Source: Liebman & Associates (L&A)


Manufacturing - Novel materials are required to support next-generation manufacturing processes and clean energy manufacturing. High-performance, highly-functional materials are needed to reduce the embedded energy, carbon footprint, and cost of finished products while improving product quality and enhancing manufacturing productivity - advanced ceramics, coatings and nanomaterials that can operate in extreme environments and increase thermal or degradation resistance of components; advanced composites, hybrid materials, engineered polymers, and low-density, high-strength metals that can increase the performance of energy production and transfer equipment; thin films and electrochemicals that require functional surface interactions; inexpensive carbon fibers, new cement technologies, low-cost titanium fabrication, and biomimetic materials.

Solar Energy - Photovoltaics (PV) rely upon high performance materials to enable their efficiency, lifetime, and cost. Thin-film PV technologies such as CdTe and CIGS still have large disparities between champion lab cell and production module performance that can be closed with a better understanding of the materials and device structures. Flexible applications such as building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) require functional films for encapsulation. The development of new transparent conductors can enable both higher performance, lower cost, and improved reliability Beyond improving today's PV technologies, highly functional materials underlie the development and performance of next generation photovoltaics - plasmonics, organic cells, and multiple exciton generation technologies. Concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies also have the potential for higher efficiency, lower cost, and improved reliability. Higher temperature operation of critical CSP systems will require material innovations in receiver materials, selective coatings, high temperature heat exchangers, and new formulations for molten salts to increase their heat capacity and operating temperature ranges.

Electric Vehicles - To enable wide scale deployment of electric drive vehicles, materials development is a critical across the entire vehicle from energy storage and the power train to lightweight body materials. On board energy storage, namely rechargeable batteries, are required that have higher volumetric and gravimetric energy densities, have longer deep discharge cycle lives, and are lower cost. Achieving these objectives may require moving to higher energy couples from today's lithium ion batteries. The move to lithium-sulfur, lithium-air, magnesium and other battery systems requires development of cathodes, anodes, electrolytes, catalysts and other system components to enable their reliable performance. High-performance, cost-effective, lightweight materials are needed to reduce fuel consumption in internal combustion and hybrid vehicles and to increase range and performance of plug-in electric vehicles.

Biofuels - Thermochemical conversion processes can convert a wide range of biomass materials into intermediates suitable for further conversion to final fuels. To increase yield and quality while decreasing the cost of biofuels, R&D is needed to develop catalysts for fuel intermediates and product upgrading to renewable gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel with a focus on lifetime, activity and selectivity.

Solid State Lighting - Solid-state lighting for general illumination offers the greatest opportunity in energy savings among all lighting technologies. Innovation is needed in the materials, device structures and processing methods throughout the device stack from novel low-cost high performance substrates (e.g., GaN for nitride-based materials) through to the transparent electrodes used or OLEDs.

Rechargeable Batteries - Rechargeable batteries are critical elements of the modern smart grid and the expansion of electric vehicles. Development has focused on lithium-ion technologies while R&D continues on other systems. New materials and system components are needed to drive down the cost of lithium-ion batteries while maintaining or improving existing performance. New materials and cells are needed to driver higher levels of performance - improved volumetric and gravimetric energy density, increased cycle life, increased calendar life, higher system efficiency and reduced cost.

Wind Energy - Drivetrains include some of the most expensive components of a wind turbine and represent a significant portion of the total energy losses. Permanent-magnet generators have the potential to offer cost, reliability, and performance advantages over conventional induction generators or wound field synchronous generators. However, permanent magnets typically rely upon expensive rare-earth alloys, consisting of the lanthanide elements, particularly neodymium and dysprosium. Improvements in energy density and creation of nano-structured magnets can result in size and weight reductions, particularly important for large diameter direct-drive generators.

