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Berkeley Lab Technologies Honored With 7 R&D 100 Awards

Innovations include a better lithium battery, secure quantum communications, and a tool for buildings to save energy.

Innovative technologies from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) to achieve higher energy efficiency in buildings, make lithium batteries safer and higher performing, and secure quantum communications were some of the inventions honored with R&D 100 Awards by R&D World magazine.

For more than 50 years, the annual R&D 100 Awards have recognized 100 technologies of the past year deemed most innovative and disruptive by an independent panel of judges. The full list of winners, announced by parent company WTWH Media LLC is available at the R&D World website.

Berkeley Lab’s award-winning technologies are described below.

A Tool to Accelerate Electrochemical and Solid-State Innovation

composite image of (from left) Adam Weber, New Danilovic, Douglas Kusher and John Petrovick

(from left) Adam Weber, New Danilovic, Douglas Kushner, and John Petrovick (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

Berkeley Lab scientists invented a microelectrode cell to analyze and test electrochemical systems with solid electrolytes. Thanks to significant cost and performance advantages, this tool can accelerate development of critical applications such as energy storage and conversion (fuel cells, batteries, electrolyzers), carbon capture, desalination, and industrial decarbonization.

Solid electrolytes have been displacing liquid electrolytes as the focus of electrochemical innovation because of their performance, safety, and cost advantages. However, the lack of effective methods and equipment for studying solid electrolytes has hindered advancement of the technologies that employ them. This microelectrode cell meets the testing needs, and is already being used by Berkeley Lab scientists.

The development team includes Berkeley Lab researchers Adam Weber, Nemanja Danilovic, Douglas Kushner, and John Petrovick.

Matter-Wave Modulating Secure Quantum Communicator (MMQ-Com)

Information transmitted by MMQ-Com is impervious to security breaches. (Credit: Alexander Stibor/Berkeley Lab)

Quantum communication, cybersecurity, and quantum computing are growing global markets. But the safety of our data is in peril given the rise of quantum computers that can decode classical encryption schemes.

The Matter-Wave Modulating Secure Quantum Communicator (MMQ-Com) technology is a fundamentally new kind of secure quantum information transmitter. It transmits messages by modulating electron matter-waves without changing the pathways of the electrons. This secure communication method is inherently impervious to any interception attempt.

A novel quantum key distribution scheme also ensures that the signal is protected from spying by other quantum devices.

The development team includes Alexander Stibor of Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry along with Robin Röpke and Nicole Kerker of the University of Tübingen in Germany.

Solid Lithium Battery Using Hard and Soft Solid Electrolytes

composite image of (from left) Marca Doeff, Guoying Chen, and Eongyu Yi

(from left) Marca Doeff, Guoying Chen, and Eongyu Yi (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

The lithium battery market is expected to grow from more than $37 billion in 2019 to more than $94 billion by 2025. However, the liquid electrolytes used in most commercial lithium-ion batteries are flammable and limit the ability to achieve higher energy densities. Safety issues continue to plague the electronics markets, as often-reported lithium battery fires and explosions result in casualties and financial losses.

In Berkeley Lab’s solid lithium battery, the organic electrolytic solution is replaced by two solid electrolytes, one soft and one hard, and lithium metal is used in place of the graphite anode. In addition to eliminating battery fires, incorporation of a lithium metal anode with a capacity 10 times higher than graphite (the conventional anode material in lithium-ion batteries) provides much higher energy densities.

The technology was developed by Berkeley Lab scientists Marca Doeff, Guoying Chen, and Eongyu Yi, along with collaborators at Montana State University.

Porous Graphitic Frameworks for Sustainable High-Performance Li-Ion Batteries 

High-resolution transmission electron microscopy images of the Berkeley Lab PGF cathode reveal (at left) a highly ordered honeycomb structure within the 2D plane, and (at right) layered columnar arrays stacked perpendicular to the 2D plane. (Credit: Yi Liu/Berkeley Lab)

The Porous Graphitic Frameworks (PGF) technology is a lithium-ion battery cathode that could outperform today’s cathodes in sustainability and performance.

In contrast to commercial cathodes, organic PGFs pose fewer risks to the environment because they are metal-free and composed of earth-abundant, lightweight organic elements such as carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. The PGF production process is also more energy-efficient and eco-friendly than other cathode technologies because they are prepared in water at mild temperatures, rather than in toxic solvents at high temperatures.

