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.
The AIChE Foundation raises funds to support projects and activities that further the Institute's mission and enable the profession of chemical engineering to have a greater impact on the world. Donations small and large make a difference.
Just over a year ago, Deeya Energy, a startup responsible for flow battery backup systems for cell phone towers in India, renamed itself Imergy Power Systems, hired a new CEO and threw out its iron-chromium battery chemistry, replacing it with the more-expensive vanadium. This seemed a little crazy at the time, a Solyndra flameout that should cripple the Fremont, California, company and batter its investors.
Even though vanadium provides more power and energy than other electrolyte metals (zinc bromine, iron chromium), if you're a vanadium flow battery CEO, you'll ruin your day just by checking the metal's volatile price, which makes up about 40% of each battery's cost. It's a tiny niche in a market dominated by the global steel industry, which sucks up 90% of demand by adding a small amount of vanadium to strengthen every piece of steel rebar used in concrete for buildings, bridges, and roads.
Despite vanadium's price, Bill Watkins, Imergy's new CEO, has a rational explanation for this apparent craziness. The tech veteran explained about a defect inside its original iron-chromium battery: hydrogen bubbles formed in the electrolyte, restricting flow and reducing the current. The company spent years trying to solve this problem, but found a better solution "going out of house."
Imergy licensed a new and more efficient second-generation vanadium electrolyte developed by the DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), one that increased the battery's energy storage capacity, operating temperature range, and lifespan.
Since a battery's capacity to generate electricity is limited by how many ions it can pack into the electrolyte, PNNL researchers realized that traditional vanadium batteries were stunted by using pure sulfuric acid, and absorbed fewer ions. After a series of trials, they ended up blending 6 parts hydrochloric acid with 2.5 parts sulfuric acid. Follow-up tests found that this simple alteration caused the battery's capacity to jump 70 percent.
The new electrolyte solved another bottleneck: the old battery worked optimally between a narrow range of 10 to 40 Celsius. Colder, the electrolyte crystallized. Overheating rendered the battery useless. Now the battery worked at temperatures between -40 degrees and more than 50 degrees Celsius, making it reliable around most of the world. Air conditioners could be now junked, which trimmed a 20 percent energy loss.
"When you eliminate both the hydrogen bubbling and the expensive cooling system, we can (more cheaply) operate in places like India,” says Watkins. “There is no other flow battery that can do that.” About 50 of the new units have already been successfully tested in India's hot, dry climate.
There was a carry-over drawback with the new PNNL electrolyte. It still required pure vanadium, making the batteries 50 percent more expensive than iron-chromium. But Imergy completely remade the playing field when co-founder and chief technology officer Majid Keshavarz altered the electrolyte to accept lower-grade vanadium extracted from iron ore waste, oil sludge, or fly ash from coal-powered power plants.
Any company using pure vanadium must process it to an exacting 99% level of purity, but Keshavarz's new electrolyte requires only a 98% purity level. That single percentage point moves the cost spread between pure vanadium and Imergy's scavenged metal about 30%, giving it a stronger competitive advantage.
Imergy now says it will be able to lower the cost of its flow batteries from $500 a kilowatt hour to about $300 per kilowatt hour and hopes to have new batteries on the market by 2015. New factories in California and India should drop the costs even further. “We think we can go commercial for under $300 per kilowatt-hour,” Watkins says.
Since Watkins was brought in to rapidly scale up the company, he plans to take the new technology beyond the current Indian cell tower installations and conquer larger and much more profitable markets.
Let the battle begin
Imergy wasn't the only vanadium battery maker to take advantage of the new PNNL electrolyte. UniEnergy, a younger startup based near Seattle Washington, also licensed it. And it shouldn't be a surprise that its co-founders, CEO Z. Gary Yang and CTO Liyu Li, are the same PNNL scientists who developed the new electrolyte and jumped on a good thing when they created it. Eventually, they'll be competing head-to-head with Imergy and against their own ingenuity.
While Imergy is still working with contract manufacturer Flextronics on its prototype, two-year-old UniEnergy is already bringing its vanadium flow battery to market. One of its main investors, Dalian Bolong Holding Co of China, which owns a large vanadium miner and Rongke, a company that’s made vanadium flow batteries for eight years, knew about Yang and Li's work. Dalian executives were eager to help the two researchers spin off their disruptive idea.
Assured of a steady and inexpensive supply of vanadium, UniEnergy also mined Rongke’s experience to design the 600-kilowatt, 2-megawatt-hour energy storage system it’s now sending into the field. The startup also got a boost stateside when it won two installations from local Washington utilities, as the state brands itself as a center for new energy storage technologies.
In fact, the startup plans to install a total of 3.5 megawatts of batteries this year, which includes 2 megawatts for the home-state Snohomish utility, 1 megawatt at another Pacific Northwest utility, and an additional 500-kilowatt system in California. With its spacious 67,000-square-foot factory, the startup plans to manufacture 18 megawatts next year and could produce up to 100 megawatts a year.In the end, Imergy's Watson spoke for both companies when he told Greentech Media, "At the end of the day, it’s all about hitting cost points and whether you have a technology platform that allows you to scale. We can take the chemistry and technology within the flow battery and extend it." Let the battle begin.
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