The idea is to jointly develop problem-solving technologies and devices

The Department of Energy recently selected representatives from Argonne National Laboratory for three of seven spots in its new Technologist in Residence pilot program, created to increase collaboration between the national laboratories and private-sector companies. The pilot — which is partially sponsored by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — will partner Argonne with Capstone Turbine Corporation, which manufactures clean-and-green microturbine power generation systems; Cummins, which designs, manufactures, distributes and services diesel and natural gas engines; and the International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research (ICAMR), which helps create advanced sensors, photonics, and optics.

The four other spots went to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and their respective partners. Through the pilot, pairs of senior technologist from the laboratories and manufacturing companies will work together to develop technologies and devices that can help solve problems in energy and other critical areas.

“The need for fundamental and advanced research has not gone away,” said Suresh Sunderrajan, director of Argonne’s Technology Development and Commercialization division. “Just about all of the really significant innovation we have seen over the last four or five decades has been the result of research that preceded that by 10, 20 or even 50 years.”

An increased focus on commercialization is beneficial for industry, the laboratories, and consumers, he said. “The laboratories — with their incredible resources, including supercomputers and one-of-a-kind analytical tools available here at Argonne — can help industry solve big, fundamental problems as opposed to providing a technical service,” said Sunderrajan.

DOE is funding the pilot with a $400,000 investment in each partnership, an amount that will be matched by the companies selected for participation. The pilot program is part of DOE’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, which aims to increase American competitiveness in the production of clean energy products and boost U.S. manufacturing competitiveness across the board by increasing energy productivity.

“It’s a vehicle that hasn’t existed before,” Sunderrajan said, adding that Argonne is excited to have won three of the seven awards, allowing it to partner with companies of varying sizes and with myriad goals.

Munidhar Biruduganti, principal research engineer in Argonne’s Energy Systems division, spoke of the partnership with Capstone. He said combined heat and power, known as CHP, is a very important part of DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office’s research portfolio because of its impact on DOE’s mission and objectives.

“Microturbines show great promise as compact, efficient, cost-effective combined heat and power sources,” he said. “To this end, several industry-specific technical issues have been identified by Capstone and Argonne. Through Technologist in Residence, the technologist pair will explore relevant solutions, including the development of low-cost, active combustion control systems and fuel adaptability.”

Though Capstone is a small business employing just 225 people, its work could have an enormous impact, he said. “The market and environmental benefits of Capstone’s CHP systems are huge,” Biruduganti said. “However, due to the relatively low research and development budget, many innovative ideas are yet to be realized. The Technologist in Residence pilot offers the needed resources for Capstone to avail itself of national laboratory resources and manufacture better CHP systems.”

Glenn Keller, principal project engineering specialist for the Vehicle Systems Group in Argonne’s Center for Transportation Research, praised DOE for reaching out to large industry and small business alike. He said he is excited to see yet another opportunity for the work of Argonne scientists and researchers to come to fruition.

“It’s almost like we—the lab and industry—are on a road trip together, choosing the best possible technologies and strategies available at Argonne and coupling that with the industry’s insight to bring their vision into reality,” said Keller, who will help orchestrate the laboratory’s effort with Cummins. A long-time major manufacturer of heavy-duty engines for the trucking market and industrial engines and off-road products, Cummins will explore possibilities for the powertrain of the future with Argonne. “It’s a great opportunity for Argonne, ”Keller said. “To work side by side with a commercial manufacturer is priceless.”

“We are fortunate to be selected to work with Cummins to forward their mission. Anything we do to save fuel and energy in the trucking market will make America stronger because the industry is massive; there is not a single thing you can eat or touch that wasn’t delivered by a truck.”

Argonne and ICAMR, which represents multiple manufacturers, will use this opportunity to concentrate on the development of innovative manufacturable processes, materials, and equipment for advanced sensors and other future high-tech products, including emitters, modulators, and communications devices and systems.

“The result will be improved manufacturing,” said John Hryn, process development engineer at Argonne. “We will be able to make devices that we were not able to make before. The partnership will help advance numerous technologies that we use every day.”

Both Argonne and ICAMR have interest in expanding thin-film processing technology, specifically metalorganic chemical vapor deposition and atomic layer deposition technology, for the commercialization and mass manufacturing of next-generation solid-state devices. Argonne is a world leader in developing thin-film technology for non-semiconductor applications. This latest collaboration will enhance those efforts and build on a fruitful, pre-existing relationship between DOE and ICAMR leadership.

Jo Napolitano is a writer at Argonne National Laboratory.