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Albany Nanotech: Betting a $20 Million Farm on Alternative Energy in 2003

Published 01-10-03

Submitted by Albany Nanotech

ALBANY, NY - Nowhere is America’s quest for energy independence more evident than in New York’s upstate Capital Region. The area is home to more than 20 high-tech energy companies and has emerged as a national center of leadership in alternative, renewable, and clean energy development.

New York will accelerate the pursuit of clean, renewable, energy alternatives in 2003, spurred on by a newly formed consortium of Capital Region energy companies. A plan for a $20 million Alternative Energy Test Farm at Albany Nanotech, the nanoelectronics R&D complex at the University at Albany tops the agenda.

The renewable energy effort received an added boost from NY Gov. George E. Pataki. In his 2003 State of the State address, the Governor pledged to make New York a national leader in renewable energy usage.

These developments are a positive response to the growing national demand for reduction of airborne emissions, decreased greenhouse gas generation, and improved efficiency in energy production as well as to an increasing sense of urgency about reducing US dependence on foreign energy sources. Gov. Pataki’s directive to New York State’s Public Service Commission, for example, aims at assuring that within the next 10 years at least 25 percent of the electricity bought in New York will come from renewable energy resources like solar power, wind power, or fuel cells.

New consortium launched

The new energy consortium, named “New Energy New York” (NENY), was formally launched in early December at ceremonies led by US Senator Charles Schumer, a member of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The organization will champion the Capital Region’s leadership in the energy field and market New York’s emerging energy industries. Participating in the NENY inaugural event with Sen. Schumer were initial Capital Region consortium members Albany NanoTech, Blasch Precision Ceramic, EYP--Mission Critical Facilities, GE Global Research, Intermagnetics General, MTI – Micro Fuel Cells, Plug Power, and Super Power.

Sen. Schumer’s prominent role in supporting the consortium reinforced his keynote address to the 15th US Dept. of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Growth Forum, in Colonie, NY, in late October, where he lauded the Capital Region as a worldwide center of leadership in clean energy technology.

ANT provides leadership

The NENY consortium is being led by Dr. Pradeep Haldar, Director of the Energy and Environmental Technology Applications Center (E2TAC), Albany NanoTech, at the University at Albany. E2TAC was originally established in 1998 by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, who announced a grant that helped to create the energy technology institute.

Albany NanoTech (ANT) is an umbrella organization oversees and coordinates multiple U. Albany focus centers, including E2TAC, for joint industry/university programs to develop, apply, and commercialize nanoelectronics and nanotechnology. ANT and its Executive Director, Dr. Alain E. Kaloyeros, were cited by Gov. Pataki for playing a key role in the establishment of a $300 million R&D center in Albany by Tokyo Electron Ltd., an international supplier of semiconductor chip manufacturing equipment, and for securing a commitment from International SEMATECH, a consortium of the world’s leading computer chip makers, to establish a $400 million laboratory for advanced chip technology.

Dr. Haldar, E2TAC’s director, is also a professor at U. Albany’s newly founded School of Nanosciences and Nanoengineering. He foresees tight coupling between Albany NanoTech’s focus on nanotechnology and a landmark energy program that will engage NENY consortium members in developing and evaluating alternative renewable energy sources and systems. Joe Perkowski, Market Sector Manager at the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s NREL in Golden CO said recently of Haldar’s plans, “There are a lot of universities with energy technology programs, but Pradeep’s is unique because of its focus on nanotech.”

Test Farm ideally located

At the core of the ANT program is the creation of a $20 million Alternative Energy Test Farm that will serve as a proving ground for a variety of power technologies including fuel cells, microturbines, solar cells, and hydrogen and natural gas distribution. Fuel cells, for example, are under serious study by the automotive industry as a potential source of power for future vehicles. But they are also of high interest as potential alternative energy sources in many widely varying applications.

The two-acre Alternative Energy Test Farm and its 10,000 square-foot laboratory building will be located adjacent to the world’s first university-based, 300-mm wafer, nanoelectronics development center. Now under construction at Albany NanoTech, this state-of-the-art nanoelectronics chip laboratory, part of the New York Center of Excellence in Nanoelectronics, will require large amounts of high quality, high reliability electrical power. “Locating next to a 300-mm R&D fab is an ideal situation for evaluating energy production at the Test Farm,” Haldar said.

“Quite often,” Haldar went on,” companies that develop new technologies are small to medium size enterprises (SMEs) with limited resources. One advantage of the Alternative Energy Test Farm is that it would provide an essential yet affordable laboratory for these leading edge alternative energy companies.

NENY consortium members will be able to participate in proprietary independent projects yet also benefit from the synergy produced by cooperative projects that focus on energy quality, conditioning, energy storage, power generation, power conditioning, switching products, and energy distribution applications of nanotechnology. In addition, the test farm will provide a proving ground for developing competencies in installing, maintaining, and servicing high tech alternative energy equipment and products.”

