Spurring Innovation in the Energy Ranks

Salvatore Salamone | Jan 14, 2013


LAWRENCE LIVERMORE National Laboratory has started an incubator program with the goal of accelerating the development of innovative energy technologies. Dubbed the hpc4energy Incubator, the program allows selected participants to tap the lab's research expertise and use some of the world's highest performance computing systems.
"By bringing together industry's entrepreneurial know-how and the national labs' science and technology, we aim to establish a model for energy technology innovation" said Tomas Diaz de la Rubia, Livermore Lab deputy director for science and technology. "The national labs offer access to some of the world's most powerful super-computers as well as the expertise required to apply them to the development of innovative solutions to the country's energy challenges."
The comments came last year when the lab announced the companies chosen to participate in the incubator program. About 30 companies applied and six, whose proposals covered a wide range of applications, were selected. The companies are GE Energy Consulting, GE Global Research, ISO New England, Robert Bosch, Potter Drilling and United Technologies Research Center.
What is striking about this list of companies is their range in size and the diversity of the problems they hope to address. Potter Drilling has 19 employees, ISO New England has 530 employees, and GE Energy has more than 100,000 employees. Yet, all have technology under development or in current use that potentially could benefit from the lab's high-performance computing resources.
As for the problems to be addressed, there is an equally large variation ranging from exploration to grid operational planning, along with some work related to improving energy efficiency.
For example, Potter Drilling's business focuses on the development of hard-rock drilling technologies associated with what are called enhanced or engineered geothermal systems. The company's tools and systems development has relied on an iterative design-optimization cycle, with long cycle times and high costs. The approach also offered few ways to optimize or predict performance outside of the specific test conditions. Partnering with the lab in the incubator program, the company hopes to speed development of new tools and systems, as well as get a better understanding of the phenomena of thermal spallation, which can have a great impact on the success of a drilling effort.
Focusing on a different area, GE Energy partnered with the lab to help expand the use of its Concorda positive-sequence load-flow software, which lets power system planners perform AC and DC steady-state power flow and dynamics analysis. Such planning tools today simulate systems that are much larger and more complex than those of just a few years ago. Additionally, the growing incorporation of renewable technologies and more pervasive control technology are driving planning engineers to analyze an increasing number of scenarios and system models, all requiring much more detailed analysis. As a result, the computational demands to simulate such large systems have exceeded the available processor performance. Through the incubator program, GE Energy will be able to run the software on more powerful computing systems, allowing the company to model extremely large systems, many times the size of those currently simulated.
The other four projects will use the incubator program to enhance the performance of scheduling and real-time operations tools for a provider's grid, improve building systems models to enable significant energy-saving retrofits, boost simulations of advanced internal combustion engines, and help refine simulations that aid in the development of new fuel injectors.
The incubator's formation builds on past collaborative efforts with the industry. That work sought to demonstrate the benefits of incorporating high-performance computer modeling and simulation into energy-related technology development. For instance, the lab has worked with several domestic oil companies to develop an advanced reservoir-monitoring technology that reduces or eliminates the need for numerous observation wells, improves well recovery, and reduces failure risk.

This story first appeared in EnergyBiz magazine

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