August 11,2015

DOE SBIR/STTR: 12-Membranes and Materials for Energy Efficiency

  • Release Date:09-16-2015
  • Open Date:09-16-2015
  • Due Date:10-19-2015
  • Close Date:10-21-2015

Separation technologies recover, isolate, and purify products in virtually every industrial process. Using 
membranes rather than conventional energy intensive technologies for separations could dramatically reduce 
energy use and costs in key industrial processes [1]. Separation processes represent 40 to 70 percent of both 
capital and operating costs in industry. They also account for 45 percent of all the process energy used by the 
chemical and petroleum refining industries every year. In response the Department of Energy supports the 
development of high‐risk, innovative membrane separation technologies and related materials. Many 
challenges must be overcome before membrane technology becomes more widely adopted. Technical barriers 
include fouling, instability, low flux, low separation factors, and poor durability. Advancements are needed 
that will lead to new generations of organic, inorganic, and ceramic membranes. These membranes require 
greater thermal and chemical stability, greater reliability, improved fouling and corrosion resistance, and 
higher selectivity leading to better performance in existing industrial applications, as well as opportunities for 
new applications. Materials for energy efficiency include both organic and inorganic types. Their applications 
can be for supporting structures, such as durable sealing materials to increase reliability of hydrogen storage 
or for electronics substrates.  They also include materials that are key to highly pure hydrogen. Finally, 
conductor materials that promise 50% or more improvement in energy efficiency are examined.  
Grant applications are sought in the following subtopics:   
a. High Selectivity Membranes

This subtopic is focused on the advancement of manufacturing processes that are able to produce 
membranes with exceptional selectivity for separations.   
High performance membranes offer the potential to provide game‐changing process energy advances.  
Specifically we are interested in chemical separations, desalination, and gas separations.  Of greatest 
interest are methods that employ strong, thin membranes (e.g., covalently bonded, one‐molecule‐thick 
structures) for high permeance, with atomically precise pores for high selectivity.  In desalination, a rate 
increase of 2‐3 orders of magnitude over reverse osmosis is projected for a system with not only 
controlled pore size but also engineered pore edge composition [1].  In principle, a series of membranes of 
sufficient selectivity could separate air into its raw components of N2, O2, Ar, CO2, Ne, He, etc.  for 
significant energy savings in a wide range of chemical and combustion processes [2, 3], and for greenhouse 
gas reduction.   
We seek grant applications to advance scalable technologies that provide order‐of‐magnitude increments 
over the performance of current industrial separation processes.  The focus of the application must be on 
significant improvements in uniformity of pore size distribution and composition for near 100% selectivity.  
Consideration should be given to addressing the other barriers cited in this topic:  fouling, instability, flux, 
durability, and cost.  The choice of membrane material should be appropriate to the target separation in a 
commercial setting.  Target separations with high energy impact are preferred.  As a deliverable, a 
minimum of 50% energy savings over separations in current commercial practice shall be demonstrated 
through the manufacture of exemplar parts or materials, with sufficient experimental measurements and 
supporting calculations to show that cost‐competitive energy savings can be achieved with practical 
economies of scale.  The application should provide a path to scale up in potential Phase II follow on work. 
Questions – Contact: David Forrest, david.forrest@hq.doe.gov  


b. High Performance Conductors 
This subtopic is focused on methods to enhance the thermal and electrical conductivity of commercial 
Electrical and thermal conductivity are thermophysical properties of metals that play key roles in the 
energy efficiency in many applications.  In general, we seek to increase both properties but are limited by 
competing material requirements such as strength and oxidation resistance.  High electrical conductivity, 
strong aluminum would address transmission losses (0.2‐0.4 quads) and reduce total ownership costs in 
high voltage power transmission lines.  High electrical conductivity aluminum could replace copper for 
wiring and motor lightweighting in certain aircraft and automotive systems.  High conductivity copper 
could improve the efficiency of electric motors and reduce the weight of aircraft and automobiles.  
Improving the thermal conductivity of steels and superalloys would improve the efficiency of high 
temperature processes (including power generation) through high performance heat exchangers, and 
would reduce material requirements.  
There are several new approaches, which have seen mixed degrees of technical success but no significant 
commercial inroads due to cost or scalability:  multifunctional metal/polymer composites, nanocarbon 
infusion processes, severe plastic deformation of aluminum, and metal matrix composites.  Specific 
challenges include establishing a quality interface between the metal and high conductivity material (such 
as carbon nanotubes) in metal matrix composites, and minimizing defects that reduce conductivity in the 
highly conductive material [1‐4]. 
We seek grant applications to advance scalable technologies that provide at least a 50% increment over 
the performance of commercial metal conductors.  The improvement can be in electrical conductivity or 
thermal conductivity either on a volumetric or weight basis.  The choice of metallurgical system should be 
appropriate to the target component in a commercial setting.  Consideration should be given to addressing 
all aspects of the materials design at the system level (cost, corrosion and oxidation resistance, joining and 
fabrication procedures, strength, fatigue, hardness, ductility).  Industrial uses of the enhanced conductors 
that will result in high energy impact are preferred.  As a deliverable, a minimum of 50% energy savings in 
service over current commercial practice shall be demonstrated through the manufacture of exemplar 
components or materials, with sufficient experimental measurements and supporting calculations to show 
that cost‐competitive energy savings can be achieved with practical economies of scale.  The application 
should provide a path to scale up in potential Phase II follow on work. 
Questions – Contact: David Forrest, david.forrest@hq.doe.gov


c. Fuel Cell Membranes 
Polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells are a leading candidate to power zero emission vehicles, 
with several major automakers already in the early stages of commercializing fuel cell vehicles powered by 
PEM fuel cells.  PEM fuel cells are also of interest for stationary power applications, including primary 
power, backup power, and combined heat and power.  Commercial PEM technology typically is based on 
perfluorosulfonic acid ionomers, but these ionomer materials are expensive, particularly at the low 
volumes that will be needed for initial commercialization.  Non‐PFSA PEMs, including those based on 38 
hydrocarbon membranes, represent a lower‐cost alternative, but relatively low performance and 
durability has limited non‐PFSA PEM applications to date. 
Development of novel hydrocarbon ionomers and PEMs suitable for application in PEM fuel cells is 
solicited through this subtopic.  Novel PEMs developed through this subtopic should have properties and 
characteristics required for application in PEM fuel cells, including: 
 High proton conductivity in a range of temperature and humidity conditions 
 Good film forming properties enabling formation of thin (<10 μm) uniform membranes 
 Low swelling and low solubility in liquid water 
 Low creep under a range of stress, temperature, and humidity conditions 
 Low permeability to gases including H2, O2, and N2 
 Chemical and mechanical durability sufficient to pass the accelerated stress tests in the Fuel Cell Tech 
Team Roadmap [1] 
The goal of any proposed work under this subtopic should be to produce a PEM that can meet all of the 
technical targets in the table below. PEM technology proposed for this subtopic should be based on 
proton‐conducting non‐perfluorinated ionomers, but may include reinforcements or other additives.  
Membrane samples should be tested at an independent laboratory at the end of each phase.  Phase 1 
should include measurement of chemical and physical properties to demonstrate feasibility of meeting the 
targets below related to these parameters, while Phase 2 addresses long term durability and development 
of manufacturing processes to meet the cost targets.