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Lab News -- February 15, 2008

February 15 , 2008

LabNews 02/15/2008PDF (500 kb)

Sandia, SES set new world record for solar-to-grid efficiency

By Chris Burroughs

On a perfect New Mexico winter day — with the sky almost 10 percent brighter than usual — Sandia and Stirling Energy Systems (SES) set a new solar-to-grid system conversion efficiency record by achieving a 31.25 percent net efficiency rate. The old 1984 record of 29.4 percent was toppled Jan. 31 on SES’s “Serial #3” solar dish Stirling system at Sandia’s National Solar Thermal Test Facility.

The conversion efficiency is calculated by measuring the net energy delivered to the grid and dividing it by the solar energy hitting the dish mirrors. Auxiliary loads, such as water pumps, computers, and tracking motors, are accounted for in the net power measurement.

“Gaining two whole points of conversion efficiency in this type of system is phenomenal,” says Bruce Osborn, SES president and CEO. “This is a significant advancement that takes our dish engine systems well beyond the capacities of any other solar dish collectors and one step closer to commercializing an affordable system.”

Serial #3 was erected in May 2005 as part of a prototype six-dish Model Power Plant at the Solar Thermal Test Facility that produces up to 150 kilowatts (kW) of grid-ready electrical power during the day. Each dish unit consists of 82 mirrors formed in a parabolic dish shape to focus the light to an intense beam.

The solar dish generates electricity by focusing the sun’s rays onto a receiver, which transmits the heat energy to a Stirling engine. The engine is a sealed system filled with hydrogen. As the gas heats and cools, its pressure rises and falls. The change in pressure drives the pistons inside the engine, producing mechanical power, which in turn drives a generator and makes electricity.

Lead Sandia project engineer Chuck Andraka (6337) says that several technical advancements to the systems made jointly by SES and Sandia led to the record-breaking solar-to-grid conversion efficiency. SES owns the dishes and all the hardware. Sandia provides technical and analytical support to SES in a relationship that dates back more than 10 years.

Chuck says the first and probably most important advancement was improved optics. The Stirling dishes are made with a low iron glass with a silver backing that make them highly reflective — focusing as much as 94 percent of the sunlight to the engine package, where prior efforts reflected about 91 percent. The mirror facets, patented by Sandia and Paneltec Corp. of Lafayette, Colo., are highly accurate and have minimal imperfections in shape.

Both improvements allow for the loss-control aperture to be reduced to seven inches in diameter — meaning light is highly concentrated as it enters the receiver.

Other advancements to the solar dish-engine system that helped Sandia and SES beat the energy conversion record were a new, more effective radiator that also costs less to build and a new high-efficiency generator.

While all the enhancements led to a better system, one aspect made it happen on a beautiful New Mexico winter day — the weather.

“It was a ‘perfect storm’ of sorts,” Chuck says. “We set the record on Jan. 31, a very cold and extremely bright day, a day eight percent brighter than normal.”

The temperature, which hovered around freezing, allowed the cold portion of the engine to operate at about 23 degrees C, and the brightness meant more energy was produced while most parasitic loads and losses are constant.

The test ran for two and a half hours, and a 60-minute running average was used to evaluate the power and efficiency data, in order to eliminate transient effects. During the testing phase, the system produced 26.75 kW net electrical power.

Osborn says that SES is working to commercialize the record-performing system and has signed power purchase agreements with two major Southern California utilities (Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric) for up to 1,750 megawatts (MW) of power, representing the world’s two largest solar power contracts ever granted. Collectively, these contracts require up to 70,000 solar dish engine units.

“This exciting record shows that using these dishes will be a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way of producing power,” Osborn says. “SES is actively engaged in the commercialization of a system, called the ‘SunCatcher,’ including

continuing to prepare it for mass production, completing project site development and preconstruction activities, and establishing partnerships with substantial manufacturing and industrial organizations to develop a cost-effective manufacturing process and supply chain. The demonstrated high efficiency means more energy is generated for the given investment, lowering the cost of the energy delivered.” -- Chris Burroughs

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Sandians demonstrate verve in transferring Labs technology to private sector

By Neal Singer


Three Sandia research teams and one Sandia executive have won national awards for their skills in making technology transfer happen.

Team trophies and individual leather-bound certificates will be provided to 2007 winners on May 8 in Portland, Ore., by the Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC), the nationwide network that helps link federal laboratory technologies with the marketplace.

