Tag: Energy & Environment

Southern Research licenses technology to Agra for ‘waste-to-energy’ project

Waste from cities, restaurants and farms across the nation presents a problem because of resulting greenhouse gas emissions, but innovative technology developed by Southern Research could soon help address environmental concerns and spark investment that supports dynamic change.

Under a licensing deal that is the first of its kind, Southern Research’s Energy & Environment (E&E) division is providing an Irvine, California-based company with patented technology and specialized equipment for a “waste-to-energy” project.

Agriculture is a key marketspace for Agra Energy Corp. By partnering with dairy farmers across the nation, Agra Energy intends to use an advanced chemical-conversion process developed by Southern Research scientists to turn cow manure into clean, renewable fuels conventionally produced from crude oil.

Southern Research sustainable chemistry
Southern Research’s Sustainable Chemistry team includes, from left, Chanse Appling, Wesley Wilson, Swanand Tupsakhare, Amit Goyal, Zora Govedarica and Jadid Samad.

Southern Research’s collaboration with Agra Energy comes at a time when concerns are rising about the negative impacts of solid waste produced at large-scale agricultural operations such as dairy, poultry and hog farms.

“We have to produce our food more sustainably,” said Corey Tyree, Ph.D., senior director of E&E at Southern Research. “There are opportunities to manage agricultural waste to do less harm to our land and water resources. One opportunity is to convert waste like manure into liquid fuels. This benefits the farmer and the environment. The technology being licensed to Agra enables all of this to happen.”

Tony Long, president of Agra Energy, said the Southern Research technology aligns with his company’s broad mission.

“Our directive, as an innovative renewable energy company, has a laser-focused agenda: implement engineering solutions that shift consumption away from fossil fuels, convert pollution sources into clean energy sources, and offer real economic returns that provoke real action within the industry and greater society,” Long said.

“We are excited to join our experienced team together with Southern Research to bring their base technology processes into commercialization.”


Southern Research scientists developed the proprietary process being licensed to Agra Energy through work on a series of U.S. Department of Energy projects that explored how to convert low-rank coal and coal-biomass mixtures to high-quality liquid fuels, among other things.

Southern Research’s unique “gas-to-liquids” (GTL) process, patented in 2016, will feature in small-scale GTL units that Agra Energy will deploy to farms to produce renewable diesel and other valuable liquid fuels after the manure is converted into a synthesis gas, or syngas.

Southern Research sustainable chemistry
Southern Research’s Amit Goyal stands in front of the team’s “gas-to-liquids,” or GTL technology, which will help Agra Energy turn cow manure into renewable fuels.

“Our GTL technology is a unique combination of novel stable catalysts with better yields to fuel and a reactor system with better heat management, improving efficiency,” said Amit Goyal, Ph.D., director of Southern Research’s Sustainable Chemistry and Catalysis laboratory.

“These advances allow technology to be deployed at smaller modular scales, enabling biogas obtained from farm manure to be converted to syngas and subsequently to fuels.”

While conventional GTL technology has been around for decades, it has required massive scale with major investment commitment. By utilizing Southern Research’s GTL process, Agra Energy aims to deploy the technology on a cost-efficient “micro” level across the nation.

As part of this collaboration, Southern Research is now fabricating equipment in Birmingham that Agra Energy will install as a pilot program at a dairy farm in Wisconsin to demonstrate the capabilities of the technology.


Tyree said this agreement commercializing technology developed by scientists in Southern Research’s E&E division gives Agra Energy exclusive rights to the GTL process across the United States.

“While we think there is global potential long term, we are thrilled to partner with Agra and benefit U.S. farmers and the environment,” Tyree said.

He also expects other commercialization deals involving intellectual property created by Southern Research’s E&E scientists to be signed in the future.


Southern Research, energy companies and researchers join to open Energy Storage Research Center

Industry leaders joined Southern Research officials today to formally open the Energy Storage Research Center (ESRC), a facility on Southern Research’s engineering campus where collaborative efforts will aim to accelerate the development and deployment of next-generation energy storage technologies.

Southern Research collaborated with Southern Company and its Alabama Power subsidiary, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the state of Alabama to develop the ESRC.

The center will focus on grid-scale energy storage applications in combination with renewables in the Southeast region through the development of joint energy storage research, demonstration and test projects.

Additionally, the ESRC will serve as an industry-wide resource to evaluate the emerging energy storage technologies needed to fully realize the potential of renewable energy sources such as solar generation, and to improve the reliability and resiliency of the power grid.

“The Energy Storage industry is experiencing ever increasing growth, but not all installations are successful in running effectively and providing economic return,” said Imre Gyuk, Ph.D., director of Energy Storage Research at DOE’s Office of Electricity.

“A regional test center can provide needed validation of storage technologies as well as validation of business cases and benefit streams.”

Southern Research energy storage
Southern Research is formally opening its Energy Storage Research Center as an industrywide resource for testing and validating energy storage technologies. The center is located on Southern Research’s Oxmoor campus.


