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Home > About BNE > Press Room > 2012 Archive > February > Firms win $700,000 for energy research

Firms win $700,000 for energy research

Green technology projects by ENrG, TAM Ceramics would reduce use of fossil fuels

By: Jonathan D. Epstein

A state agency is awarding $700,000 to two Buffalo-area companies that are developing environmentally friendly technology to generate electricity while reducing the use of fossil fuels that produce pollution, officials said Tuesday.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority announced two grants to ENrG Inc. of Buffalo and TAM Ceramics of Niagara Falls for their development of clean-energy power systems.

ENrG is working on components for fuel cells and is working with TAM on a project to convert waste heat to electricity, using ultrathin flexible membranes made from ceramic powders such as zirconia oxide to separate fuel and air, while allowing heated oxygen ions to pass through.

"Today, New York is getting twice the bang for its buck," said Francis J. Murray Jr., president and CEO of NYSERDA, at a news conference in an unusually clean furnace room at ENrG's Tonawanda facility for making flexible ceramic membranes. "Both of these projects are central to what NYSERDA is all about: fostering innovation."

The projects and awards are part of a larger program of $7 million in incentives to 17 companies statewide for clean energy power. Projects that received funding include fuel cells, solar panels, wind turbines, energy storage systems, waste-heat-to-electric facilities, biogas systems and hydropower.

Nearly 40 companies applied for the competitive funding, but winning applicants had to show how the products improved on existing technology.

"By investing in clean energy power technologies, we are not only helping to improve power reliability and reduce electricity costs, but we are also helping to grow the state's clean energy economy," Murray said. "These promising projects can lead to new technologies that produce important economic and environmental benefits."

Since 2000, NYSERDA has invested about $34 million in 89 fuel cell projects statewide, and Murray cited opportunities to create a cluster of such small companies in Western New York. He also praised bipartisan support for such efforts in New York, noting that such cooperation is important because "many states across the country are hoping to revitalize their economies on the basis of renewable energy."

"The future lies in fuel cell technology, in renewable energy, and the best way to bring that to market is through NYSERDA," State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, said at the event.

"The development of clean energy sources is incredibly important," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who also spoke at the event. "There is always a cheaper, dirtier alternative. We have to help you bring these technologies to scale."

The larger of the two grants, for $500,000, went to ENrG alone to pursue more manufacturing capacity and improve the performance of the ceramic parts it makes for fuel cells and other products. The company will invest another $770,000 in the project, for a total of nearly $1.3 million.

The second grant, for $200,000, will be shared by ENrG and TAM on a related effort to cut the thickness of the ceramic membranes in half, to less than one-thousandth of an inch, to improve the membranes' performance. The two joined forces after learning about each other at an industry conference at Clarkson University in Potsdam.

Founded in 2003, ENrG employs 14 in three Western New York sites and uses technology licensed from Corning Inc. in 2007 to make ceramic components for fuel cells.

Its primary product, Thin E-Strate, is an ultrathin but dense ceramic layer that works as a membrane for solid-oxide fuel cells, to keep materials separate and enable the conversion of electrochemical energy to generate power. It can also be used for a range of military and commercial purposes, such as superconductors, sensors and solar heaters.

"ENrG's typical customer knows they need a flexible thin ceramic membrane but faces many challenges in acquiring it because of performance issues, cost and amount of time it takes to secure the product," said John A. Olenick, ENrG's president and CEO. "These two NYSERDA awards will permit ENrG to address all of these issues."

Founded in 1906 in Niagara Falls for titanium smelting, TAM Ceramics today makes zirconia, titanate and zircon powders for high-temperature furnace linings, brake pads, protective coatings for molten metal casting and welding "consumables." It also offers processing services through its advanced materials business.

The company is developing a ceramic powder that can be used to create power, at high temperatures, from waste heat from generators, cars or manufacturing processes. It's collaborating with ENrG to test whether TAM's material could be used in porous ceramic structures made by ENrG to make parts that help produce electricity from heat.

"The award from NYSERDA complements TAM Ceramics' pursuit of new renewable energy material technologies based on its successful history of advanced material developments," said George Bilkey, TAM's president and managing partner.

NYSERDA was created in 1975 to help New Yorkers increase energy efficiency, save money, use renewable energy and reduce the need for fossil fuels such as oil. The state public benefit corporation offers information and analysis, programs, technical expertise and grants, and it also develops partnerships to promote innovative solutions and new technologies.

jepstein@buffnews.com