The four awards (one was joint) were the most won by any national lab. Pacific Northwest National Lab won three.

David Goldheim, director of Sandia’s Strategic Relationships Center from 1999 to 2007, received the Outstanding Technology Transfer Professional award.

Sandia’s “ElectroNeedle Biomedical Sensor Array” and the “Secure Sensor and Seal Technologies for Global Nuclear Non-proliferation” won Excellence in Technology Transfer awards.

Also winning an Excellence in Technology Transfer award, in a joint submission with the Naval Research Laboratory, was the “Helical Fiber Amplifier.”

Nominations are judged by a panel of experts from industry, state and local government, academia, and the federal laboratory system.

The FLC, organized in 1974, according to its own description “develops and tests transfer methods, addresses barriers to the process, provides training, highlights grass-roots transfer efforts, and emphasizes national initiatives where technology transfer has a role.”

Says David, “They also publicize the value of technology commercialization in national and regional forums.”

All entrants either win an award or are presented an “Honorable Mention.”

Applications for the awards were coordinated by Margaret Lovell (0304) and Jackie Kirby Moore (1033).

FLC: The Winners’ Circle

Secure Sensor — Barry Schoeneman (6722), Brent Burdick (1031), Steve Blankenau (5356)

Sandia was able to transfer technology for the T-1A optical seal, an active radio frequency (RF)-based device used to monitor high-value assets, and its technological successor, the Secure Sensor Platform (SSP). The T-1A seal makes it highly difficult to remove material or containers without breaking the seal on the fiber optic loop. These seals are intended for long-term use without maintenance for up to five years on one battery.

Sandia initiated an industrial partnership by proposing that Canberra Albuquerque commercialize the T-1A and collaborate on the development of the SSP. The innovative transfer combined a license agreement for the current

T-1A sensor with a CRADA to jointly develop the next generation SSP sensor. Not only was the current T-1A product brought to market successfully through the licensing of Sandia intellectual property, but the CRADA will provide a streamlined commercial launch of the SSP sensor. The transfer for the SSP has been funded entirely by Canberra. The production of the T-1A units is funded primarily by Canberra with some minimal funding provided by DOE’s Savannah River Site (SRS) as the domestic customer for the seal. All technology transfer efforts and the associated costs of negotiating and executing the CRADA and license agreement were assumed by the Strategic Relationships Center at Sandia.

ElectroNeedle — Paul Smith (1031), Chris Apblett (1815), Carrie Schmidt (1717), Kerry Kampschmidt (11700), Brent Burdick (1031), Steve Casalnuovo (1714), Kent Schubert (1717), David Ingersoll (2546), Stan Kravitz (retired), Jeb Flemming (former Sandian), and Collin Buckley (former Sandian)

The ElectroNeedle™ Biomedical Sensor Array is a device that, when pressed against the skin, will provide rapid, on-demand, multiplexed, point-of-care biomedical assays for medical diagnosis in emergency, battlefield, and remote settings where time constraints or distance make it impractical to send the patient’s samples to a conventional laboratory for analysis. It will also eliminate delays experienced by many patients and physicians in waiting for diagnostic test results.

Two new biotechnology companies — New Mexico Biotech Inc. and Life BioScience Inc. — have been formed in Albuquerque explicitly for ElectroNeedle commercialization. One company has already licensed the IP portfolio that became available during 2006 and negotiations are underway with the second. Sandia will provide ongoing research into the technology and technical guidance to the licensing organizations. The licensee(s) are expected to develop the commercial product, to pursue FDA approval for the product, and to provide funding to Sandia for continued R&D.

Helical Fiber Amp — Jeffrey Koplow (8368), Dahv Kliner (8368)

Researchers affiliated with the Naval Research Laboratory and Sandia developed a method that uses bend loss (coiling) to selectively suppress undesirable modes in a fiber amplifier, thereby making high-power fiber lasers possible. The solution resolved power limitations of fiber lasers that had stymied the industry since fiber lasers were first developed in 1963, while preserving high beam-quality output. The groundbreaking discovery now allows production of high-power fiber lasers that are more efficient, cost-effective, rugged, and compact than other types of lasers.