Representatives from DOE, EPRI, Southern Company and the Alabama Department of Commerce spoke at this morning’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at the ESRC, underscoring the new facility’s significance in the field of energy storage.

The ESRC will serve as an independent research facility to provide third-party services on energy storage systems for technology vendors and users as well as other stakeholder groups.

The center’s overall goal is to facilitate technical and economic growth and development in the emerging energy storage market through joint research.

“As a leader in research and development, Southern Company is committed to advancing technologies that can help us continue to meet customer’s needs as the energy industry rapidly evolves,” said Roxann Walsh, Southern Company research and development director. “The Energy Storage Research Center will broaden our work with stakeholders and technology developers from across the industry to better understand energy storage systems and how to fully use this technology to build the future of energy.”

“Energy storage is a critical technology to enable electric power strategies for decarbonization and resilience,” said Mark McGranaghan, vice president, Integrated Grid, EPRI. “Objective research into energy storage can help realize the environmental, economic and societal benefits of further renewable energy integration, electric transportation and other emerging energy technologies. We are pleased to be part of ESRC’s collaborative energy storage testing and analysis effort.”


The ESRC currently features a flow battery system developed by Oakland, California-based Avalon Battery. A rechargeable flow battery stores energy directly in the electrolyte solution for longer cycle life and quick response times.

Matt Harper, co-founder and chief product officer at Avalon Battery, said he is pleased to support the ESRC in the mission to promote innovation in grid-scale energy storage systems.

“It was a great honor to have Avalon’s product, the result of years of dedicated work by a team with decades of flow battery experience, selected by the ESRC for evaluation. We look forward to working closely with Southern Research and the ESRC as they help build a clean energy future,” Harper said.

Bert Taube, Ph.D., energy storage and renewables program manager in

Southern Research Energy Storage
Southern Research officials joined energy company representatives and researchers at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for SR’s Energy Storage Research Center, July 16, 2019.

Southern Research’s Energy & Environment division, said a well-defined portfolio of validated, evaluated and demonstrated energy storage system technologies is critical to enable a variety of energy storage plus renewables use cases necessary to optimize the energy mix, increase grid resilience and power quality while minimizing the carbon footprint inherent in the power generation and delivery process.

“The ESRC represents a critical step of de-risking energy storage system deployments between the factory and the field through testing a range of technologies, systems and levels of integration applying a comprehensive staged test approach leveraging the unique ESRC software infrastructure with a platform for large-scale data collection and analysis to benchmark system functionality, safety and performance,” Taube said.


Experts say there is considerable potential for these technologies.

The Energy Storage Association says market research shows the global energy storage market is growing exponentially to an annual installation size of 40 gigawatts (GW) by 2022, up from an initial base of only 0.34 GW installed in 2012 and 2013.

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the ESRC is an impressive technological accomplishment for Southern Research and its collaborators.

“This is another example of the cutting-edge technology development taking place right here in Birmingham at Southern Research,” Canfield said.

“The Energy Storage Research Center has the potential to help advance new clean-energy approaches that will allow utilities to create a more efficient and resilient energy infrastructure and to bring cost savings to consumers.”

Southern Research team to design and model hybrid energy storage system in Department of Defense project

Southern Research is leading a team developing and implementing a hybrid energy storage system in a project funded by a Department of Defense (DoD) program that identifies innovative, cost-effective technologies and methods.

Southern Research’s Energy and Environment division, in collaboration with Arizona State University (ASU) and Bankable Energy | XENDEE will develop a microgrid energy storage modeling and design platform with integrated analytics and controls capability.

The primary objective of the project is to demonstrate the value of integrating multiple storage technologies and advanced controls to provide defense-ready microgrids that cost-effectively improve energy security and resilience performance compared to small-scale power delivery systems without storage.

Southern Research microgrid
A microgrid stands at the Marine Corps Air Station at Miramar, California, developed as part of a demonstration project. The Defense Department is interested in microgrids to allow operations to continue if the utility power grid is compromised.(Image: National Renewable Energy Laboratories)

The project is being funded by DoD’s Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), which demonstrates and validates environmental technologies. Its goal is to promote the transfer of innovative technologies that have established proof of concept to field or production use.

“The overall potential economic advantages of an optimized hybrid energy storage system revolve about reduced costs, improved payback potential, better system efficiency, enhanced reliability, and longer equipment lifetimes,” said Bill Chatterton, program manager for energy technology demonstrations at Southern Research.


The platform being developed by Southern Research and its partners will enable custom system design and control of a fully integrated, optimized hybrid energy storage system, or HESS. It will use a modular energy storage approach that’s economical and provides system flexibility and improved critical load coverage probability.

XENDEE’s modeling and design approach enables a reduction in microgrid design time of up to 90 percent. “When our team created the XENDEE platform, it understood the influence it would have in unlocking the microgrid market.  We’re delighted to partner with Southern Research and ASU’s LEAPS team on the HESS platform,” said Adib Naslé, Founder and CEO of Bankable Energy | XENDEE.

