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ARPA-E Vitality Innovation Summit 2024: Coolest Tech


Almost 400 exhibitors representing the boldest power improvements in america got here collectively final week on the annual ARPA-E Vitality Innovation Summit. The convention, hosted in Dallas by the U.S. Superior Analysis Initiatives Company–Vitality (ARPA-E), showcased the company’s bets on early-stage power applied sciences that may disrupt the established order. U.S. Secretary of Vitality Jennifer Granholm spoke on the summit. “The individuals on this room are America’s finest hope” within the race to unleash the facility of unpolluted power, she mentioned. “The applied sciences you create will determine whether or not we win that race. However no stress,” she quipped. IEEE Spectrum spent three days meandering the aisles of the showcase. Listed here are 5 of our favourite demonstrations.

Gasoline Li-ion batteries thwart excessive chilly

South 8 Applied sciences demonstrates the chilly tolerance of its Li-ion battery by burying it in ice on the 2024 ARPA-E Vitality Innovation Summit.Emily Waltz

Made with a liquified fuel electrolyte as a substitute of the usual liquid solvent, a brand new sort of lithium-ion battery that stands as much as excessive chilly, made by
South 8 Applied sciences in San Diego, received’t freeze till temps drop beneath –80 °C. That’s a giant enchancment on standard Li-ion batteries, which begin to degrade when temps attain 0 °C and shut down at about –20 °C. “You lose about half of your vary in an electrical automobile when you drive it in the midst of winter in Michigan,” says Cyrus Rustomji, cofounder of South 8. To show the corporate’s level, Rustomji and his staff set out a bucket of dry ice at almost –80 °C at their sales space on the ARPA-E summit and put flashlights in it—one powered by a South 8 battery and one powered by a standard Li-ion cell. The latter flashlight went out after about 10 minutes, and South 8’s saved going for the subsequent 15 hours. Rustomji says he expects EV batteries made with South 8’s expertise to take care of almost full vary at –40 °C, and progressively degrade in temperatures decrease than that.

A shining flashlight sits on dry ice next to a container of battery cells.South 8 Applied sciences

Standard Li-ion batteries use liquid solvents, resembling ethylene and dimethyl carbonate, because the electrolyte. The electrolyte serves as a medium by which lithium salt strikes from one electrode to the opposite within the battery, shuttling electrical energy. When it’s chilly, the carbonates thicken, which lowers the facility of the battery. They will additionally freeze, which shuts down all conductivity. South 8 swapped out the carbonate for some industrial liquified gases with low freezing factors (a recipe the corporate received’t disclose).

Utilizing liquified gases additionally reduces fireplace threat as a result of the fuel in a short time evaporates from a broken battery cell, eradicating gas that would burn and trigger the battery to catch fireplace. If a standard Li-ion battery will get broken, it may possibly short-circuit and rapidly turn into sizzling—like over 800 °C sizzling. This causes the liquid electrolyte to warmth adjoining cells and doubtlessly begin a hearth.

There’s one other profit to this battery, and this one will make EV drivers very completely happy: It should take solely 10 minutes to achieve an 80 p.c cost in EVs powered by these batteries, Rustomji estimates. That’s as a result of liquified fuel has a decrease viscosity than carbonate-based electrolytes, which permits the lithium salt to maneuver from one electrode to the opposite at a sooner price, shortening the time it takes to recharge the battery.

South 8’s newest enchancment is a high-voltage cathode that reduces materials prices and will allow quick charging down to five minutes for a full cost. “We’ve got the world file for a high-voltage, low-temperature cathode,” says Rustomji.

Liquid cooling received’t leak on servers

Chilldyne ensures that its liquid-cooling system received’t leak even when tubes get hacked in half, as IEEE Spectrum editor Emily Waltz demonstrates on the 2024 ARPA-E Vitality Innovation Summit. Emily Waltz

Knowledge facilities want severe cooling applied sciences to maintain servers from overheating, and typically air-conditioning
simply isn’t sufficient. In reality, the most recent Blackwell chips from Nvidia require liquid cooling, which is extra power environment friendly than air. However liquid cooling tends to make data-center operators nervous. “A bomb received’t do as a lot injury as a leaky liquid-cooling system,” says Steve Harrington, CEO of Chilldyne. His firm, based mostly in Carlsbad, Calif., gives liquid cooling that’s assured to not leak, even when the coolant strains get chopped in half. (They aren’t kidding: Chilldyne introduced an axe to its demonstration at ARPA-E and let Spectrum strive it out. Watch the blue cooling liquid instantly disappear from the tube after it’s chopped.)

Hands holding pliers snip at a tube of liquid coolant in a server.Chilldyne

The system is leakproof as a result of Chilldyne’s negative-pressure system pulls slightly than pushes liquid coolant by tubes, like a vacuum. The tubes wind by servers, absorbing warmth by chilly plates, and return the warmed liquid to tanks in a cooling distribution unit. This unit transfers the warmth outdoors and provides cooled liquid again to the servers. If a part anyplace within the cooling loop breaks, the liquid is instantly sucked again into the tanks earlier than it may possibly leak. Key to the expertise: low-thermal-resistance chilly plates hooked up to every server’s processors, such because the CPUs or GPUs. The chilly plates take up warmth by convection, transferring the warmth to the coolant tube that runs by it. Chilldyne optimized the chilly plate utilizing corkscrew-shaped steel channels, known as turbulators, that pressure water round them “like little tornadoes,” maximizing the warmth absorbed, says Harrington. The corporate developed the chilly plate beneath an ARPA-E grant and is now measuring the power financial savings of liquid cooling by an ARPA-E program.

