First Clean Energy Cybersecurity Accelerator Participants Begin Technical Assessment

[From the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) News]

Program Selected Three Participants for Cohort 1

The Clean Energy Cybersecurity Accelerator™ (CECA)’s first cohort of solution providers—Blue Ridge Networks, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Xage—recently began a technical assessment of their technologies that offer strong authentication solutions for distributed energy resources.

The selected solution providers will take part in a six-month acceleration period, where solutions will be evaluated in the Advanced Research on Integrated Energy Systems (ARIES) cyber range.

Working with its partners, CECA identified urgent security gaps, supporting emerging technologies as they build security into new technologies at the earliest stage—when security is most effective and efficient. The initiative is managed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and sponsored by DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) and utility industry partners in collaboration with DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

“We are thrilled to welcome and work with the first participants to the secure energy transformation,” said Jon White, director of NREL’s Cybersecurity Program Office. “These cyber-solution providers will work with NREL, using its world-class capabilities, to develop their ideas into real-world solutions. We are ready to build security into technologies at the early development stages when most effective and efficient.”

The selected innovators:

Blue Ridge Networks’ LinkGuard system “cloaks” critical information technology network operations from destructive and costly cyberattacks. The system overlays onto existing network infrastructure to secure network segments from external discovery or data exfiltration. Through a partnership with Schneider Electric, Blue Ridge Networks helped deploy a solution to protect supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems for the utility industry.

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)’s Binary Armor® is used by the U.S. Department of Defense and utilities to protect critical assets, with the help of subject matter experts to deliver cyber solutions. SNC plans to integrate as a software solution into a communication gateway or other available edge processing to provide a scalable solution to enforce safe operation in an unauthenticated ecosystem. SNC currently helps secure heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems; programmable logical controllers; and wildfire detection, with remote monitoring for two different utilities.

Xage uses identity-based access control to protect users, machines, apps, and data, at the edge and in the cloud, enforcing zero-trust access to secure operations and data universally. To test technology in energy sector environments, Xage provides zero-trust remote access, has demonstrated proofs of concept, and deploys local and remote access at various organizations.

Three major U.S. utilities, with more expected to join, are partners with CECA: Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Duke Energy and Xcel Energy. At the end of each cohort cycle, cyber innovators will present their solutions to the utilities with the goal to make an immediate impact.

Additionally, CECA participants benefit from access to NREL’s unique testing and evaluation capabilities, including its ARIES cyber range, developed with support from EERE. The ARIES cyber range provides one of the most advanced simulation environments with unparalleled real-time situational awareness and visualization to evaluate renewable energy system defenses.

Applications for the second CECA cohort will open in early January 2023 for providers offering solutions that uncover hidden risks due to incomplete system visibility and device security and configuration.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy LLC.

New Ultrathin Capacitor Could Enable Energy-Efficient Microchips

Scientists turn century-old material into a thin film for next-gen memory and logic devices

[from Berkeley Lab, by Rachel Berkowitz]

Electron microscope images show the precise atom-by-atom structure of a barium titanate (BaTiO3) thin film sandwiched between layers of strontium ruthenate (SrRuO3) metal to make a tiny capacitor. (Credit: Lane Martin/Berkeley Lab)

The silicon-based computer chips that power our modern devices require vast amounts of energy to operate. Despite ever-improving computing efficiency, information technology is projected to consume around 25% of all primary energy produced by 2030. Researchers in the microelectronics and materials sciences communities are seeking ways to sustainably manage the global need for computing power.

The holy grail for reducing this digital demand is to develop microelectronics that operate at much lower voltages, which would require less energy and is a primary goal of efforts to move beyond today’s state-of-the-art CMOS (complementary metaloxide semiconductor) devices.

Non-silicon materials with enticing properties for memory and logic devices exist; but their common bulk form still requires large voltages to manipulate, making them incompatible with modern electronics. Designing thin-film alternatives that not only perform well at low operating voltages but can also be packed into microelectronic devices remains a challenge.

