Sandia LabNews

Winners in photovoltaics, water purification, grid energy, and RF communications

Sandia researchers — competing in an international pool of universities, corporations, and government labs — captured three prestigious R&D 100 Awards in this year’s contest, and were co-winners of a fourth.

R&D Magazine presents the awards each year to researchers whom its editors and independent judging panel determine have developed the year’s 100 most outstanding advances in applied technologies.

The awards, with their focus on practical impact rather than pure research, reward entrants on their products’ design, development, testing, and production, and have been called “the Oscars of Invention” by the Chicago Tribune.

DOE Secretary Steven Chu said, “The Department of Energy’s national laboratories and other sites are at the forefront of innovation, and it is gratifying to see their work recognized once again. Their cutting-edge research and development is helping meet our energy challenges, strengthen our national security and enhance our economic competitiveness. I congratulate our R&D 100 award winners.”

Researchers at DOE facilities received 36 awards. Sandia’s sister defense labs in NNSA — Los Alamos
and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories — won three and two awards, respectively.

Sandia’s four winning entries are:
Microresonator Filters and Frequency References, submitted by Sandia researcher Roy Olsson III (1749). “The next generation of mobile computing devices will require advanced radio frequency (RF) filter and oscillator banks covering multiple RF bands,” says Roy. “Our miniature acoustic resonators fill this need.” Microresonators are small acoustic resonators that have highly precise sound and are manufactured using the same technologies that mass-produce integrated circuits (IC).

Microresonator technology allows hundreds of filters and oscillators operating over a wide (32kHz – 10 GHz) frequency range to be realized on a single IC chip and monolithically integrated with radio frequency (RF) transistor circuits. They will perform RF filtering and frequency synthesis functions in next-generation wireless handsets, cell phones, and other wireless devices, offering higher performance and frequency diversity in a smaller package and at a lower price than current technologies.

Assisting on the project were Ken Wojciechowski (1731); Melanie Tuck (retired), James Stevens, Peggy Clews, Jeff Stevens (all 1746); Chris Nordquist (1742), Tracy Peterson (1732); Janet Nguyen, Bongsang Kim, Maryam Ziaei-Moayyed (all 1749); and Darren Branch (1714).

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Ultra-high-voltage Silicon Carbide (SiC) Thyristor, submitted by Sandia researcher Stan Atcitty (6113). This DOE Energy Storage Systems project, managed by Sandia in partnership with GeneSiC Semiconductor Inc. and the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC), has developed an ultra-highvoltage silicon carbide thyristor. The semiconductor device allows next-generation “smart grid” power electronics system to be built up to 10 times smaller and lighter than current silicon-based technologies. These packaged-power devices are the world’s first commercially available, high-voltage, highfrequency, high-current, high-temperature, single-chip SiC-based thyristors. Their performance advantages are expected to spur innovations in utility-scale power electronics hardware and to increase the accessibility and use of distributed energy resources. Stan worked with Ranbir Singh of GeneSiC Semiconductor Inc. on the project.

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Biomimetic Membranes for Water Purification, submitted by Sandia project lead Susan Rempe (8635), jointly with Sandia Fellow and University of New Mexico professor Jeff Brinker (1002) and Jing-Bing Jiang of UNM’s Earth and Planetary Sciences department. The new biomimetic membranes purify water through reverse osmosis (RO) technology.

“We made a synthetic membrane that mimics the nanoscale design features of natural water purification channels,” says Susan. “By doing so, our initial membranes achieved a 10-fold improvement in water purification efficiency compared with state-of-the-art RO membranes.”

The selective, high-flux desalination membranes are formed of self-assembled nanopores tuned (with atomic layer deposition) to mimic key structural features found in cell membranes. Advances in theoretical modeling were essential for deciphering how biological pore structures selectively remove ions, thereby guiding pore design for efficient new membranes.

Novel synthetic strategies were instrumental in fabricating highly ordered nanoporous membranes with tailor-made pore geometries and interior surfaces.

“These membranes will improve access to clean water, which may be the most important issue facing people worldwide because of its critical role in public health and agriculture as well as energy production,” says Susan.

Funding was provided initially by Sandia’s Advanced Concepts Group, and then by Sandia’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development program, DOE Basic Energy Sciences programs in materials science and catalysis, and the National Institutes of Health’s Roadmap for Nanomedicine. Other group members include Shaorong Yang (Central New Mexico Community College), Kevin Leung (1114), David Rogers (1835), and Sameer Varma (Illinois Institute of Technology).

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The Demand Response Inverter. Sandia researcher Ward Bower (6111) jointly submitted this invention with lead researcher Mahesh Gandhi of Princeton Power Systems Inc. The inverter is designed to reduce the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of photovoltaic (PV) power by being more efficient, more reliable, and more cost-effective than currently available inverters in the market. Furthermore, the DRI will provide valuable grid-support functionality that encourages high penetration of PV power systems into the electrical grid and also provide “added value” for the system owner and local utility. The process reached its commercialization stage with aid from DOE’s and Sandia’s Solar Energy Grid Integration Systems (SEGIS) solicitation. Aiding in development of the device were Scott Kuszmaul (5946), Sigifredo Gonzales (6112), and Abbas Akhil (6113).

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An awards banquet will be held Oct.13 in Orlando, Fla.