Salvaged mining waste additionally sequesters CO2

Photo of a woman in a red jacket holding a container. Phoenix Tailings’ senior analysis scientist Rita Silbernagel explains how mining waste incorporates helpful metals and uncommon earth parts and can be used as a spot to retailer carbon dioxide.Emily Waltz

Mining leaves behind piles of waste after the commercially viable materials is extracted. This waste, often called tailings, can include uncommon earth parts and helpful metals which might be
too troublesome to extract with standard mining methods. Phoenix Tailings—a startup based mostly in Woburn, Mass.—extracts metals and uncommon earth parts from tailings in a course of that leaves behind no waste and creates no direct carbon dioxide emissions. The corporate’s course of begins with a hydrometallurgical remedy that separates uncommon earth parts from the tailings, which include iron, aluminum, and different frequent parts. Subsequent the corporate makes use of a novel solvent extraction technique to separate the uncommon earth parts from each other and purify the specified aspect within the type of an oxide. The uncommon earth oxide then undergoes a molten-salt electrolysis course of that converts it right into a strong steel type. Phoenix Tailings focuses on extracting neodymium, neodymium-praseodymium alloy, dysprosium, and ferro dysprosium alloy, that are uncommon earth metals utilized in everlasting magnets for EVs, wind generators, jet engines, and different purposes. The corporate is evaluating a number of tailings websites in america, together with in upstate New York.

The corporate has additionally developed a course of to extract metals resembling nickel, copper, and cobalt from mining tailings whereas concurrently sequestering carbon dioxide. The method entails injecting CO2 into the tailings, the place it reacts with minerals, reworking them into carbonates—compounds that include the carbonate ion, which incorporates three oxygen atoms and one carbon atom. After the mineral carbonation course of, the nickel or different metals are selectively leached from the combination, yielding high-quality nickel that can be utilized by EV-battery and stainless-steel industries.

Higher nonetheless, this complete course of, says Rita Silbernagel, senior analysis scientist at Phoenix Tailings, absorbs extra CO2 than it emits.

Hydrokinetic generators: a brand new enterprise mannequin

Emrgy adjusts the peak of its hydrokinetic generators on the 2024 ARPA-E Vitality Innovation Summit. The corporate plans to put in them in outdated irrigation channels to generate renewable power and new income streams for rural communities.Emily Waltz

These hydrokinetic generators run in irrigation channels, producing electrical energy and income for rural communities. Developed by
Emrgy in Atlanta, the generators can change in top and blade pitch based mostly on the move of the water. The corporate plans to place them in irrigation channels that have been constructed to carry water from snowmelt within the Rocky Mountains to agricultural areas within the western United States. Emrgy estimates that there are greater than 160,000 kilometers of those waterways within the nation. The system is getting older and dropping water, however it’s onerous for water districts to justify the price of repairing them, says Tom Cuthbert, chief expertise officer at Emrgy. The corporate’s resolution is to put its hydrokinetic generators all through these waterways as a technique to generate renewable electrical energy and pay for upgrades to the irrigation channels.

The idea of
inserting hydrokinetic generators in waterways isn’t new, however till current years, connecting them to the grid wasn’t sensible. Emrgy’s timing takes benefit of the groundwork laid by the solar energy business. The corporate has 5 pilot initiatives within the works in america and New Zealand. “We discovered that present water infrastructure is a large neglected actual property section that’s ripe for renewable power improvement,” says Emily Morris, CEO and founding father of Emrgy.

Pressurized water shops power deep underground

Photo of blue pipe with a display board.Quidnet Vitality introduced a wellhead to the 2024 ARPA-E Vitality Innovation Summit to display its geoengineered energy-storage system.Emily Waltz

Quidnet Vitality introduced an entire wellhead to the ARPA-E summit to display its underground pumped hydro storage method. The Houston-based firm’s geoengineered system shops power as pressurized water deep underground. It consists of a surface-level pond, a deep nicely, an underground reservoir on the finish of the nicely, and a pump system that strikes pressurized water from the pond to the underground reservoir and again. The design doesn’t require an elevation change like conventional pumped storage hydropower.

An illustration of how a pressurized pump works. Quidnet’s system consists of a surface-level pond, a deep nicely, an underground reservoir on the finish of the nicely, and a pump system that strikes pressurized water from the pond to the underground reservoir and again.Quidnet Vitality

It really works like this: Electrical energy from renewable sources powers a pump that sends water from the floor pond right into a wellhead and down a nicely that’s about 300 meters deep. On the finish of the nicely, the stress from the pumped water flows right into a beforehand engineered fracture within the rock, making a reservoir that’s lots of of meters broad and sits beneath the burden of the entire column of rock above it, says Bunker Hill, vp of engineering at Quidnet. The wellhead then closes and the water stays beneath excessive stress, protecting power saved within the reservoir for days if needed. When electrical energy is required, the nicely is opened, letting the pressurized water run up the identical nicely. Above floor, the water passes by a hydroelectric turbine, producing 2 to eight megawatts of electrical energy. The spent water then returns to the floor pond, prepared for the subsequent cycle. “The onerous half is ensuring the underground reservoir doesn’t lose water,” says Hill. To that finish, the corporate developed custom-made sealing options that get injected into the fracture, sealing within the water.

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