Model predictive control techniques developed by ASU’s Laboratory for Energy and Power Solutions (LEAPS) will reduce system operational costs by as much as 35 percent and extend mission assurance out to 14 days for critical loads.

“Our analytics capability is coupled with hardware-level expertise gained in our Microgrid Test Bed that helps us connect simulations to practice and design microgrids that meet expectations,” said Nathan Johnson, Ph.D., director of LEAPS.

This core HESS approach, combining smaller systems of different technologies, has been demonstrated to provide a reduction in capital expenditures of 10 to 20 percent, with 30 percent lower operating costs. It’s also been shown to essentially double the expected equipment lifetime compared to a traditional energy storage system.

The initial microgrid design model considers four core energy storage system technologies that might be used in specific cases, based on their optimal charging/discharging rate, or C-rate. These technologies are ultra capacitors, Li-ion batteries, flow batteries, and sodium sulfur batteries.

ASU’s model predictive control techniques allow flexible, adaptive and market-aware dispatching of all energy storage and other generation sources on the microgrid. This control software is implemented on an industrial computer that connects with the storage system and the local utility using Schneider Electric’s ClearSCADA platform.

Southern Research expects to complete the design and modeling of the HESS platform this month and to apply for Phase II ESTCP funding to deploy and demonstrate system performance at a DoD installation in 2020.

Example XENDEE Optimization Report

Southern Research moving ‘green chemistry’ team to new Birmingham lab

Southern Research announced today that it has moved a team of scientists working to develop promising clean-energy technologies from North Carolina to a new state-of-the-art laboratory it is opening on the organization’s downtown Birmingham campus.

The research team, led by Amit Goyal, Ph.D., has devised cost-efficient, environmentally friendly methods to produce valuable industrial chemicals from sources such as waste materials and harmful carbon dioxide.

“These leading-edge technologies hold significant potential for commercialization and relocating our talented scientists to an ultra-modern laboratory in Birmingham will help them advance their important work,” said Art Tipton, Ph.D., president and CEO of Southern Research.

“We are committed to supporting the research being conducted by Amit’s team because it fully aligns with Southern Research’s core mission – finding innovative solutions to make the world a better place,” Tipton added.

Southern Research is investing $1 million to outfit an existing 7,200-square-foot building on its Southside campus as the Sustainable Chemistry and Catalysis Laboratory. Work is under way to install pilot-scale chemical reactors and other equipment at the facility. Funds raised through the recent Change Campaign effort are also helping to drive this important project forward.

The lab is expected to be operational by mid-February, and Goyal’s team, comprised of eight researchers, is already working full-time in Birmingham, according to Corey Tyree, Ph.D., senior director in Energy & Environment (E&E) at Southern Research.

“This will be a world-class lab where brilliant inventors are creating new technologies that offer a better way of manufacturing everyday products,” Tyree said. “This group is doing award-winning work, and now that work will be carried out right here in Birmingham, where Southern Research has made many groundbreaking discoveries in its history.”


Green Chemistry Southern Research
Amit Goyal leads a Southern Research working on promising clean-energy technologies that is being relocated from North Carolina to a new lab in Birmingham.

Goyal and his team have developed a method to convert biomass sugars into acrylonitrile, the chemical building block of carbon fiber, which is increasingly used in airplanes, automobiles and other manufactured products because of its strength and light weight.

The Southern Research process to produce acrylonitrile for high-performance carbon fiber is around 20 percent cheaper than conventional production methods and sustainable, lowering greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 40 percent.

Goyal’s team has also developed a process to transform CO2 into high-value chemicals known as olefins, which are used to make a sweeping range of products such as packaging, plastics, textiles, paints and electronics.

Energy-intensive methods are currently used to produce ethylene and other widely used chemicals in the olefin family, so the Southern Research technology could yield significant environmental benefits while also converting a greenhouse gas.

“This relocation represents an exciting and important opportunity to capitalize on significant Southern Research infrastructure and the scientific community in Birmingham,” said Goyal, director of Sustainable Chemistry and Catalysis for Southern Research. “This puts science at the heart of everything we do because our long-term success depends on improving R&D productivity and achieving scientific leadership.”


Mayor Randall Woodfin welcomed Goyal’s team to the city where Southern Research works to discover and develop new medicines, tackles engineering challenges for major government agencies, and researches energy and environmental technologies.

“Birmingham is increasingly becoming a key location for world-class research and a place where important discoveries are being made on almost a daily basis,” Mayor Woodfin said. “Southern Research’s decision to move its ‘green chemistry’ scientists to a new lab in the city will add to this momentum. I look forward to seeing their work advance in Birmingham.”

As a result of the team’s relocation, Southern Research has closed its office in Durham, North Carolina. The organization’s Environmental Technology Verification team, led by Tim Hansen, P.E., will continue to operate from the city, evaluating new clean technologies around the world.

Tyree said the decision to close the Durham office will yield cost savings and increase efficiency for the non-profit organization. The move also unites the Sustainable Chemistry team with other E&E researchers in Birmingham, who focus on issues such as energy storage systems and solar panel durability.

