We've spent a lot of time with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, CA and reported on them in the following articles:

EPRI on Nuclear
EPRI on Energy Efficiency
EPRI on Compressed Air Energy Storage 
EPRI on Energy Storage Technology
EPRI on Single Well Geothermal 
EPRI on Hydro Power 
EPRI's Smart Grid Vision

EPRI is funded largely by utilities, primarily to do development in the short term (less than 5 year timeframe), but their Technology Innovation (TI) program works on longer-term opportunities (5 to 20 years).  Haresh Kamath, the Strategic Program Manager for the Technology Innovation Group, spoke last week on his group's activities.

The Technology Innovation Group has three sections:

  • The Polaris initiative funds any type of research that has an opportunity -- wireless power transfer, for example.
  • Strategic Programs are more focused and directed towards a specific goal.
  • The Breakthrough Technologies group are projects that move a little further ahead and get significant funding from EPRI. These are technologies that EPRI believes can jump significantly with an investment of a few million dollars, and that represent the best funding opportunity.

They currently have 11 strategic programs:

  • Health and Environment
  • Materials for fossil and nuclear -- materials degradation is a huge issue across the power industry and EPRI is looking into nanoscale characterization to assess crack initiation and propagation in Light Water Reactor (LWR) components and wind turbines
  • Nondestructive Evaluation
  • CO2 Capture
  • Near Zero Emissions
  • Electrinet (that's EPRI-speak for the smart grid)
  • Materials for energy delivery and end use, e.g., nanodialectrics for underground cables
  • Sensors, e.g., sensors for wind turbines, transmission line inspection and monitoring, robotics for data collection in high-voltage environments
  • Renewables -- utilities are most interested in carbon footprint, according to Kamath.  One of the things that EPRI is doing is working on ND testing for wind turbines, as well as looking at advanced PV and trying to develop a strategy focused on penetration of renewables into the utility mix.
  • High efficiency PV -- EPRI is focused on third generation technologies; looking for low-cost, high-efficiency PV
  • Biotechnology 
  • Water

And here's a sampling of their projects:

  • Zero Emission Coal -- flue gas cleaning, reducing mercury and reducing coal emsisions to the level of natural gas.
  • CCS -- electricity generation accounts for 40% of total CO2 emissions in the U.S., with more than 80% of those emissions coming directly from coal-fired plants.  Near-term carbon capture technology will raise the cost of electricity and reduce plant efficiency, so EPRI is looking at more efficient carbon capture technology for the longer term.
  • Biotechnology -- non-intuitive but relevant to the utility industry; algal biofixation to capture CO2  As pat of the biotechnology group EPRI is looking ar Boron reduction -- Boron is produced by fossil fuel plants but there is no cost-effective treatment technology.  One research thread being followed by EPRI is in isolating plant genes and bacteria with superior Boron tolerance to be used in water and wetland remediation
  • Nondestructive evaluation NDE -- for assessing the state of wind turbines and nuclear plant structures
  • Energy Storage - "Storage is a great idea except for the cost," in the words of Kamath. According to this EPRI spokesman, the technologies that are most likely to reach commercialization in the near term are Lithium-ion batteries and Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES).    In the longer term, EPRI is looking at technologies that will bring the cost of storage even further down.  Kamath mentioned Amprius' battery technology and ReVolt's Zinc-Air batteries. EPRI  is working with both of these firms.  Kamath expects the cost of large-format Lithium-ion (for electric vehicles and utility-scale storage) to drop to $250 per kilowatt-hour  (by most measures, small cell lithium ion is already at $250 per kilowatt-hour).