The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded $82.6 million in funding to 44 projects that will lower Americans’ energy bills and help meet President Biden’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 by investing in new energy efficient building technologies, construction practices, and the U.S. buildings-sector workforce.
One of those funded projects will be led by MechSE professor Sanjiv Sinha, with co-PIs Professor Nenad Miljkovic in MechSE and Professor Paul Braun from MatSE and the Materials Research Lab. AO Smith, one of the world’s leading providers of water heating solutions, is the team’s commercialization and development partner.
“Americans spend about $100 billion every year on wasted energy from buildings, heating and cooling units, and more – increasing energy bills and needless emissions that dirty our air and worsen the climate crisis,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “By pursuing advancements that make both existing and newly constructed buildings more energy efficient, we can save consumers money and reduce the climate impacts of the places we live and work.”
Currently, residential and commercial buildings account for more than one-third of the climate-altering carbon pollution America releases each year and consume 40% of the nation’s energy and 75% of its electricity. Pursuing energy efficiency innovations is one of the most cost-effective means to keep the growth of energy consumption from spiraling upwards as society’s energy needs grow.
The 44 projects across 20 states will improve building energy efficiency through innovations in thermal energy storage, building envelopes, lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, refrigeration, and water heating – as well as by bolstering America’s energy efficiency workforce with trainings, educational programs, and other technical support.
Sinha and his team’s project will research and develop a new thermal storage material that is based on a complex formed from a novel, custom-designed polymer hydrogel that incorporates stable nucleation sites for common, inexpensive salt hydrates, for use in phase-change thermal energy storage systems.
If successful, the project will provide a comprehensive framework to manufacture thermal energy storage technology at scale. While electrochemical batteries have garnered public attention in discussions on a more thoughtful energy future, thermal storage is an equally important problem to be solved for the future. The ability to effectively store and reuse thermal energy is a key challenge in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and in improving the efficient use of energy in a host of residential and industrial applications where the end use of energy is in the form of heat.
Buildings, in particular, can benefit from the incorporation of advanced thermal storage technology. Materials that store excess thermal energy at high density when demand is low and provide the stored heat efficiently at later times when demand peaks, are a crucial first step in realizing widespread thermal storage. Such materials should not only work for many years without significant loss in performance but should also be inexpensive and available at scale.