Southern Research opened the Durham office in 1992 to support work for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which at the time operated a major research and development facility in Research Triangle Park.

In recent years, the work in Durham has focused primarily on various green energy technologies from the U.S. Department of Energy and other customers, making the location in North Carolina less necessary than when it was tied to the EPA work.


DOE funding advances project to turn captured CO2 into key chemicals

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has selected Southern Research for an award of up to $1.5 million to advance technology for carbon dioxide (CO2) utilization. The DOE award, now being negotiated, will fund scale-up and field testing of a catalytic process for conversion of CO2 and shale-derived ethane to ethylene, a valuable olefin.

Olefins serve as building blocks for a sweeping variety of products such as packaging, plastics, textiles, paints and electronics. Industrial demand for olefins such as ethylene and propylene is rising at 4 to 5 percent annually as living standards improve across the world.

Over last two years on a previously funded DOE study, Southern Research has developed a novel nano-engineered catalyst-driven process for the production of light olefins, such as ethylene, using CO2 from coal-fired flue gas and lower alkanes derived from shale gas feedstock.

This lab scale study demonstrated the conversion, selectivity and stability of this new generation catalyst in presence of flue gas impurities and low concentrations of CO2.

Southern Research carbon dioxide
Amit Goyal, right, and Jadid Samad are woking on a process to turn carbon dioxide into valuable chemicals known as olefins.

The results of the lab scale study led to this new award, which consists of constructing and operating a field scale unit. This project will produce and test a larger amount of catalyst and validate both the process reliability and the ability to produce ethylene at the next engineering scale.

“Ethylene and propylene are the highest volume petrochemicals in use today. Current production methods are capital- and energy-intensive as well as large greenhouse gas emitters,” said Corey Tyree, Ph.D., senior director of Energy and Environment at Southern Research.

“By combining CO2 with shale gas, which is readily available in the U.S., our new process promises to have meaningful economic and environmental impact,” he said.

The project’s long-term goal is a commercially viable and environmentally friendly technology for producing light olefins via CO2 utilization.


Production techniques for ethylene, which is manufactured in amounts greater than any other chemical, typically use naphtha or ethane as raw materials, and require a large amount of energy to crack apart molecules.

Amit Goyal, Ph.D., director, Sustainable Chemistry and Catalysis and principal investigator, said Southern Research’s innovative process concept can use CO2 directly (or captured) from coal-fired power plants, or derived from any source, to produce light olefins. The new technique can yield significant environmental benefits by becoming a net consumer of CO2, he added.

“Ethylene alone accounts for 1 percent of the world’s energy consumption and 180 to 200 million tons of CO2 emission,” Goyal said. “Due to the large magnitude of ethylene production, any reduction on the energy requirement will be highly impactful.”

The approach would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants, the top emitters of the colorless, odorless gas in the U.S power sector. In 2015, coal-based power plants in the United States emitted nearly 1.4 billion metric tons of CO2.

“Coal is abundant and cheap, making it a vital energy source,” said Jadid Samad, Ph.D., advanced chemical engineer and co-principal investigator for Southern Research. “A smart solution to the issue of emissions from coal-fired power plants lies in the prospect of using CO2 as feedstock to produce valuable chemicals.”


Southern Research
This diagram shows the process of how carbon dioxide is transformed into light olefins.

Samad said Southern Research’s approach on the project directly supports the Carbon Use and Reuse research and development portfolio being assembled by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy. The portfolio is developing and testing novel approaches that convert captured COfrom coal-fired power plants into useable products.

The funding from the Office of Fossil Energy for Southern Research’s project totals $1,499,442. The office announced Oct. 31 that it has committed a total of $18.7 million to funding projects to support its Carbon Use and Reuse R&D portfolio.

Southern Research’s partners include 8 Rivers Capital LLC, a company developing and commercializing sustainable infrastructure technologies, which will provide support on the project’s techno-economic analysis.

The National Carbon Capture Center, a DOE site for testing innovative technologies, also is teaming with Southern Research on the project and will provide the field site and flue gas feed generated at a utility plant.

In addition, a petrochemical consultant will provide guidance on catalyst development, as well as scale-up and commercialization aspects of the project.

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Southern Research first to win accreditation under ISO 14034

Southern Research has become the first organization in the United States to earn accreditation under ISO 14034, a new international standard for evaluating and verifying environmental technologies that was recently adopted by the American National Standards Institute.

The decision from the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB), the largest multi-disciplinary accreditation body in North America, reflects Southern Research’s deep capabilities in environmental technologies verification (ETV) and a track record in the field that dates back more than two decades.

ETV is a process providing independent and credible information on new environmental technologies by verifying that performance claims are complete, fair, and based on reliable test results. ANAB’s ETV accreditation program supports the advancement of innovative environmental technologies to meet environmental priorities.

“With new environmental technologies developed to save resources and reduce costs, an independent assessment is required to ensure a product’s environmental claims are true and verified,” ANAB Vice President Doug Leonard said. “Organizations accredited under our ETV program can provide an assessment of a technology’s environmental potential and value.”

