AI-driven robots are making new materials, improving solar cells and other technologies

Science Magazine | December 11, 2019

Curtis Berlinguette, a materials scientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, realized he was wasting his graduate student's time and talent. He had asked her to refine a key material in solar cells to boost its electrical conductivity. But the number of potential tweaks was overwhelming, from spiking the recipe with traces of metals and other additives to varying the heating and drying times. "There are so many things you can go change, you can quickly go through 10 million [designs] you can test," Berlinguette says. So he and colleagues outsourced the effort to a single-armed robot overseen by an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm. Dubbed Ada, the robot mixed different solutions, cast them in films, performed heat treatments and other processing steps, tested the films' conductivity, evaluated their microstructure, and logged the results.

Spotlight

Energy storage is such a big deal that in the electric utility business we called it the holy grail. We knew that if we tried to get higher amounts of wind and solar on the grid, eventually it would break unless we had energy storage.Utility executives may be calling battery energy storage (BES) systems the holy grail of renewables integration and other industry challenges, but here’s an ironic reality: Most organizations keep that holy grail half full or even close to empty.

Spotlight

Energy storage is such a big deal that in the electric utility business we called it the holy grail. We knew that if we tried to get higher amounts of wind and solar on the grid, eventually it would break unless we had energy storage.Utility executives may be calling battery energy storage (BES) systems the holy grail of renewables integration and other industry challenges, but here’s an ironic reality: Most organizations keep that holy grail half full or even close to empty.

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ENERGY

Monolith Receives Conditional Approval for a One Billion-Dollar U.S. Department of Energy Loan

Monolith | December 28, 2021

Monolith, a leader in clean materials production, announced it has received conditional approval for a $1.04 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Energy (D.O.E.). Established via the Title XVII Innovative Energy Loan Guarantee Program, the loan will allow Monolith to expand its clean hydrogen and carbon black production facilities in Hallam, Nebraska, U.S.A. Reaching the ambitious goal of global decarbonization by 2050 will require the innovation of American companies like Monolith and the resources of like-minded organizations like the Department of Energy. Monolith was founded with the belief that private sector companies could develop the innovation needed to help lead the clean energy transition, while also creating high-paying green jobs and strengthening our nation's supply chain." Rob Hanson, Co-founder and C.E.O., Monolith "The Title XVII Innovative Energy Loan Guarantee Program's purpose is to recognize and support technology that reduces emissions and supports a clean energy future," said Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. "Advanced, clean production technology like Monolith's are the types of impactful projects that support not just sustainability, but economic growth and clean energy jobs for the American people." Monolith cleanly produces essential materials utilized by a wide variety of industries including hydrogen, ammonia and carbon black. Carbon black is a material found in many everyday products but is perhaps most commonly known for its use in tires. Leading tire manufacturers including Goodyear and Michelin expressed their support for the D.O.E.'s conditional approval and Monolith's technology. "As the only U.S.-headquartered tire manufacturer, it's especially rewarding to be at the connection point of significant U.S. innovation with Monolith and the commitment of the Department of Energy to sustainable outcomes," said Richard J. Kramer, chairman, chief executive officer and president, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. "We are excited to work with Monolith to reduce our carbon footprint and further our use of alternative materials as we continue to deliver industry-leading products." According to Alexis Garcin, chairman and president of Michelin North America, Inc., "Promoting the mobility of people and goods while protecting our planet requires investments in innovative and sustainable solutions. Partnering with organizations like Monolith, with the support of the Department of Energy, is the latest example of how we at Michelin intend to further accelerate toward our goal of a 100% sustainable tire by 2050 for a better life in motion." In addition to carbon black, Monolith's innovative methane pyrolysis process creates cost-effective clean hydrogen. As the world builds a roadmap to decarbonization, the energy density of clean hydrogen fuel has been recognized as one of the critical paths to creating a green world. Shipping, aviation, long-haul trucking, energy storage and clean steel production are areas with the potential to rely on clean hydrogen fuel. Monolith also expects to use much of the clean hydrogen produced from its Olive Creek expansion for the production of cleanly made ammonia that will be distributed in the U.S. Corn belt to help feed a growing national and world population. "As the leader in wind and solar energy, and as an investor in Monolith, NextEra Energy Resources is encouraged by the U.S. Department of Energy's conditional approval of Monolith's loan application," said John Ketchum, president and chief executive officer, NextEra Energy Resources. "Monolith's clean hydrogen production process is powered by locally-produced renewable electricity and represents a significant advancement to support cost-effective decarbonization of multiple sectors of the U.S. economy." Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 16511, et. seq.) provides authority for the D.O.E. to guarantee loans for projects that "avoid, reduce, or sequester air pollutants or anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases; and employ new or significantly improved technologies as compared to commercial technologies in service in the United States at the time the guarantee is issued." Current conventional processes to create carbon black release large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Through Monolith's methane pyrolysis technology, the company is able to prevent an estimated 2.3 tons of CO2 from being released for every ton of carbon black produced. With its production of cleanly made hydrogen, carbon black and ammonia, Monolith expects that its Olive Creek expansion will prevent one million tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere each year compared to traditional manufacturing processes. While this conditional commitment demonstrates DOE's intent to finance the project, several steps remain, and certain conditions must be satisfied before a final loan guarantee is issued. Monolith's expansion is expected to generate significant economic development, starting with approximately 1,000 jobs to support facility expansion. Once completed, the facility will generate around 260 direct and 600 indirect, high-paying, highly skilled, green energy jobs to support its operations. Upon issuance, the amount provided by the D.O.E. would be a 20-year loan, which Monolith is expected to repay with interest at a rate reflective of the current market. Monolith expects to utilize the loan to help fund the company's Olive Creek plant expansion. Once completed, Monolith's expanded Olive Creek plant is expected to be the largest carbon black production facility in the United States, producing an estimated 194,000 metric tons per year. The construction of this innovative facility is expected to be performed by Kiewit, one of North America's largest and most respected engineering and construction organizations. "We're excited to bring our engineering, procurement and construction experience and skilled people to the Olive Creek plant expansion project, which will help Monolith commercialize a new, innovative technology to produce cost-effective, clean hydrogen and materials," said Rick Lanoha, president and CEO of Kiewit Corporation. "Kiewit is a Nebraska company, so providing EPC services and jobs to a significant project in this state is important to us. We're fully committed to safely delivering this important, sustainable project to help Monolith meet global demand." Hanson added, "This loan, which comes after several years of due diligence, further supports what our customers, employees, investors and strategic partners already know: Monolith's pyrolysis technology will play a vital role in the energy transition. We are honored to have reached this significant milestone on our path toward helping the world to decarbonize, and we are appreciative of the confidence shown by the Department of Energy and Secretary Granholm." Monolith, which was founded in 2012, developed a process technology that uses 100% renewable energy to convert natural gas into clean hydrogen and carbon black. The company is currently operating its first commercial-scale production facility in Hallam, Nebraska, and has offices and R&D facilities in Lincoln, NE; San Carlos, CA; Denver, CO and Kansas City, MO. About Monolith Monolith is a next–generation hydrogen and clean materials company that uses 100% renewable and carbon-free energy as part of a proprietary process to convert conventional and renewable natural gas to carbon black and hydrogen in an environmentally advantaged manner. Monolith is backed by Azimuth Capital Management, Cornell Capital L.L.C., Imperative Ventures, Warburg Pincus, Perry Creek Capital, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America, SK Inc. and NextEra Energy Resources Inc.

