The X PRIZE Foundation announced the launch of its sixth major incentive competition — the $1.4 Million Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE. The announcement was made by X PRIZE Chairman Peter H. Diamandis and Wendy Schmidt, who personally funded the $1.4 million prize purse. Schmidt is President of The Schmidt Family Foundation, which strives to advance the development of clean energy and support the wiser use of natural resources.
"The devastating impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill will last for years and it is inevitable that future spills will occur — both from wells and from transport tankers," stated Diamandis. "To be prepared to safeguard oceans and shores, the X PRIZE Foundation is announcing the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE to find the most effective and environmentally-safe solutions for capturing oil from all spills at the spill site, thus limiting their impacts and protecting our oceans, shores, marshes, and, importantly, the health and well-being of the people and wildlife which live and thrive in these communities."
The goal of the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE is to inspire entrepreneurs, engineers, and scientists worldwide to develop innovative, rapidly deployable, and highly efficient methods of capturing crude oil from the ocean surface. In making the announcement, the X PRIZE Foundation hopes to attract philanthropic and venture capital to support development of this important capability and provide a global platform where new technologies can compete head-to-head, and the best approaches demonstrated, to prepare for future catastrophes.
"With more than tens of thousands of ocean oil platforms across the globe, and million of barrels of oil being transported every day by tankers, it's not a question of 'if' there will be another oil spill, but 'when,'" stated Schmidt. "We need to come up with better solutions to capture oil on the surface, to minimize the harm these spills are causing to marine life, coastal wetlands, and beaches, and to our livelihoods — a harm that can last for generations."
Competition RulesPhase I. From August 2010 to April 2011, teams from around the world are invited to register for this competition, and to submit their approach to clean up oil slicks created by spills or leaks from ships or tankers (e.g., Exxon Valdez), land drainage, waste disposal, or oil platform spill (e.g., Deepwater Horizon). An expert panel of judges from industry and academia will evaluate all of the proposals along the following criteria:
Technical approach and commercialization plan
No negative environmental impact
Scalability of and ability to deploy technology; cost and human labor of implementation
Improvement of technology over today’s baseline booms and skimmers
Phase II. The judges will select up to 10 of the top teams to demonstrate their ability to efficiently and rapidly clean up oil on the ocean surface in a head-to-head competition. These proofs of capability, which will determine the winner, will take place at the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility (OHSMETT) in New Jersey. The top team that demonstrates the ability to recover oil on the sea-water surface at the highest oil recovery rate (ORR) and recovery efficiency (RE) will win the $1 million Grand Purse. Second place will win $300,000 and third place will win $100,000.
NASA announces 3 new Centennial Challenges
NASA has announced three new prize competitions, with an overall prize purse of $5 million. NASA's Centennial Challenges are prize competitions for technological achievements by independent teams who work without government funding.
"NASA sponsors prize competitions because the agency believes student teams, private companies of all sizes and citizen-inventors can provide creative solutions to problems of interest to NASA and the nation," said Bobby Braun, the agency's chief technologist. "Prize competitions are a proven way to foster technological competitiveness, new industries and innovation across America."
The Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge is to place a small satellite into Earth orbit, twice in one week, with a prize of $2 million. The goals of this challenge are to stimulate innovations in low-cost launch technology and encourage creation of commercial nano-satellite delivery services.
The Night Rover Challenge will demonstrate a solar-powered exploration vehicle that can operate in darkness using its own stored energy. The prize purse is $1.5 million. The objective is to stimulate innovations in energy storage technologies of value in extreme space environments, such as the surface of the moon, or for electric vehicles and renewable energy systems on Earth.
The Sample Return Robot Challenge is to demonstrate a robot that can locate and retrieve geologic samples from wide and varied terrain without human control. This challenge has a prize purse of $1.5 million. The objectives are to encourage innovations in automatic navigation and robotic manipulator technologies.
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Centennial Challenges are extended to individuals, groups and companies working outside the traditional aerospace industry. Unlike most contracts or grants, awards only are made after solutions are successfully demonstrated.
NASA is soliciting proposals from non-profit organizations to manage each of the three new competitions. Centennial Challenge events typically include public audiences and are televised or broadcast over the Internet via streaming video. The competitions provide high-visibility opportunities for public outreach and education.
After the partner organizations are signed, NASA and those organizations expect to announce challenge rules and details on how teams may enter later this year. Proposals from organizations interested in partnering with NASA are due by Sept. 13. Selection of partner organizations is expected by Oct. 8.
Since 2005, NASA has conducted 19 competition events in six challenge areas and awarded $4.5 million to 13 different teams. There are three current Centennial Challenges:
The Strong Tether Challenge: Teams must demonstrate a material that is at least 50% stronger than the strongest one commercially available. The challenge is scheduled for Aug. 13 in Seattle.
The Power Beaming Challenge: Teams must transmit power using laser beams to a device, so it can climb a vertical cable more than half a mile high. The challenge is planned for the fall of 2010.