To become accredited under ANAB’s program, an organization must meet the requirements of ISO/IEC 17020, the international standard for operating bodies performing inspection, as well as ISO 14034.


Published in 2016, ISO 14034 is the first international standard aimed at creating a uniform approach to the ETV process. It specifies principles, procedures, and requirements, and is designed to deliver multiple benefits to enhance confidence in the selection of technologies that add environmental value.

Southern Research’s Tim Hansen, center, stands with members of the Carbon XPrize team and the Carbon Upcycling UCLA team with samples of UCLA’s innovative concrete product, which captures and sequesters carbon dioxide.

“Southern Research is proud to be the first accredited organization under ANAB’s ETV program. For 25 years, we have supported the development and evaluation of innovative, clean technologies, from lab through commercial field deployments. We have always focused on providing high quality data and information about the performance and impacts of innovative environmental technologies,” said Tim Hansen, P.E., director of Cleantech Engineering Services at Southern Research.

“But, now they will carry the weight of an ANAB accredited program, and an ISO standard that encourages international recognition of results. We hope these efforts will help address continuing environmental challenges and provide credible data to investors, purchasers and end users of these potential solutions,” he added.

Hansen was heavily involved in the development of ISO 14034, serving as the designated U.S. technical expert for the working group that provided key input on its requirements.

He said the standard was needed because independent measurement and validation of technologies is an essential part of the commercialization process. Over the years, Southern Research has developed protocols and verification procedures to evaluate innovative clean technologies and provide an independent assessment of whether a technology can do what a developer claims it can.

“We can test and evaluate while you’re still tinkering with the proof of concept on the laboratory scale all the way through commercial scale technology deployed in the field in a real working environment,” Hansen said. “We have scientists, engineers, facilities, and capabilities to address that whole range of energy and environmental technology development and testing programs.”

Birmingham-based Southern Research has performed independent, high-quality environmental technology verification (ETV) services to a wide range of sponsors for more than two decades. Its ETV team is currently involved in the final round of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, working to validate the technologies of teams seeking to turn carbon dioxide emissions into useful products.

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Southern Research, NICE team to repurpose used EV batteries as energy storage systems

Southern Research and the National Institute of Clean and Low-Carbon Energy (NICE) are collaborating on a project to transform retired electric vehicle batteries into energy storage systems for offices and factories.

Under the partnership, the Birmingham, Alabama-based research organization will provide critical testing services to assist NICE to develop stationary power systems using very low cost, retired EV battery packs for the U.S. market.

Low-cost stationary storage is a key enabling technology towards sustainable clean energy. To enable the use of retired EV battery packs, NICE has developed new power and controls topology for storage systems in its facility based in Beijing China. The innovative approach will allow for each battery pack to be individually optimized for performance and cycle life.

“Each old EV battery has many different factors that affect the overall performance and life cycle of an energy storage system. No two batteries are alike. NICE’s technology solves the problems associated with using old EV batteries; it is a breakthrough,” said John Lemmon, Ph.D., director of Distributed Energy at NICE Beijing.

“Southern Research and their partners will play a crucial role to provide third party validation for performance and economic analysis for our energy storage system.”


Southern Research EV batteries
Southern Research will provide critical testing services to assist NICE to develop stationary power systems using very low cost, retired EV battery packs for the U.S. market.

To facilitate the project, Southern Research will make a significant investment to establish a multi-purpose test bed at its downtown Birmingham campus. Its sophisticated equipment will be used to assess the performance of individual battery packs and systems linking multiple batteries.

“Collaborating with a world-class research organization like NICE will expand our capabilities in an area experiencing rapid growth,” said Corey Tyree, Ph.D., senior director of Southern Research’s Energy & Environment division. “This project also allows us to engage with the automotive manufacturers, an important industry to the state of Alabama and Southeast region.”

The overall effort will allow business to save on energy costs while providing a second life for EV batteries that are still functional even though they no longer power an automobile, said Bert Taube, Ph.D., senior principal investigator for Energy Storage in Southern Research’s E&E division.

“There is a large potential market for this, and if you can feed that demand with energy storage systems that use retired batteries, it’s doubly beneficial,” Taube said.

“These batteries could end up going to a landfill and becoming hazardous waste. Instead, they will be repurposed, solve problems in the marketplace and put a product back to good use.”


Southern Research used EV batteries
Southern Research’s Energy Storage Research Center is a platform for exploring, testing and validating technologies that could bring energy storage systems into wide-scale operation.

The NICE-Southern Research collaboration comes at a time when a wave of recent EV models are being replaced, raising questions about what to do with their batteries. While they can be disassembled and their components recycled, it makes economic sense for find a new use for these battery packs.

A lithium-ion battery could retain 70 t0 80 percent of its charging capacity after a decade of operation, making it suitable for less demanding chores after being removed from an auto.

Meanwhile, battery demand for EVs is surging, with Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicting a 25-fold global increase by 2030. That means as many as 100,000 second-hand batteries will be available each year for repurposing in the United States alone in coming years, according to one estimate.

