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October 21, 2018 | Tom Ballard

ORNL spotlights eight promising inventions at latest “Technology Innovation Showcase”

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Many of the technologies on display last Thursday at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) annual “Technology Innovation Showcase” could have a significant impact on the automotive sector.

The event, organized by the Office of Technology Transfer, is designed to showcase the lab’s most promising technologies to those most likely to be interested in commercializing them. At least five and probably six of the eight inventions spotlighted at the event had direct application in the automotive sector. They ranged from electrolytes for advanced battery applications to a new family of cast aluminum alloys for automotive engine applications above 2500C and another alloy to meet the performance and cost targets for components like exhaust valves.

You get the picture. These are cutting-edge inventions that have great promise in addressing critical upcoming needs, but they also are not likely to secure immediate funding from traditional sources. Bridging that gap to make them more commercially ready is the goal of two programs – one that is ORNL specific (the “Technology Innovation Program” or {TIP}) and the other that comes out of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) called the “Technology Commercialization Fund” (TCF).

The results of the former show the long-term potential for both strategies.

“Seventy percent of the projects we’ve funded in the past through our TIP have been commercialized,” Mike Paulus, Director of Technology Transfer, told attendees in opening the program. His goal with Thursday’s event was to continue that trend while also spotlighting three inventions funded under the new TCP initiative.

We first spotlighted the TIP in this 2014 article where Paulus discussed the then year-old initiative. Up to $200,000 in dollars generated from royalty income from already licensed ORNL technologies is invested in each of the selected inventions for further R&D to increase their commercial readiness.

The TCF is a joint program between DOE and its labs where up to $300,000 is provided to mature promising energy technologies with the potential for high impact. The participating labs and DOE each provide one-half of those dollars with the lab’s portion again coming from royalty funds.

Both programs support projects for one year and provide opportunities for follow-on funding to facilitate the transfer of the technologies to licensees. The inventor or member of a team of inventors presented the technologies during 20-minute sessions on Thursday morning. Follow-up one-on-one discussions between the inventors and interested partners occurred later in the day.

The five TIP technologies, highlighted in this brochure produced by ORNL, were:

  • Heartbeat which is designed to address the escalating problem of malware infections and cyberattacks based on the belief that these events will produce a measurable change in the power consumption of the device (see additional summary and video).
  • Safe Impact Resistant Electrolytes, better known as SAFIRE, is an electrolyte that challenges previous notions regarding battery safety and engineering by turning the electrolyte into an intrinsic part of the battery safety envelope (see additional summary and video).
  • Carbon Nanomaterial Enabled Ultra Conductive Metal Composites (UCC) is a technology focused on meeting the growing demand for electrical energy and the increasing need for high-power grid systems that require new conductors to provide enhanced electrical and thermal conductivity (see additional summary and video).
  • Commercialization of High-Temperature Aluminum Alloys is another of the automotive applications, in this case using a new family of cast aluminum alloys that combine unprecedented levels of cost competitiveness, castability, and mechanical property superiority at temperatures previously unattainable for lower cost aluminum alloys (see additional summary and video).
  • Low-Cost, High Strength Ni-Fe-Cr Alloys for High-Temperature Applications is a technology that could address the demand for new materials to address the expected steady increase in exhaust gas temperatures and cost targets in devices such as exhaust valves for both light- and heavy-duty engines (see additional summary and video).

The three TCP technologies were:

  • UNF-ST&DARDS is an acronym that stands for “Used Nuclear Fuel-Storage, Transportation & Disposal Analysis Resource and Data System.” With the absence of a current pathway for permanent disposal of used nuclear fuel (UNF), the tool is being developed to help characterize UNF so that future decisions can be simplified (see summary).
  • Novel Catalyst for Low Temperature Emissions Control has been developed to address a situation that occurs as engine fuel efficiency increases, resulting in lower exhaust temperatures in vehicles as less energy is being wasted as heat. In turn, engines require more advanced catalysts that are capable of operating at lower temperatures to meet emission standards (see summary).
  • Novel Catalyst for the Synthesis of Electrochemical Fuels is a process for converting CO2 to ethanol. The technology could provide a useful alternative to batteries for long-term or portable storage of renewable electricity (see summary and video);

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