The Green Flight Challenge: Teams will fly aircraft they designed to travel 200 miles in less than two hours using the energy equivalent of less than one gallon of gasoline per occupant. The challenge will be held in July 2011. It is expected to attract electric, hybrid and bio-fueled aircraft.
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Standing in the sweltering heat of California's Central Valley and looking out at perspiring reporters makes EnerVault CEO Jim Pape very happy. The more sun the better. He's about to turn on his company's first grid-connected flow battery, which, along with a bank of solar panels, will power the irrigation pump that brings fresh water to the surrounding 300-acre almond orchard. (His video interview was conducted earlier, during the May Energy Storage Association Annual Meeting.)
After all, if you'd developed an iron-chromium redox flow battery by improving NASA's creaky and quaint 70's technology, you'd want to show it off too. He's fighting to become major player in the nascent, global storage industry, which is poised for explosive growth as countries and states like California soon overproduce energy from solar and wind.
The crowd has come to see the flow batteries convert chemical energy into electricity by pumping two electrolytes from separate tanks through stacks of EnerVault's proprietary "Engineered Cascade" technology, which are arranged in stages optimized to the electrolytes' state of charge. This makes them more than 60 percent round-trip efficient.
That's lower than lithium-ion batteries, which are above 80 percent. It's also less than two competitors developing aqueous-hybrid electrolyte storage, Eos and Aquion Energy, which claim about 80 percent efficiency, as they all fight for the energy storage market. But Pape says EnerVault's market edge is cost and simplicity. Since the batteries pump electrolytes from one tank to another through the cell stack, the cost of energy goes down whenever you add more tanks of electrolyte.
Although EnerVault has raised $30 million from companies like French oil major Total, Japanese giant Mitsui, and conglomerate 3M, that’s lunch money for an aggressive grid battery startup. And this will get increasingly pricey.
Jump-starting grid storage
That this project is happening at all is because California regulators had the vision to jump-start the energy storage market. EnerVault, which had been developing their flow battery since 2008, received a boost last year after regulators ordered the state's utilities to start investing in storage — a whopping 1.3 gigawatts by 2020. Having already tested a 30 kW test system for two years, the company is finally out in the real world. As Pape told told Forbes:
When [California Assembly Bill] 2514 hit, that was one of the most amazing inflection point days for employees and investors in a long time.
Funded in part by over $4.7 million from the US Department of Energy and $476,000 from the California Energy Commission, the project is meant to prove the reliability of iron-chromium redox flow batteries for large, grid-scale storage. EnerVault has a lot on the line, because while there are 24.6 gigawatts of total storage projects in operation in the US, only 950 kilowatts come from flow batteries, and none from iron-chromium.
Long-term reliability hampered by any failure is an infrastructure deal-breaker, and the system's electrolyte pumping systems could be an issue. Leading storage developer AES, calling itself technology agnostic, says it prefers "sealed batteries" like lithium-ion, skeptical of new battery companies that don't have a "track record," according to the Technology Review.
EnerVault insists its electrolyte pumping system lasts "several thousand hours" and can be replaced quickly during a malfunction; the low chemical aggressiveness of iron chromium also improves the battery lifespan. But industry fears won't abate until the this project has been running long enough to test those assertions.
Almond growers Steve Zeff and Kenfield Alldrin, the proud recipients of this huge battery, joined the sweating reporters and Federal and State officials as Pape spoke in front of four large electrolyte tanks. The two growers aren't strangers to solar energy. Most of their other orchards already have solar-powered irrigation systems, Alldrin explained. But before this battery was installed, any excess solar energy was sent straight to the grid before it was useless. Now it can be stored and used when needed.
So with push of a ceremonial button, Pape 's 250 kW flow battery began to help the solar panels drive the orchard's irrigation pump.
This is how the system works: the almond trees are watered every day between noon and 6pm, using 225 kW of electricity, but that can be very expensive in the middle of the day.
This is where EnerVault's battery helps. At night when electricity is less expensive, the batteries charge up from the grid. Then in the morning the solar panels top off them off. During expensive peak periods, the trees are watered by both the solar panels and flow batteries, saving a lot of money over a long, hot summer.
EnerVault's costs are also reduced because its systems are easy to assemble with off-the-shelf components arriving in container-sized modules. This makes Pape bullish about success, even though his company is faced with formidable competitors like Tesla. He likes to point out that unlike lithium, the chemicals used in his battery are abundant – and thus very cheap – as well as easy to acquire:
I don’t have to have a factory. All I need to build is the cells and stack – there is no gigawatt factory required. I am going to be the big energy storage guy because the tanks come from a supplier, the pumps come from a supplier. Power conditioning and controls – all arrive at the job site with my cells and stacks, so I don’t have to inventory. I have a very cash efficient business model, with 80% as pass-through.
In the rapidly evolving storage race, technologies will continue to improve. Many battery companies will grow, and others will fail and disappear. With EnerVault's iron-chromium storage system, Joe Pape clearly expects to be a survivor.
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