will be offered on line. (iii) Implementation of energy policy involves active participation by an informed constituency. The Center will therefore focus public outreach programs, which will include organizing workshops in public places such as libraries, schools and senior centers to highlight new energy technologies, conservation, and public policies. The center will provide summer research programs for high school students, teacher training courses and demonstration modules for students in grade K-12. In collaboration with BNL and KeySpan, the center will also sponsor a national energy engineering competition for high school students. In addition the Farmingdale Solar Energy Center will continue to conduct programs for middle school and high school teachers and students with the intention to raise awareness and help develop a renewable energy curriculum in our schools through funding from the National Grid Foundation.