PGF cathodes also display stable charge-discharge cycles with ultrahigh capacity and record-high energy density, both of which are much higher than all commercial inorganic cathodes and organic cathodes known to exist.

The development team includes Yi Liu and Xinie Li of Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, as well as Hongxia Wang and Hao Chen of Stanford University.

Building Efficiency Targeting Tool for Energy Retrofits (BETTER)

The buildings sector is the largest source of primary energy consumption (40%) and ranks second after the industrial sector as a global source of direct and indirect carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion. According to the World Economic Forum, nearly one-half of all energy consumed by buildings could be avoided with new energy-efficient systems and equipment.

composite image of (from left) Carolyn Szum (Lead Researcher), Han Li, Chao Ding, Nan Zhou, Xu Liu

(from left) Carolyn Szum (Lead Researcher), Han Li, Chao Ding, Nan Zhou, Xu Liu (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

The Building Efficiency Targeting Tool for Energy Retrofits (BETTER) allows municipalities, building and portfolio owners and managers, and energy service providers to quickly and easily identify the most effective cost-saving and energy-efficiency measures in their buildings. With an open-source, data-driven analytical engine, BETTER uses readily available building and monthly energy data to quantify energy, cost, and greenhouse gas reduction potential, and to recommend efficiency interventions at the building and portfolio levels to capture that potential.

It is estimated that BETTER will help reduce about 165.8 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) globally by 2030. This is equivalent to the CO2 sequestered by growing 2.7 billion tree seedlings for 10 years.

The development team includes Berkeley Lab scientists Nan Zhou, Carolyn Szum, Han Li, Chao Ding, Xu Liu, and William Huang, along with collaborators from Johnson Controls and ICF.

Amanzi–ATS: Modeling Environmental Systems Across Scales

Simulated surface and subsurface water from Amanzi-ATS hydrological modeling of the Copper Creek sub-catchment in the East River, Colorado watershed. (Credit: Zexuan Xu/Berkeley Lab, David Moulton/Los Alamos National Laboratory)

Scientists use computer simulations to predict the impact of wildfires on water quality, or to monitor cleanup at nuclear waste remediation sites by portraying fluid flow across Earth compartments. The Amanzi-Advanced Terrestrial Simulator (ATS) enables them to replicate or couple multiple complex and integrated physical processes controlling these flowpaths, making it possible to capture the essential physics of the problem at hand.

“Specific problems require taking an individual approach to simulations,” said Sergi Molins, principal investigator at Berkeley Lab, which contributed expertise in geochemical modeling to the software’s development. “Physical processes controlling how mountainous watersheds respond to disturbances such as climate- and land-use change, extreme weather, and wildfire are far different than the physical processes at play when an unexpected storm suddenly impacts groundwater contaminant levels in and around a nuclear remediation site. Amanzi-ATS allows scientists to make sense of these interactions in each individual scenario.”

The code is open-source and capable of being run on systems ranging from a laptop to a supercomputer. Led by Los Alamos National Laboratory, Amanzi-ATS is jointly developed by researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Berkeley Lab researchers including Sergi Molins, Marcus Day, Carl Steefel, and Zexuan Xu.

Institute for the Design of Advanced Energy Systems (IDAES)

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Institute for the Design of Advanced Energy Systems (IDAES) project develops next-generation computational tools for process systems engineering (PSE) of advanced energy systems, enabling their rapid design and optimization.

IDAES Project Team (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

By providing rigorous modeling capabilities, the IDAES Modeling & Optimization Platform helps energy and process companies, technology developers, academic researchers, and DOE to design, develop, scale-up, and analyze new and potential PSE technologies and processes to accelerate advances and apply them to address the nation’s energy needs. The IDAES platform is also a key component in the National Alliance for Water Innovation, a $100 million, five-year DOE innovation hub led by Berkeley Lab, which will examine the critical technical barriers and research needed to radically lower the cost and energy of desalination.

Led by National Energy Technology Laboratory, IDAES is a collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories, Berkeley Lab, West Virginia University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Notre Dame. The development team at Berkeley Lab includes Deb Agarwal, Oluwamayowa (Mayo) Amusat, Keith Beattie, Ludovico Bianchi, Josh Boverhof, Hamdy Elgammal, Dan Gunter, Julianne Mueller, Jangho Park, Makayla Shepherd, Karen Whitenack, and Perren Yang.

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Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 13 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

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