Fuel Cells - Catalysts are required to improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of fuel cells system. Platinum Group Metal (PGM) catalyst approaches are needed that will increase activity and utilization of current PGM and PGM alloy catalysts. The development of innovative nanostructured PGM-containing materials can lead to reduced PGM content, reducing fuel cell costs. PGM-free catalyst approaches, including the development of viable electrode structures that allow an increase in loading and thickness has the potential to further reduce system lifetime costs. Further, interactions between the catalyst, support structure, catalyst particle size and structure can have a meaningful impact of performance. Materials with superior corrosion resistance and with electrical and structural properties that exceed the properties of conventional carbon supported catalysts are needed.

Grid-Scale Power Electronics - Silicon-based devices in the form of insulated-gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs) and gate turn-off thyristors (GTOs) have been the dominant semiconductor switches for high power applications such as high voltage direct current converter stations and flexible alternating current transmission systems. However, these devices have not been widely deployed in the modern utility grid due to the high cost and limited performance. Better power electronics would enable utilities to more effectively deliver power to their customers through increased transmission and distribution efficiency and improved voltage and frequency regulation


Energy efficiency must be a central component to every energy strategy as it addresses energy security by reducing fuel and power consumption and enhances economic performance by reducing operating costs. New technologies and best practices are being introduced that will enable more productive use of the energy consumed by buildings and industry. New and improved building components and equipment coupled with integrated design and construction techniques can significantly reduce the energy consumption and peak electrical demands of residential and commercial buildings, both in retrofits and new construction. Home energy management (HEM) systems enable two-way communications between utilities and consumers and provide control over home conveniences (including thermostats and smart appliances) to reduce consumption, especially during periods of peak demand.

New energy efficient building technologies includes: solid state lighting (SSL) systems, such as inorganic light emitting diodes (LED) based on compound semiconductors such as GaN and organic light emitting diodes (OLED) based on both small and large molecule phosphorescent and fluorescent emitters; heating and cooling systems, including HVAC, dehumidification and water heating; and building envelope components, such as advanced thermal insulation, windows with dynamic solar control, solar thermal technologies and advanced building materials. These technologies require innovations at both the component and system level to continue to improve performance and bring down cost. When such technologies are deployed together, buildings can become net-zero greenhouse gas emitters and net energy producers (also known as zero energy buildings), when augmented by on-site energy generation.

The cheapest and most available source of new energy for the industrial sector is the energy that is wasted, and that industrial energy efficiency is the quickest and most reliable way to reduce future carbon emissions. The International Energy Agency estimates that industries throughout the world can reduce carbon emissions by 19% to 32% simply by using proven technologies and best practices. Advances are being pursued for energy-intensive industries such as data centers and telecommunications and high carbon-emitting processes such as chemicals, steel, aluminum, pulp and paper, and cement production, as well as for technologies that can impact all industries, such as advanced materials, energy conversion, nano-manufacturing, and fuel and feedstock substitutions, including the capture and use of waste heat.

Solutions that increase energy productivity (output per unit of energy used) within industry are needed . New manufacturing technologies and materials can help reinvigorate existing manufacturing industries while supporting the growth and development of clean energy technologies and new industries.


Renewable energy includes electricity and heat generated from solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and water resources, and hydrogen and biofuels derived from renewable resources.

Solar Energy: 
Biomass, Biofuels and Biopower: Grassy and woody plants, algae, residues from agriculture and forestry, and the organic component of municipal and industrial wastes can be used as a biomass energy source to produce fuels, power and products that would otherwise be made from fossil fuels. Unlike other renewable energy sources, biomass can be converted directly into advanced infrastructure compatible liquid fuels (biofuels) as renewable substitutes for gasoline and diesel.
Biomass can also be used for power generation. Biopower has the potential to deliver a significant amount of renewable electricity and contribute to GHG reductions and sustainable development; but advancements are still needed regarding an optimized biochar fuel, feedstock logistics and sustainability, fuel characteristics and feed methods, flue gas clean-up, and power generation and integration with other biomass users.

Wind Energy: Areas with good wind resources have the potential to supply a substantial amount of the electricity consumption , through advancement in both low-speed wind turbine and distributed wind turbine technologies and their related components, such as blades, rotors, drivetrains and power electronics. The drivetrain, which includes the generator and gearbox, can account for nearly 50% of the capital costs for a modern wind turbine, where drivetrain weight, energy loss, and operating lifetime are additional key factors that impact wind energy performance.

