CERAMIC ENERGY: A New Energy Initiative

April 1, 2005
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USACA's new initiative is creating new opportunities for advanced ceramics in the energy field.



(Clockwise from far right) 1) Silicon nitride CERBEC(r) balls, manufactured by Saint-Gobain Advanced Ceramics, are used in 2) bearings from Koyo, which are used in the electric motors of 3) wind turbines to eliminate electric arcing. Photos courtesy of Saint-Gobain Advanced Ceramics, East Granby, Conn., and Koyo Seiko, Osaka, Japan.


Billions of dollars are being spent on research and development to advance energy technologies. From more efficient gas turbines for conventional power plants to the high-tech windmills, solar panels, nuclear power plants and fuel cells of the future, many of these emerging high technology products require materials that are wear- and corrosion-resistant, lightweight, and stable in high-temperature environments. Advanced ceramics are deemed an enabling technology for these applications.

In the fall of 2004, The U.S. Advanced Ceramics Association (USACA) created the Ceramic Materials for Energy Independence Initiative to accelerate the development of advanced ceramic materials for energy-related applications, along with two other related initiatives. (See sidebar on p. 44: Crosscutting Technologies.) According to Jeff Serfass, USACA's executive director, the energy initiative was conceived because there is a strong industry desire to develop advanced materials for power generation. Additionally, an important element of a secure energy future is the use of distributed power production resources to provide more options for serving critical loads in times of power disturbances and terrorism. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has identified the need for advanced materials to better perform these critical functions, as well as goals for fuel flexibility and efficient, durable central and distributed energy generation.

Through its new energy initiative, USACA aims to identify and facilitate support for advanced ceramics in the energy field. The association also hopes to improve communication between the DOE and the advanced ceramics industry, and to help create a sustainable advanced materials infrastructure that satisfies the energy independence objectives of the U.S.
 

Getting Started

A Ceramic Materials for Energy Independence Committee, chaired by Jay Morrison, CMC Group Leader of Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp., was established to develop the initiative and identify the necessary resources. The committee's objectives are:

  • To create an energy independence vision for advanced material requirements that can provide durable, efficient, affordable, fuel-flexible generation in central and small distributed resource packages to complement the existing base of power generation assets
  • To develop programmatic metrics that can lead to the vision
  • To develop strategies to address barriers to market insertion and proposing plans/initiatives of action

The committee includes USACA members and other stakeholders in both government and industry. USACA also plans to invite participation from related industry associations such as the Gas Turbine Association (GTA), U.S. Fuel Cell Council (USFCC) and Engine Manufacturers Association.

In January 2005, the committee met in Cocoa Beach, Fla., to establish specific short-term priorities and identify potential funding mechanisms and projects. During the meeting, the committee determined that the value proposition for advanced ceramics in future energy systems must be developed. In addition, continued support from the DOE through dedicated material funding line items is crucial to success. However, the priorities of the government seem to have shifted away from enabling materials technologies, as evidenced by the elimination of an advanced materials line item from the DOE's 2005 budget. The committee decided that a letter needs to be drafted and submitted to the DOE, stating USACA's position in reference to ceramic materials appropriations, the current funding problems, specific historic examples of advanced materials' importance in industry, and the need to reinstate an advanced materials line item in the federal budget.
 

An experimental NT154 silicon nitride rotor for DOE Advanced Microturbine Systems. Hot section ceramic components offer the promise of higher efficiency, reduced emissions and fuel flexibility in microturbine distributed power generation. Photo courtesy of Saint-Gobain High Performance Materials, Northboro, Mass.
 
 


Next Steps

A draft presentation outlining USACA's vision for the energy initiative is being developed and should be ready for review by interested parties in mid- to late April. The final information will be presented at a workshop hosted by the National Academy of Sciences later this year, and will be used as the basis for a roadmap to help guide USACA's energy-related efforts going forward. According to Morrison, the draft presentation will be made available to anyone who is interested or would like to contribute ideas and information.

The committee is also working to understand the top priorities at the DOE and identify ways that the ceramic industry can position itself to help the DOE work toward accomplishing those priorities. Morrison believes that industry participation will be crucial in this effort.

"We'd like to put together a list of the benefits of ceramic materials in energy applications, and we'd also like to begin collecting success stories and examples of crosscutting technologies. All of this information will help us communicate the importance of DOE involvement in pursuing the R&D needed to advance energy technologies," he says.

Most importantly, however, the committee is trying to focus its efforts in ways that will also optimize ceramic advances in other applications, such as defense and aerospace.

