As a sub-recipient on nine awards through the Buildings Energy Efficiency Frontiers and Innovation Technologies (BENEFIT) funding opportunity, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will be diligently working with a variety of partners to advance building technologies and retrofit practices that enable healthier households and communities.
Twenty-nine projects across 15 states were selected in total by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Building Technologies Office (BTO) through a competitive process that rigorously evaluated applications on their technical merit. The $46 million investment aims at developing advanced technologies and retrofit practices for buildings that will benefit both occupants and the grid through efficient, affordable, sustainable, and resilient building operation to advance cost-effective buildings electrification efforts and improve energy efficiency.
“The variety of NREL projects selected are an outstanding representation of our multifaceted approach to building decarbonization,” said Roderick Jackson, laboratory program manager for buildings research at NREL. “Meeting our net-zero carbon emissions goals requires the creation of affordable, easy-to-implement solutions that are accessible to everyone, in buildings and homes of all ages and types, and with the potential to be replicated in communities all over the country. It’s not an easy ask, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer.”
The new NREL projects maximize impact by using integrated approaches that combine modeling and analysis, lab and field validation, technology innovation, and engaging with key stakeholder groups.
Bethany Sparn, a senior research engineer specializing in residential buildings with NREL, is the principal investigator on a project that is developing a small-tank heat pump water heater to reduce the need for peak electricity use in low-income housing in Colorado. The project is in partnership with Colorado School of Mines, A.O. Smith Corp., and TCPoly Inc. and is looking at using phase change materials (PCMs) with a heat pump water heater that runs on 120V.
“Multifamily buildings can be challenging places to electrify, especially when it comes to water heating,” Sparn said. “There are a lot of apartments with gas water heaters in small closets and limited electrical service. PCMs can store a lot of heat inside the tank, which allows us to shrink the overall size, and the 120V power requirement means they won’t need any special electrical outlets installed. We’ve been kicking around this idea for a while, but funding from DOE allows us to explore the idea fully with a great team of partners.”
Jason Woods, a senior research engineer with NREL’s Building Energy Science Group, is the principal investigator on three of the BENEFIT projects funded by DOE.
“We have been discussing with commercialization partners several ideas about how to integrate thermal energy storage into HVAC systems in a simple way, with low installation costs,” Woods said. “These awards give us the opportunity to explore these new integration approaches, which we hope will lead to new products that reduce homeowners’ utility costs and provide a flexible resource for utilities to manage the supply/demand on their grid.”
HVAC/WH Cost Compression Solutions
Award Amount: $2.1 million
Principal Investigator: Bethany Sparn
Description: In partnership with Colorado School of Mines, this project will develop a small-tank (30-40 gallon) heat pump water heater for low-income housing that uses a PCM heat exchanger to allow for fast installation and flexible demand, reducing the need for peak electricity use.
Commercial Low GWP Cold Climate Rooftop Heat Pump
Award Amount: $2.3 million
Principal Investigator: Jiazhen Ling
Description: In partnership with the University of Maryland, College Park, this project will design a cold-climate heat pump rooftop unit that uses low-GWP refrigerants and advanced compression techniques to enable low-temperature heating capacity.
Thermal Energy Storage (TES): Development and validation of next-generation plug-and-play TES products with improved cost and performance and ease of installation to accelerate adoption of TES in HVAC applications
Award Amount: $2.5 million
Principal Investigators: Jason Woods, Ransisi Huang
Description: In partnership with the University of Wisconsin–Madison, this project will develop a plug-and-play, multi-split HVAC system for heating and cooling that incorporates modular thermal storage units that can reduce electricity power consumption by up to 50% for four hours at a time during peak demand periods.
Multifunctional HVAC Platform with Modular Thermal Storage
Award Amount: $2 million
Principal Investigators: Jason Woods, Eric Kozubal
Description: In partnership with the Copeland Corporation in Ohio, this project will connect an outdoor heat pump charged with propane (a low-global-warming-potential refrigerant) with plug-and-play thermal energy storage modules to create an integrated residential HVAC platform for cooling, heating, and water heating, which will reduce the amount of energy needed for space conditioning and water heating by 40% overall.
Design and Integration of Thermochemical Energy Storage (TCES) into Buildings for Load Shedding/Shifting
Award Amount: $2.4 million
Principal Investigators: Jason Woods
Description: In partnership with Georgia Institute of Technology and the Georgia Tech Research Corporation, this project will develop a new high-energy, closed-cell thermochemical energy storage module that connects with a residential heat pump to improve efficiency and store energy during periods of peak demand year-round.
Innovative BESS Integration and Coordination Strategies
Award Amount: $1.5 million
Principal Investigators: Xin Jin
Description: In partnership with the Eaton Corporation in Ohio, this project will develop an uninterruptible power supply that uses grid-interactive controls, which could provide over 5 GW of load-shifting capacity as grid services.
Net-Zero-Emissions BESS Demonstration and Analysis
Award Amount: $1.5 million
Principal Investigators: Jeff Cook
Description: In partnership with Johns Hopkins University, this project will evaluate the dispatch and emissions impacts of thousands of battery energy storage systems in support of development of more efficient, equitable, and effective dispatch schedules.
Plug Loads/Lighting: Integration of plug load controls with connected lighting systems in commercial buildings with minimal cost and complexity to support building electrification
Award Amount: $600,000
Principal Investigators: Kim Trenbath, Amy LeBar
Description: In partnership with University of California, San Diego, this project will develop an open-source commercial building control algorithm to integrate plug load and lighting controls, targeting energy savings of 25%.
R5+ Insulated Cladding for Residential Field Applied Applications
Award Amount: $1.2 million
Principal Investigators: Ravi Kishore, Chuck Booten, Marcus Bianchi
Description: In partnership with Liatris Inc. in Maryland, this project will develop an insulated cladding system that uses composite insulation to provide a thickness similar to standard insulated vinyl siding at a lower cost per square foot, reducing homeowner utility costs.
Learn more about NREL’s building research and opportunities to partner.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, operated by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy LLC.