As a component in an energy storage system, repurposed EV batteries could store energy collected by solar panels and wind turbines, or routed directly from the electric grid. The system would permit a business owner or factory operator to tap the supply when needed to prevent costly spikes.


NICE is the research arm of the Beijing-based China Energy Investment Corp., which is a Global Fortune 500 company and leads the world in coal mining, coal-fired power, wind power, and coal-to-chemicals production.

NICE is primarily focused on R&D and innovation in the fields of clean coal conversion, new energy, advanced materials, industrial catalysis, and environmental technologies.

Its U.S. division, NICE America Research Inc., is located in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, and will be responsible for the commercialization of this novel energy storage system in North America markets including residential, commercial and industrial, and grid energy storage.

Southern Research launched its Energy Storage Research Center last year as a platform for exploring, testing and validating technologies that could bring energy storage systems into wide-scale operation.

The investment in the test bed is supported in part through contributions from the Alabama Innovation Fund, an initiative administered by the Alabama Department of Commerce to advance research and job creation in the state.

Under the partnership with NICE, Taube’s team will evaluate batteries that powered Nissan Leaf electric vehicles to determine their capacity and power profile, among other characteristics. The team will then work with NICE to combine batteries into systems and test them for suitability in relevant commercial-industrial applications.

Acelerex, a software development firm based in Greater Boston, is a partner in the project.

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UAB and Southern Research launch collaborative pilot projects

A satellite or a spacecraft that better resists micro-meteor strikes. A new catalyst that lowers the cost of a major petroleum feedstock for plastics and slashes greenhouse gas emissions.

These are possible payoffs from an inaugural collaboration between Southern Research and the University of Alabama at Birmingham to launch two seed-funded projects by engineers and physicists from these Birmingham research powerhouses.

The immediate goal is synergy. This is seen especially in one of the pilots — a study of catalysts used in petroleum cracking.

A catalyst is a substance that reduces the amount of energy needed to drive a chemical reaction, and the catalyst does this without its being consumed.

At SR, Amit Goyal, Ph.D., leads a team that develops catalysts to convert biomass or natural gas to fuels or create chemical products derived from petroleum. Goyal says he developed a great interest in the capabilities of UAB’s Cheng-Chien Chen, Ph.D., and Kannatassen “Krishen” Appavoo, Ph.D., to aid his search for better catalysts, particularly for the conversion of ethane to ethylene, a feedstock for plastics and other chemical products.

L to R: Amit Goyal, Cheng-Chien Chen, Krishen Appavoo

“Conventional ethylene production is very energy-intensive, consuming 1 percent of the world’s annual energy production,” Goyal said. “If a mild process can be developed that utilizes abundant low-grade carbon dioxide from different combustion processes and cheaply available lower alkanes derived from shale gas — at economically competitive rates — a major impact on reduction of carbon dioxide can be made.”

Goyal’s group is able to synthesize and characterize a variety of mixed-metal oxide compounds as potential catalysts. Chen will use quantum mechanical modeling and UAB’s supercomputer to understand the catalytic reaction mechanisms at a molecular level. Appavoo will use ultrafast lasers to look at short-lived intermediate chemical species and reactions that take place on the catalyst surface.

“In order to dig deeper for industrially relevant, promising catalyst systems, it makes a lot of sense to collaborate and understand fundamental mechanisms that will further improve the catalyst systems, or permit use of similar systems for different chemistries,” Goyal said. “This project is a good mix of physics, chemistry and computational expertise.”

Goyal works in Durham, North Carolina, as director of the Southern Research Sustainable Chemistry and Catalysis group at SR’s Advanced Energy and Transportation Technologies facility. Also in the pilot is Jadid Samad, an SR senior chemical engineer and technical lead. At UAB, Chen and Appavoo are assistant professors in the Department of Physics, UAB College of Arts and Sciences. Their backgrounds include research at four U.S. national laboratories — Chen at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California, the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, and Appavoo at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island.

Protecting spacecraft
The second pilot study, led by Thomas Attard, Ph.D., associate professor, UAB School of Engineering, and Jacques Cuneo, a manager in the SR Materials Technology Group, tackles a different intriguing problem — how to make much-needed components for spacecraft that are both heat-resistant and able to resist high-speed impacts from micro-meteors or space junk.

The number of orbiting fragments large enough to destroy a spacecraft has more than doubled in the past 25 years to an estimated 150 million tiny harmful objects, traveling at very high speeds.
NASA is actively tracking more than 500,000 pieces of debris, ranging in size from a tennis ball to a tiny marble, and if any of those makes a hit, it can disintegrate into tiny, untrackable particles that can still punch holes 100 times the particle’s diameter. Orbitable space is approaching “collision chaos,” Attard said.

“Many fiber-reinforced polymers — including carbon-fiber composites — have high strength and stiffness, good chemical and heat resistance, and low weight and may present great alternatives to many everyday problems,” Attard said. “However, a major drawback is brittleness and insufficient toughness and damping, and in large-impact environments, this can lead to unexpected and catastrophic failure.”