Following patent approval in 2002, the nominees initiated transfer of their helical fiber amplifier (also called mode-filtered fiber amplifier) to several commercial laser manufacturers: Nufern of East Granby, Conn.; Liekki Corporation of Lohja, Finland; and IMRA America Inc. of Ann Arbor, Mich. By 2006, all three companies had received patent licenses allowing use of the innovative technology in their laser-based product lines, and two subsequent licenses have since been issued.

David Goldheim was praised for his “leadership, inventiveness, and tenacity in developing and shepherding innovative programs that support Sandia’s business development and strategic intellectual property (IP) management efforts.” Examples of innovative mechanisms attributed to David’s initiative or support include the Business Intelligence/Market Research team’s use of powerful software to identify potential relationships based on common technology interests, corporate strategies, and business models; Equity Sharing Program, which accepts equity instead of cash royalties from companies that license Sandia intellectual property; Royalty Sharing Program, which distributed $3.4 million to Sandians in 2006; Technology Maturation Fund, which uses funds from the Royalty Sharing Program to help prepare nearly ready technologies for marketing; Mission Centric Venturing, aiding maturation of technologies seen as crucial to Sandia; Entrepreneurial Separation to Transfer Technology, which provides a safe return for Sandians who venture out into the business world to commercialize their technologies; Entrepreneur-in-Residence; Sandia Science & Technology Park, the 200+ acre development east of Kirtland; New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program, which took over for DOE’s now-defunct Technology Partnerships Program and offers an avenue for the Labs to help small businesses; and the Shared Vision program (a collaborative technology development and maturation program with Lockheed Martin). -- Neal Singer

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Fresh off innovative ‘bionic contact lens’ project, Harvey Ho brings growing reputation to Sandia

By Patti Koning

A surgeon is in the middle of a complicated procedure and doesn’t want to take his eyes away from his patient. He doesn’t have to — thanks to a bionic contact lens that displays the patient’s vitals in his field of vision.

Or, imagine a driver who doesn’t need to look away from the road to see critical information because it’s projected onto his windshield. Another scenario is a diabetic who sees an LED flash in the corner of his eye when his glucose levels begin to drop.

That might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but not to Harvey Ho, who was hired in September to the Surety Design Engineering

Dept. 8226 at Sandia/California. Last year Harvey completed his MS in electrical engineering at the University of Washington (UW) under Babak Parviz, an assistant professor of electrical engineering.

For his master’s thesis, Harvey designed the circuitry that would go around display elements, such as LEDs for what is being referred to as the “bionic contact lens.” He presented the results at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ international conference on microelectromechanical systems last month.

Building the contact lenses posed a technical challenge because materials that are safe for use in the body, such as the flexible organic materials used in contact lenses, are delicate. Manufacturing electrical circuits, however, involves inorganic materials, scorching temperatures, and toxic chemicals.

Harvey and other researchers built the circuits from layers of metal only a few nanometers thick, about one-thousandth the width of a human hair, and constructed light-emitting diodes one-third of a millimeter across. They then sprinkled the grayish powder of electrical components onto a sheet of flexible plastic. The shape of each tiny component dictates which piece it can attach to, a microfabrication technique known as self-assembly. Capillary forces — like those that that make water move up a plant’s roots and that cause the edge of a glass of water to curve upward — pull the pieces into position.

Harvey began working with Parviz as an undergraduate at UW. Math and science interested him from a young age.

“I grew up surrounded by technology, always very interested in how things work,” he says. “In high school I had some great physics and math teachers who put me on the scientific track.”

The project, now in prototype stage, recently garnered media attention from the likes of National Geographic News, The Economist, CNBC columnist Bryn Nelson, Science Daily, CNET, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, EEtimes, Fox News, and technology bloggers worldwide.

At just 24 years old, Harvey has attained the type of high-profile accomplishment many researchers dream about. “I did feel I was working in something cutting edge, something that kept me going when I worked in the lab late into the night,” he says. “I feel like I have contributed something meaningful to the field of electrical engineering.”

Parviz describes Harvey as a solid engineer who can make things happen.

“He is completely self-motivated and always ready to explore new things,” Parviz says. “Harvey is an asset to any company or organization that is fortunate enough to have him onboard.”

Coming to Sandia represents the next step in his career. He was attracted by the variety of research and top-notch facilities such as MESA. “It’s not quite academia, but not quite industry,” he says. “You can draw upon a lot of different people from many different disciplines.” -- Patti Koning

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