Geothermal Energy: Geothermal technologies use heat from the earth to produce electricity or heating and cooling for homes and buildings. Because of the continuous availability of this resource, geothermal energy has the potential to provide baseload power and contribute to the security and diversity of energy supplies. Conventional geothermal energy is generated from naturally occurring hot water and steam and Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) are engineered reservoirs created to produce energy from geothermal resources deficient in economical amounts of water and/or permeability - hot dry rocks. New technologies and working fluids are enabling low-temperature (150°C or less) and geo-pressured resources from produced waters in oil and gas fields and permeable sedimentary rock reservoirs to be harnessed for both direct-use and electricity generation applications. R&D is needed to enhance geothermal reservoir performance and sustainability to lower the overall costs of energy production.

Water Power: Innovative technologies can generate renewable, environmentally responsible, and cost-effective electricity from water. These include marine and hydrokinetic technologies that harness the energy from wave, tidal, current and ocean thermal resources, as well as technologies and processes that improve the efficiency, flexibility, and environmental performance of conventional hydropower generation. Further technology development is needed on advanced membranes and osmotic power generation strategies to simultaneously produce electricity and improve desalination efficiency.

Hydrogen and Fuel Cells: While hydrogen is the most abundant element on earth, it does not occur naturally by itself and therefore cannot be mined or harvested. However, renewable energy sources can be used to make hydrogen that is transported or stored for use where and when needed. Fuel cells that electrochemically combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and heat offer the promise of making hydrogen an ideal energy carrier for both transportation (vehicles, fork lifts) and stationary applications (backup and primary power). R&D is needed to reduce the cost and increase the durability, reliability, and efficiency of fuel cell systems, including both stack components and balance of plant.


The electric power system is vulnerable and inefficient, with electricity carried over long transmission lines from centralized generating plants. Distributed energy resources (DER) generate power where it is used. Many distributed generation (DG) technologies, such as turbines, microturbines, reciprocating engines and fuel cells, create heat that can be captured as useable energy for water heating, cooling and other purposes with thermal energy technologies. This approach, known as cogeneration or combined heat and power (CHP), can produce fuel efficiencies of up to 70% compared to 33% efficient centralized power plants. District energy systems provide thermal energy in various forms, including steam, hot and chilled water to multiple buildings via underground piping networks. Energy storage can augment the electric grid and on-site DG systems with back-up power, when the grid is unavailable or at strategic times to reduce demand and costs. Microgrids combine many different DER technologies with bulk power from the electric grid to create high availability power systems. Through power electronics, direct current (DC) power applications leverage the inherent nature of loads such as microprocessors and lighting, and sources such as photovoltaics, fuel cells and batteries, for fewer losses and higher reliability.

There is a growing consensus that steps should be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon dioxide (CO2) capture, beneficial use/re-use and geologic sequestration are promising options to help address this challenge. A variety of clean coal technologies are being developed for pulverized coal, oxy-fuel, and gasification plants such as pre- and post-combustion carbon capture, improved gasification technologies, solid-oxide fuel cells, and improved turbines for future coal-based combined cycle plants. Other new technologies offer opportunities to use CO2 from industrial and utility power plants as a building block for fuels, chemicals, or building materials. Research is also ongoing to develop technologies that safely, permanently and cost-effectively store CO2 in geologic formations.

Biomass is the only form of non-hydroelectric renewable energy that offers baseload power, is widely available and can be stored and dispatched for use when needed. BioPower - utility-scale generation of electricity from domestic and renewable biomass - is a reliable, renewable type of baseload utility power that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and supports our nation's agricultural sector. A biopower generating plant has the capability to use logging residues, intermediate thinnings, wood chips, or processed fuels produced from biomass including torrefied briquettes, upgraded pyrolysis oil or synthesis gas. A centralized approach involves a single, large scale power facility fed by a distributed network of biomass conversion facilities producing energy dense, transportable fuel intermediates such as pellets, syngas or pyrolysis oil. A decentralized approach involves smaller scale power facilities on the order of 50 to 100 MW that can also be integrated with a biofuel-producing integrated biorefinery. Either can utilize coal-biomass mixtures (co-firing) to leverage our nation's coal and biomass resources in a safe and environmentally clean manner.