With the aid of nano-scale experimental equipment and super-computing facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, Attard is developing “tunable” energy-dissipating materials, by altering experimental chemical reactions at the nano-scale.

By tunable, he means the ability to change reaction rates and also reverse reactions through dissociativity between a slow-curing epoxy and either a pre-polymerized polyurea or a hindered-urea bond, i.e., un-polymerized polyurea. He calls the outcome a “Dynamic Covalent Interface,” or DCI, that will contain newly created and designable chemical bonds that are self-healing under extreme impact. The concept of creating a new “DCI skin panel” is to lessen the risk of sudden breakage of fiber-reinforced polymers by creating better shock dynamics, while still maintaining temperature resistance in satellites and various spacecraft structure components.

“Dr. Attard’s team at UAB will be doing all the up-front work formulating the polymer chemistry and getting it into a useful form,” Cuneo said. “The team at SR will do downstream work to test the material’s thermal and mechanical properties and work with potential vendors to assess its potential for coatings or as a matrix material for composites.”

Jacques Cuneo (L) and Thomas Attard (R)

The UAB/SR collaboration began last December with a research retreat for 60 scientists and engineers from UAB and SR, as Chris Brown, Ph.D., UAB vice president for Research, and Art Tipton, Ph.D., SR president and chief executive officer, were seeking ways to create more collaborations between the two institutions.

“It was a wonderful idea-exchange and incubation session,” Goyal said. “It was fascinating for me to learn about the computational modeling tools of Professor Chen and the ultrafast in-situ characterization capabilities of Professor Appavoo.”

At the retreat, Brown and Tipton announced they would jointly fund several new initiatives, and the two winning proposals were chosen this summer.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to capitalize on the scientific and engineering strengths of our two organizations — literally across the street from each other,” Brown said. “We anticipate that these two pilot projects will lead to more collaboration in the future.”

“Southern Research and UAB maintain many positive collaborations, particularly in the life sciences,” Tipton said, “and this pilot study program has already proved to be a great way to catalyze more innovations and collaborations in a broader range of areas between the two organizations. I am thrilled with the range of ideas proposed and look forward to this research’s investment providing returns.”

In 2019, at the end of one year, the two pilot studies will report on those returns, as measured by:
• Applications for external funding
• Intellectual property
• Publications in high-impact journals
• Commercial opportunities

The one-year pilots, each funded with $30,000, are jointly supported by the UAB Vice President for Research, UAB College of Arts and Sciences, UAB School of Engineering, and Southern Research.

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Southern Research to vet technologies in Carbon XPRIZE Finals

The teams in the final round of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition are advancing clean technologies that turn harmful carbon dioxide emissions into useful products such as enhanced concrete, liquid fuels, plastics and carbon fiber.

But how can we be sure these breakthrough processes really deliver environmental benefits while creating valuable products for everyday use?

The answer: A technology verification team from Southern Research.

During the Carbon XPRIZE Finals, specialists from Southern Research’s Energy & Environment (E&E) division will validate the work of the teams  and provide a judging panel with the crucial data needed to select two winners that will collect $7.5 million prizes.

Southern Research Carbon XPRIZE
C4X, based in China, is one of the 10 finalists in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition. Their banner welcomes the Southern Research team. (IMAGE: XPRIZE)

The specialists have been involved in the previous rounds of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition, which has been under way for more than two years. (Read about the Round 2 work.)

“These teams are offering amazing examples of carbon conversion that could accelerate the creation a new carbon economy,” said Dr. Marcius Extavour, Senior Director, Energy and Resources at the non-profit XPRIZE.

“To win the competition, XPRIZE wants to see robust verifiable processes. That’s why we have partnered with Southern Research, which has the deep expertise to validate each team’s performance and help the judges evaluate each technology on its merits.”


Southern Research’s work in the Carbon XPRIZE Finals began Tuesday, May 22, at an initial Team Finalist Summit in Banff, Canada. It won’t end until February 2020, when the formal technology verification process comes to an end and data on the results from the 10 teams are supplied to the judges.

“Our team will independently evaluate data produced by the teams in the competition to document the performance of each process and its ability to capture and utilize CO2,” said Tim Hansen, P.E., director of E&E and measurement and verification lead for the project.

“We’ll also be looking at the operating costs, energy consumption and water use of their technologies, and compiling competition scores for each team,” he added.

Southern Research Tim Hansen
Tim Hansen is director of Cleantech Services at Southern Research.

Hansen said Southern Research specialists will work closely with XPRIZE and the finalists to make sure they are prepared for the verification process and able to provide reliable data for the judges’ inspection.

The specialists will participate in design reviews for each of the teams, and will provide suggested instrumentation, measurement, and engineering approaches for critical measurements and processes such as CO2 flows and product outputs. The specialists will also help establish common analytical procedures and approaches that support a determination of the amount of CO2 embodied in each product.

The technology verification period begins in June 2019 and runs through February 2020.