Energy and environmental technologies at NENY member companies like Super Power, a Schenectady-based company that produces superconducting cable, and Plug Power, a Latham, NY-based advanced fuel cell manufacturer are on the cutting edge of research. NENY will serve as a forum for collectively addressing alternative energy issues, attracting new customers, and spurring Capital Region investment. Plug Power and ANT, for example, are already participating in a $5 million program to develop fuel-cell systems incorporating nanostructure materials for applications that could reduce fuel cell cost and increase performance and reliability. The program will focus on fuel cell catalysts that initiate reactions to generate power when air and natural gas are combined.

Working with the NENY consortium is only the latest involvement of E2TAC and ANT with Capital Region energy industries. In late 2001, both organizations played a role, along with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), in launching the Saratoga Technology Energy Park (STEP) in nearby Malta, NY that will be home to a number of energy startups.

Albany NanoTech is also a participant in the national NREL energy business incubator program along with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The NREL incubator program focuses on accelerating the development of energy-related start-up firms and counts some of America’s leading energy producers among its supporters.

Energy Test Farm Objectives

Haldar has defined the initial objectives of the energy test farm as a) Establishing a unique infrastructure and resources for energy technologies that will attract company collaborations; b) Demonstrating benefits and continuous operation for precommercial state-of-the-art alpha and beta prototype alternative energy products and installations like future electrical substations; c) Developing end-user and supplier networks that work in concert with the consortium; and d) Providing expert advice to other organizations.

Albany NanoTech now works with about 100 organizations in a unique model for industry/university/government R&D that is aimed at accelerating commercialization of nanoelectronics products and systems. Haldar hopes to see the model extended through NENY to include a range of organizations in the energy field. A Who’s Who short list of potential NENY members could include end users like IBM (which already plans to work onsite with ANT on nanoelectronics programs) and Verizon; SME energy component suppliers like those mentioned previously; systems integrators like GE, United Technologies, and Siemens; industrial gas suppliers like Praxair; government agencies and organizations including the Department of Energy (DOE); Department of Defense (DOD); New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL); Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), and the electric power industry’s Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). In addition, Haldar wants to establish an advisory group of utility service providers that could include ConEd (NY), New York Power Authority, Niagara Mohawk Power, and others. And of course, cooperation with academic institutions such as RPI, SUNY Stony Brook and others in the energy field is a given.

A day down on the farm

As a laboratory that would mimic the power needs of a computer chip factory or a large information technology (IT) data center, typical day-to-day operations at the ANT Alternative Energy Test Farm, according to Haldar, are expected to include studies of power quality and reliability (power from the existing US commercial grid is often cited as being far too noisy and subject to momentary interruptions to meet the requirements of today’s advanced electronic and computer equipment). Specific Test Farm tasks will likely involve remote monitoring, testing power quality for nanoelectronics chip manufacturing tools (e.g., at the ANT 300-mm wafer facility where power requirements will range from kilowatts to megawatts), and examining the behavior of electronic equipment under sensitive load conditions. Other tasks will cover testing energy management systems, studying universal grid interconnection issues; examining combined generation from multiple sources, and evaluating substation integration issues to reduce future construction costs.

Since fuel cell technology will play a prominent role in the NENY program, the Test Farm will also evaluate issues relating to the availability, supply infrastructure, economics, and safety procedures required for supplying primary hydrogen and natural gas. This will be evaluated empirically through fuel cell test beds, and small scale, on-site demonstrations of hydrogen production and storage for fuel cells and vehicle refueling.

Test farm benefits:

Pradeep Haldar is quick to point out the anticipated benefits of the planned test farm facility. They include establishing an independent location for evaluating new renewable energy generation and storage systems, allowing importation and evaluation of power from independent power producers; creating a site for studying combined alternative forms of power generation, determining minimum power costs, and facilitating a center that can rigorously and safely study supply issues for alternative primary chemical fuels like hydrogen and natural gas. In addition, the Test Farm and its associated center of expertise will be able to evaluate issues relating to substation construction, elimination or deferral of facilities construction, power bus splitting, line equipment upgrades, and utility upgrade plans to meet load growth; all this, under conditions that promote incorporation of state-of-the-art components and test systems for enhanced system safety, power reliability, quality, and energy efficiency. In short, the ANT Alternative energy Test farm would establish a showcase facility of energy systems for users who have sensitive and mission critical power requirements.

A bet on the future

Haldar has been diligently working the phones in behalf of the energy farm and is encouraged by expressions of support from industry and government that he has received for the concept. He sees the facility proceeding in stages along with the growth of NENY consortium activities. While capital financing is always an issue, the current blistering pace of facilities construction at Albany NanoTech gives him a feeling of confidence that the Alternative Energy Test Farm concept will become a reality.

Putting his efforts on the line for the project may be a $20 million bet, but Haldar is hedging that bet confidently in the awareness of America’s 21st century need for upgraded sources of energy.

Albany Nanotech

Albany Nanotech

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