Energy-intensive industries can leverage these technologies to increase energy efficiency and reduce and sequester carbon emissions. Utilities can integrate DER to reduce peak load demand at a distribution feeder, which can eliminate or defer the need for new transmission and distribution capacity and reduce congestion, and use biopower technologies as a bridge from a fossil carbon-based energy economy to one based on renewable energy systems. All companies can benefit from the greater reliability and security afforded by these technologies.


Advanced vehicle technologies, such as hybrid-electric vehicles, idle reduction and global positioning systems, and auxiliary power, will enable citizens and businesses to accomplish their tasks while reducing consumption of gasoline and diesel fuels. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) can be used to dispatch electricity back to the grid when needed, and models for private and commercial fleets allow engines to be turned off during delivery and service stops while maintaining power for on-board equipment such as hydraulic lifts and HVAC controls. Technology advancements in batteries, power electronics (e.g. inverters) for electric traction drives, lightweight materials, combustion engine efficiency, thermoelectric energy conversion and power train systems will help improve the performance of these alternative vehicles to meet the demands of fleets and consumers alike.

Low-cost, abuse-tolerant batteries with higher energy (volumetric energy density), higher power, and lower weight (gravimetric energy density) are needed for the development of the next- generation of HEVs, PHEVs, and pure EVs. The needs of "regular" hybrid vehicles and PHEVs are similar, but not identical; PHEVs need to be able to store considerably more total energy in their batteries. Developing batteries that are rugged, long-lasting, affordable, lighter, hold a substantial charge, and work in all climates and seasons is still a major R&D challenge. Lithium-based batteries offer the potential to meet all three applications. Other innovative technologies like ultracapacitors and advanced lead acid batteries offer the promise of significantly lower cost with possibly similar performance to lithium ion batteries in high power applications.

Unlike other renewable energy sources, biomass can be converted directly into liquid fuels (biofuels) such as ethanol, biobutanol and biodiesel and into drop-in infrastructure-compatible renewable substitutes for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Low-cost feedstocks such as specially grown plants, algae and biomass residues can be used to produce cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels, which have a greater energy balance than corn ethanol and do not compete with food sources. Biorefineries convert biomass into fuels and bio-based co-products much like oil refineries and petrochemical plants do, but can be based on a variety of different conversion technologies and hybrid combinations.

Thermochemical conversion processes such as gasification, pyrolysis, and catalytic hydrotreating and hydrocracking technologies can convert a variety of biomass materials to intermediates (e.g. syngas and bio-oils) for subsequent conversion to fuels. Catalytic chemical reactions such as the Fischer-Tropsch process converts syngas to liquid hydrocarbons, which can be further upgraded into a variety of synthetic fuels. Many of these same processes can also convert natural gas, coal and coal-biomass mixtures into the same synthetic fuels as well.

Biochemical conversion processes turn agricultural residues, energy crops and other biomass into mixed, dilute sugars, and with further conversion, into liquid fuels. Much work is focused on reducing the biochemical conversion cost of producing liquid fuels by targeting key technology barriers in the unit operations processes, such as pretreatment, enzyme production, hydrolysis, and fermentation, as well as the technologies needed for successful integration into biorefineries.


A reliable, efficient, secure, and resilient electric grid is essential for reducing greenhouse gases, deploying renewable and clean energy sources at scale, facilitating dynamic reductions in electric use, and protecting critical infrastructures.

Transmission System: Transmission ties urban loads to affordable sources of generation and connects regions for enhanced reliability. Transmission system expansion is needed so that remote renewable energy (especially utility-scale solar and wind) can reach demand centers such as large cities, but better management is needed as higher penetration of variable generation is integrated with traditional baseload electricity sources. R&D is needed to enhance understanding of the power system and enable responses to changing system and market conditions, as well as ensure reliable and efficient grid operations under high penetration of variable generation. Advanced grid modeling can enhance the electricity industry's analytical capability by upgrading, extending, and replacing existing grid modeling and analysis, visualization, and decision-making tools. Such a comprehensive, integrated suite of computer simulation models and computational techniques would enhance electric system understanding needed for transmission planning, improved operations, and anticipation of the impacts of new generation on load balancing.

