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Success Stories at PNNL

Select a category below to find Client Success Stories that demonstrate how PNNL unites expertise, innovation, and collaborative partnerships to create a meaningful impact. You'll also find more customer success stories on YouTube...

Collaborative Research

Commercialization license to advance batteries for renewable energy storage

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A Massachusetts startup has signed a license agreement with Battelle to commercialize battery technology that can help store large amounts of renewable energy and improve the reliability of the nation's power grid. The license with Lowell, Mass.-based WattJoule Corporation is expected to advance the commercial use of redox flow battery technology. "Redox flow battery technology is well-suited for storing intermittent, renewable energy on the electric grid. The technology can help balance supply and demand, prevent disruptions and meet the grid's varying load requirements," said Imre Gyuk, energy storage program manager at DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery & Energy Reliability, which supported the licensed technology's development at DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "Successful commercialization of DOE-sponsored technology development is vital for creating the grid of the future, and sustaining U.S. leadership in advanced technology," Gyuk added. Smoothly integrating intermittent renewable power such as wind and solar onto the electric grid while also maintaining grid stability has been challenging. First developed in the 1970s, the redox flow battery shows promise in meeting this challenge. Until recently, these batteries have been limited by their ability to only work well within certain temperature ranges, their relatively high cost and their low energy density. But researchers at PNNL, which is managed by Battelle, have made significant progress in improving the performance of redox flow technologies. PNNL developed novel vanadium electrolytes that overcome the limitations of earlier redox flow batteries. The result is a dramatically improved operating temperature range, higher energy density and lower cost for vanadium redox flow batteries. WattJoule plans to combine its own proprietary technology with PNNL's to develop an energy storage platform for a broad variety of energy companies, including those involved in wind and solar power. This is the third and final license granted for PNNL's technologies to all-vanadium, mixed acid redox flow battery developers.

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Mentoring

Mentorship yields tangible results for Ag-focused business

UNIBEST Corporation provides farmers, agribusinesses, and environmental managers with monitoring products to optimize crop management and evaluate environmental contamination. The relationship between PNNL and UNIBEST dates back to 2000 when the company first received technical support through the PNNL Economic Development Office's (EDO) Technology Assistance Program (TAP), along with informal entrepreneurial advice.

In 2010, a new president took the helm at UNIBEST and contacted the Laboratory for assistance through EDO's Mentor-Protégé Program (MPP) with two goals in mind: 1) transform the organization and its infrastructure to better meet customer demands and respond to new markets, and 2) find a CPA with direct knowledge of high tech small businesses.

Prior to working with the MPP-assigned mentor, UNIBEST had been participating in a series of academic studies to keep its patents and technology visible to colleges and universities. The objectives for the mentorship included a review of the company's business plan and refinement of its strategies, which helped them determine that a commercial approach would be more lucrative, especially when introducing new patents.

Based on the mentor's suggestions, UNIBEST developed and implemented a tactical marketing plan within the agricultural market focused on developing strategic relationships with key agricultural organizations. The decision to take a commercial approach resulted in additional marketing and commercialization partners such as Winfield Solutions-a Land O'Lakes Company.

UNIBEST's mentor also helped the company select a third-party accounting firm that has helped refine financial aspects of the company's business plan, resulting in reallocation of how dollars associated with new patents are applied within the organization.

UNIBEST credits advice received through the MPP for its success over the past year. Income from 2010 to 2011 increased by over 800%-growth UNIBEST attributes to the down selection of target markets and a fresh, focused approach to its business plan.

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Technology Assistance

Biomass gasification licensed for international markets

Under appropriate conditions, algae can grow extremely fast while absorbing carbon dioxide via photosynthesis. Another benefit is that algae production can use land and water not suitable for food crops, and the methane produced as a fuel to generate renewable electricity can use the existing natural gas infrastructure as a fuel to generate renewable electricity - a desirable outcome for gasification companies, utilities, and the electricity-consuming public.

Genifuel Corp, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, develops equipment to make renewable methane from wet organic material. Suspecting that large quantities of wet biomass could be efficiently gasified to methane, the company sought out a catalytic wet gasification process developed by PNNL researchers. In 2008 Genifuel applied for a Technology Assistance Program (TAP) project to work with the PNNL research team, utilize Laboratory equipment to test various water plants including algae, and compare the results to terrestrial biomass through a process known as Catalytic Hydrothermal Gasification (CHG). CHG uses a wet process catalyzed to yield rapid and almost complete conversion of the biomass, producing a clean renewable fuel as the end product. This process operates at much lower temperatures than other gasification methods, making the construction and operation of the equipment easier and less costly.

The CHG technology was licensed domestically by Genifuel in 2009 for a specific list of feedstocks; in 2011, Genifuel contracted to extend the license to all international countries covered by the patents. The international license allows the company to pursue the same opportunities overseas that it previously only had license coverage for in the U.S. 

Today, Genifuel is pursuing the international market due to an increasing number of inquiries from outside the United States-mostly from Europe and Asia-aimed at biofuel technology. Since receiving the international license, a number of promising leads for designing machines of various sizes to process a wide range of feedstocks have been generated in Europe.

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Technology Transfer

Biodegradable polymer delivers more effective, safer therapeutic radiation

As part of a broader mission to develop better alternative treatments for diseases such as cancer, Battelle researchers at PNNL and the University of Utah co-developed a way to use a commercially available radioactive isotope, Yttrium-90, to deliver radiation by surgically implanting seeds holding the isotope into tumors. Yttrium-90 has characteristics that make it a good radiation source for killing cancer cells-namely, a shorter physical half-life and effective confinement of radioactivity to the placement site-but it cannot be delivered in metal brachytherapy seeds as some other medical isotopes are.

To overcome this, researchers developed a fast-dissolving, or resorbable, polymer seed to be used in place of metal as a delivery device for the therapeutic radioisotope. The result is a potential cancer treatment-called the resorbable brachytherapy seed-that can be less expensive, can deliver more effective radiation, is less hazardous to hospital workers, and is biocompatible with-and bioabsorbed (naturally removed) from-the body.

Advanced Medical Isotope Corp (AMIC) of Kennewick, Washington, showed an interest in further developing the technology for potential commercialization, sparking further research collaboration with Battelle and co-developers at the University of Utah. This working relationship led to industry funded research and development work at PNNL and at University of Utah to mature the resorbable brachytherapy seed technology that AMIC then exclusively licensed in late 2010.

The company is now working toward commercialization, with plans to perform further research and development of the new brachytherapy seeds, which resemble conventional metal brachytherapy seeds and may be placed by direct injection using standard tools. AMIC anticipates the use of these seeds for treatment of prostate cancer, as well as for many of the more radiation-resistant cancers including brain tumors, head and neck tumors, and liver cancer.

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