The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has set up a research center devoted to distributed power. While the trend toward distributed power designs has been growing steadily in electronic equipment and systems for some time now, strains on the country's electrical generation system have made the distributed power approach more attractive on a larger scale. With large generating facilities struggling to meet demands on the power grid, there is interest in deploying a network of smaller power plants located closer to commercial and residential customers. To this end, NREL's Distributed Energy Resources Center will research and provide information needed to develop additional power supplies from relatively small, decentralized generating units. Areas of interest for the center include both specialized power-generation technologies and interconnectivity systems for linking these technologies to the grid. The center is organized around three units: Resource and Environmental Evaluation, Distributed Power Systems Integration, and Hydrogen and Natural Gas Systems.
iFire Technology Inc. has achieved color quality equal to the leading commercial television technology in its solid-state electroluminescent flat-panel. Under development for over a decade, the technology relies mostly on lower-cost, thick-film processes. The color breakthrough, coming after three years of research, resulted from advances in the company's material systems. With this, iFire has now reached the color levels of today's CRT television sets. The company says this breakthrough will enable its displays to exhibit lifelike images equal to those on the highest-quality, large-screen digital televisions available today. It is a crucial step in meeting the company's 2001 goal of demonstrating TV-quality performance on 8.5- and 17-in. prototype displays.
A solid polymer electrolyte developed at the DOE's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) could improve the performance of rechargeable lithium batteries. Batteries developed with the experimental electrolyte are said to last 50% longer than those based on competing electrolyte chemistries. And unlike other electrolytes, which may be made with toxic salt solutions, the INEEL electrolyte is environmentally friendly. Its waste products are essentially glass and phosphate and nitrogen compounds, which can be converted to fertilizer. To form the electrolyte, the liquid polymer polyphosphazene is mixed with a ceramic powder, creating a clear, nontoxic flexible membrane. Researchers hope to use the electrolyte in batteries aimed at space applications, where very low temperatures are encountered, and in pacemakers, where long operating life is critical.