“We think the teams have some significant work to do in terms of designing, building, and operating their systems at this much larger scale – a metric tonne of CO2 input per day,” Hansen said. “That said, several have good starts, and we expect them, with our help and the help of the XPRIZE team, to have a good chance of meeting the Finals’ requirements.

“There are still many challenges, though, beyond just the engineering requirements of scaling a process – funding, working at new, remote host sites, permitting, off-take agreements for products, and did I mention funding?” he added.


For the teams, the challenges have grown considerably more complicated in the Finals.

Southern Research Carbon XPRIZE
The 10 finalists in the Carbon XPRIZE competition each have a chance to win a $7.5 million grand prize. Southern Research will validate their technologies. (IMAGE: XPRIZE)

For Round 2, they had to show off their technologies at pilot scale. In the Finals, the teams will have access one of two test centers adjacent to power plants and must prove their technologies at near industrial scale using actual power plant flue gas. The sites are the Integrated Test Center in Gillette, Wyoming, and the Alberta Carbon Conversion Centre in Calgary, Alberta.

Teams must meet the competition’s minimum requirements and will be scored on how much CO2 they convert and on the net value of their products.

The competition has been divided into two tracks, with the winner of each track evenly splitting a $15 million prize purse in March 2020.

The 10 teams, hailing from five countries, range from carbon capture and utilization entrepreneurs and startups to academic institutions and companies that have been working on CO2 challenges for more than a decade.

Southern Research’s role in the Carbon XPRIZE competition aligns with its longstanding capabilities. The Birmingham-based non-profit organization has performed independent, non-biased and high-quality environmental technology verification (ETV) services to a wide range of sponsors for more than two decades.

“We can conduct tests and evaluations beginning with proof of concept at laboratory scale all the way through commercial scale technology deployed in the field, in a working environment,” Hansen said. “We have everything required — the scientists, engineers, facilities and capabilities — to address the whole range of energy and environmental technology development and testing programs.”

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Southern Research makes key hire for Industrial Water Practice

Southern Research announced today that Young Chul Choi, an experienced environmental engineer, has joined the Birmingham-based organization to lead its Industrial Water Practice, which focuses on clean water technologies benefiting companies in a range of industries.

In his role as associate director, Young Chul, Ph.D., P.E., is responsible for the multifaceted business operations of the Industrial Water Practice, including engineering services, technology development and analytical testing.

Young Chul Choi leads Southern Research’s Industrial Water Practice.

“The markets that Southern Research serves continue to evolve, and our organization is evolving with it. Firms that combine strong technical expertise with practical engineering know-how will be favored as the market shifts to focus less on R&D and more on implementation,” said Bill Grieco, vice president of Southern Research’s Energy & Environment division.

“Young Chul brings world-class R&D experience and practical engineering know-how from his time as a professional engineer. He’s a great fit to lead our Industrial Water Practice as we look to increase our focus on engineering services,” Grieco added.


Southern Research’s E&E division has been active in this field since 2008, when it began operating an analytical laboratory with world-class specialty instrumentation and unique testing methods. The lab offers services related to the measurement of trace metals in industrial wastewater streams that few labs can match.

Southern Research later expanded its capabilities with the launch of the Water Research Center in Cartersville, Georgia. At this state-of-the-art facility, the organization performs bench-scale and pilot-scale wastewater treatment technology evaluations intended to help coal-fired power plants comply with new environmental regulations on wastewater discharge.

clean water technologies
Southern Research has been developing clean water technologies for more than a decade.

In addition, Southern Research has also developed proprietary clean water technology. This includes process technology to cost-effectively separate lithium from brine water, continuously monitor trace metals, and recover rare earth elements from waste streams.

“Southern Research has long been a leader in the development of innovative technologies to ensure adequate supplies of clean, safe water for future generations,” Young Chul said.

“I’m excited about joining the Industrial Water Practice team as we work to continue this tradition and make new discoveries that benefit our sponsors and partners.”


Before joining Southern Research, Young Chul accumulated more than 15 years of experience in industrial wastewater treatment, reuse, process engineering, and project management. His expertise includes water and wastewater treatment using membranes and biological treatment, particularly desalination, nutrient removal, and industrial treatment.

Young Chul comes to Southern Research from RTI International in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, where he launched a water program focused on solving technical issues in the water-energy nexus. Before that, he worked at CH2M Hill, where he was a regional technology leader, and Doosan Hydro Technology, where he established a research and development group.

“Young Chul is innovative and practical. He’s developed new concepts while working in research environments and served as a professional engineer on mega-scale water treatment projects,” said Corey Tyree, Ph.D., director of strategic growth initiatives for Southern Research’s E&E division.

“That’s a great combination of experience, which makes him an expert resource for clients and a quality mentor to our staff. I look forward to working with him to grow our Industrial Water Practice.”

A registered professional engineer with two U.S. patents, Young Chul serves as editor-in-chief for the technical journal Membrane Water Treatment.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in environmental engineering from Seoul National University, as well as a doctorate in environmental engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Visit the lab pages for the Industrial Water Practice.

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