Distribution System: Today's electric distribution system is primarily based on a radial circuit design with one-way power flow. It employs few measuring and control devices beyond substations for situational awareness and control and most devices are capable of only one-way communication. As the distribution grid becomes increasingly decentralized with growing penetration of distributed energy resources both by utilities and non-utilities, including consumers, two-way power flow will be essential; thus, there is a need for two-way communications and decentralized controls to better match supply and demand in real time, as well as for system integration and adaptive protection coordination. An electric distribution system that includes real-time controls, distributed generation and energy storage, and advanced metering infrastructure will also improve the adoption and use of energy efficient buildings, appliances, and equipment. In addition, to realize the future potential of plug-in electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, an electric distribution system is needed that can provide cost-effective charging services to consumers without adding to peak demand or causing other harmful impacts on the grid. Advances are needed in the development of a self-configuring substation linking the distribution system, smart grid and reactive components like transformers and switches in real time.

Smart Grid: Consumers today have limited information and lack the opportunity to participate with the electric power system because the system currently lacks the means for two-way information exchanges between the grid operator and consumers. This limited consumer participation hampers the ability to achieve the market potential for energy conservation and demand response. Smart grid technologies integrate advanced sensor, information, communication, and control technologies into electric system operations. They utilize two-way communications, advanced sensors and digital controls to provide real-time information to grid operators about the power flows across the transmission and distribution (T&D) system and enable greater use of demand response, energy storage, advanced metering infrastructure and other peak load reducing strategies. These same smart grid systems, along with power electronics devices such as switches and inverters, make it easier and more cost-effective to integrate renewable energy and distributed generation and storage technologies, including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, with the electric grid in a safe and reliable manner. Advances are needed in integrated distribution management systems for distribution automation, prognostic health monitoring of critical assets for enhanced asset utilization and reliability, and voltage regulation and protection schemes for high penetration of renewables.

Energy Storage: Grid-scale energy storage can provide grid balancing and transform renewable generation resources into dispatchable and firm electric power, substantially increasing the economic value and use of wind and solar power. Widespread grid-scale storage functioning as spinning reserves would also have an immediate impact on CO2 emissions reductions by displacing fossil fuel power plants. The development of new technologies for the widespread deployment of cost-effective grid-scale energy storage will be critical in enabling the drive toward low-carbon electric power generation. Cost-effective grid scale electrical storage will simultaneously increase grid reliability, reduce CO2 emissions, and enable widespread penetration of intermittent renewable generation. New collaborations with states, utilities, and renewable developers are needed to demonstrate and deploy grid scale and community energy storage facilities to allow optimization of storage technologies, development of operational experience, reduction of manufacturing costs, and encourage support by the financial community.

Cyber Security: The increasing use of communications and control technology throughout the energy sector makes the energy transmission and distribution systems attractive targets to cyber attacks, with potential consequences including significant interruption of economic activity or, even, to catastrophic loss of life. A fundamentally new approach to cyber security is needed to adequately protect the energy infrastructure against sophisticated cyber adversaries.

Consumer Engagement: Energy efficient buildings, appliances and equipment also benefit the modern smart grid. Smart meters and appliances, conveying price and congestion information received from the utility, can automatically prompt consumers and their end-use equipment to use less energy at a specific time, thereby relieving stress on the grid. The use of distributed generation such as photovoltaics and the emergence of electric vehicles require an electric distribution system that can provide cost-effective charging to the consumer while easily dispatching energy back to the grid, if needed.

Commercial and industrial electricity consumers can leverage these technologies and government support to increase the reliability of their operations while reducing electricity costs. Utilities can improve reliability and address growing demand by leveraging these resources to increase operational speed and efficiency. All companies can benefit from the greater reliability and security afforded by these technologies.

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