"The U.S. as a whole, as well as the ceramic industry, has lost its focus on developing new technologies and crosscutting those technologies among different industries. We've become much more consumer-oriented than technology-oriented, and I would like to see us move closer to where we were 10 or 15 years ago, when we were a major player in the technology race," says Morrison.

"Materials development work is still ongoing in the various government programs, but it's been buried within systems development," he continues. "All of the programs are being pursued independently, and there's very little, if any, crosscutting between the different applications. As a result, all of the work is disjointed, and very little progress is being made in each area. What's needed is an organization that has a broad perspective, like USACA, to bring these efforts together so that each program can build on the successes of the others."

Morrison admits that with the current lack of resources and constant changes in the government's commitment to energy, the road ahead might not be easy. However, he believes that the new initiatives being undertaken by USACA are a crucial first step.

"Ultimately, these initiatives are vehicles that can bring attention and focus to these different technologies, and I'm very optimistic that they'll lead to additional developments and opportunities for ceramic materials in the future," he says.

Editor's note: The next Ceramic Materials for Energy Independence Committee meeting will be held in conjunction with USACA's board of director's meeting April 14, 2005, in Washington, D.C. Updates on the progress of this initiative will be published in future issues of Ceramic Industry/Ceramic Energy and on our website at http://www.ceramicindustry.com.

For more information or to participate in the energy initiative, contact Jay Morrison at (407) 736-7381 or jay.Morrison@siemens.com. For information about USACA membership or the other new initiatives, contact USACA at (202) 293-6253, fax (202) 223-5537, e-mail usaca@ttcorp.com, or visit http://www.advancedceramics.org.
 

SIDEBAR: Crosscutting Technologies

The Ceramic Materials for Energy Independence Initiative is just one of three new interrelated initiatives being pursued by USACA. The two other initiatives are:

Sapphire parts (single crystal aluminum oxide) used for transparent armor and aerospace visible and mid-wave infrared windows. Photo courtesy of Saint-Gobain Crystals, Milford, N.H.

 

Advanced Ceramics Defense Technology Transition Initiative

Committee Chair: Bob Licht, Saint-Gobain High-Performance Materials

Ceramic armor has been a big part of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Working closely with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), USACA aims to achieve

  

A silicon carbide boiler tube shield. Photo courtesy of Saint-Gobain High Performance Materials, Northboro, Mass.

additional advanced ceramic material insertion into the military by developing pathways to affordable advanced ceramic materials that are wear-, temperature- and corrosion-resistant, lightweight, and more stable than other materials in critical military applications. The initiative aims to increase the technology readiness level and affordability of advanced ceramics through advances in manufacturing technology, demonstrate enhanced war fighter capability by the application of advanced ceramics, and establish a sustainable advanced ceramics industrial base through the use of programs like the Defense Production Act.

A Military Ceramics Technology Transition and Implementation Committee was established to develop the initiative and includes USACA members, DoD stakeholders, laboratories, and other industry and government participants. In addition to the primary objectives, desired outcomes of this initiative include:

  • Development of industry partnerships where necessary, with government, to accelerate the application of high-performance ceramics
  • Better communication between government agencies and the advanced ceramics industry
  • Increased availability of advanced materials for the DoD



 
 


USACA Defense and NASA Ultra-High-Temperature Ceramics Initiative

Committee Chair: Frank Kuchinski, Triton Systems

A companion program to the Defense Technology Transition Initiative, this effort specifically focuses on ceramics for use in ultra-high-temperature environments. The Ultra High Temperature Ceramics Committee established to develop the initiative will perform an analysis of the impact on cost and mission capability of not having access to the high-temperature materials necessary to perform future critical functions, to create awareness of the needs among users of advanced ceramic materials, and to create ceramic technologies and a manufacturing infrastructure to support important requirements for ultra-high-temperature materials. The concept of developing a users' consortium is also being explored to help prepare prime contractors and other users to specify these new materials.

In addition to the primary objectives, desired outcomes of this initiative include:

  • Better communication among government agencies, systems developers and the advanced ceramics industry
  • Increased availability of advanced materials for the DoD and NASA
  • Funding to implement any resulting initiatives


According to USACA, efforts will be coordinated among all three new initiatives to reduce duplication and increase the potential for success in creating high-temperature materials to address critical needs in energy, defense and aerospace applications. Additional industry participation is encouraged. For further details, contact USACA at (202) 293-6253, fax (202) 223-5537, e-mail usaca@ttcorp.com, or visit http://www.advancedceramics.org.

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