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SOLAR+STORAGE

VivoPower International PLC Announces Contract to Complete Electrical Works for 119MWdc Hillston Solar Farm

VivoPower | September 24, 2021

VivoPower International PLC is pleased to announce that its wholly-owned subsidiary in Australia, J.A. Martin Electrical Pty Limited (“J.A. Martin”) has been awarded a contract to complete all electrical works for the 119MWdc Hillston Solar Farm in the Riverina region of southwestern New South Wales. Construction has already commenced with the project to be the third Australian solar farm completed by J.A. Martin in partnership with lead contractor GRS and brings J.A. Martin’s total of completed and contracted solar farms to over 450MWdc. Once energized, the Hillston Solar Farm will generate approximately 235,000MWh of clean energy per year, enough to power nearly 54,000 homes and avoid over 161,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually. The project’s construction will create about 160 local jobs. “J.A. Martin is excited to have the opportunity to once again work with GRS to construct another major solar farm. We look forward to completing another successful project and continuing to help power the growth of renewable energy in New South Wales and across Australia.” Phil Lowbridge, General Manager of J.A. Martin About VivoPower VivoPower is an international battery technology, electric vehicle, solar and critical power services company whose core purpose is to deliver sustainable energy solutions to its customers. VivoPower is a certified B Corporation and has operations in Australia, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. About J.A. Martin J.A. Martin is a wholly-owned subsidiary of VivoPower in Australia. Founded in 1968, J.A. Martin specializes in delivering industrial electrical engineering and power services, including solar engineering design, procurement, and construction (EPC).

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SOLAR+STORAGE

Pivot Energy and Standard Solar to Develop Three New Community Solar Projects in Colorado

Pivot Energy | May 12, 2021

Pivot Energy, Colorado's largest community solar developer, and Standard Solar, Inc., a nationally recognized leader in the development, financing, ownership, and maintenance of commercial and community solar assets, have announced the development of three new Colorado community solar projects. Two of the projects are in Garfield County, and the third is in Jefferson County. The projects will generate enough electricity to power more than 700 homes and a total of four megawatts of new renewable and abundant solar energy. One megawatt of the portfolio is dedicated exclusively to servicing low-income subscribers, with the remaining three megawatts subscribed to by local governments and organizations. Pivot Energy designed and built the solar gardens and will manage the customers, while Standard Solar will finance, own, and maintain the systems. Community solar is rapidly expanding across Colorado as a way for local governments to help meet renewable energy goals while also offering the potential for meaningful cost savings to everyone who pays an electric bill. Via the Garfield Clean Energy Collaborative and other initiatives, Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), a major clean energy advocacy organization for Colorado's western slope region, promotes the increased development of community solar. Both solar gardens in Garfield County will be operational in June 2021, while the Jefferson County plant will be operational later this year. In 2021, Pivot intends to develop more gardens on the western slope. About Pivot Energy Pivot Energy is a national solar provider that designs, funds, constructs, and operates solar and storage energy projects. Pivot is a distributed energy platform with a variety of services and software aimed at supporting the entire solar ecosystem. Pivot runs on a triple bottom line model, with results measured by the positive effect on people, the planet, and profit. About Standard Solar Standard Solar is driving the nation's energy revolution by utilizing its project development skills, financial ability, and technological expertise to bring solar and solar + storage benefits to businesses, institutions, farms, governments, communities, and utilities. Standard Solar is a national leader in the development, funding, and long-term ownership and management of commercial and community solar assets, with 16 years of renewable growth and in-house and tax equity investment capital. The corporation owns and operates more than 160 megawatts of solar across the United States and is recognized as an established financial partner with immediate, significant resources. The headquarters of Standard Solar is in Rockville, Maryland.

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