Now, a team of researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley have identified one energy-efficient route—by synthesizing a thin-layer version of a well-known material whose properties are exactly what’s needed for next-generation devices.

First discovered more than 80 years ago, barium titanate (BaTiO3) found use in various capacitors for electronic circuits, ultrasonic generators, transducers, and even sonar.

Crystals of the material respond quickly to a small electric field, flip-flopping the orientation of the charged atoms that make up the material in a reversible but permanent manner even if the applied field is removed. This provides a way to switch between the proverbial “0” and “1” states in logic and memory storage devices—but still requires voltages larger than 1,000 millivolts (mV) for doing so.

Seeking to harness these properties for use in microchips, the Berkeley Lab-led team developed a pathway for creating films of BaTiO3 just 25 nanometers thin—less than a thousandth of a human hair’s width—whose orientation of charged atoms, or polarization, switches as quickly and efficiently as in the bulk version.

“We’ve known about BaTiO3 for the better part of a century and we’ve known how to make thin films of this material for over 40 years. But until now, nobody could make a film that could get close to the structure or performance that could be achieved in bulk,” said Lane Martin, a faculty scientist in the Materials Sciences Division (MSD) at Berkeley Lab and professor of materials science and engineering at UC Berkeley who led the work.

Historically, synthesis attempts have resulted in films that contain higher concentrations of “defects”—points where the structure differs from an idealized version of the material—as compared to bulk versions. Such a high concentration of defects negatively impacts the performance of thin films. Martin and colleagues developed an approach to growing the films that limits those defects. The findings were published in the journal Nature Materials.

To understand what it takes to produce the best, low-defect BaTiO3 thin films, the researchers turned to a process called pulsed-laser deposition. Firing a powerful beam of an ultraviolet laser light onto a ceramic target of BaTiO3 causes the material to transform into a plasma, which then transmits atoms from the target onto a surface to grow the film. “It’s a versatile tool where we can tweak a lot of knobs in the film’s growth and see which are most important for controlling the properties,” said Martin.

Martin and his colleagues showed that their method could achieve precise control over the deposited film’s structure, chemistry, thickness, and interfaces with metal electrodes. By chopping each deposited sample in half and looking at its structure atom by atom using tools at the National Center for Electron Microscopy at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, the researchers revealed a version that precisely mimicked an extremely thin slice of the bulk.

“It’s fun to think that we can take these classic materials that we thought we knew everything about, and flip them on their head with new approaches to making and characterizing them,” said Martin.

Finally, by placing a film of BaTiO3 in between two metal layers, Martin and his team created tiny capacitors—the electronic components that rapidly store and release energy in a circuit. Applying voltages of 100 mV or less and measuring the current that emerges showed that the film’s polarization switched within two billionths of a second and could potentially be faster—competitive with what it takes for today’s computers to access memory or perform calculations.

The work follows the bigger goal of creating materials with small switching voltages, and examining how interfaces with the metal components necessary for devices impact such materials. “This is a good early victory in our pursuit of low-power electronics that go beyond what is possible with silicon-based electronics today,” said Martin.

“Unlike our new devices, the capacitors used in chips today don’t hold their data unless you keep applying a voltage,” said Martin. And current technologies generally work at 500 to 600 mV, while a thin film version could work at 50 to 100 mV or less. Together, these measurements demonstrate a successful optimization of voltage and polarization robustness—which tend to be a trade-off, especially in thin materials.

Next, the team plans to shrink the material down even thinner to make it compatible with real devices in computers and study how it behaves at those tiny dimensions. At the same time, they will work with collaborators at companies such as Intel Corp. to test the feasibility in first-generation electronic devices. “If you could make each logic operation in a computer a million times more efficient, think how much energy you save. That’s why we’re doing this,” said Martin.

This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science. The Molecular Foundry is a DOE Office of Science user facility at Berkeley Lab.

Essay 113: Tangled Up Multifactorial Causes

Workers’ Shrinking Share of the Pie

The current issue of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond periodical, Econ Focus (second/third quarter 2019) has a good article, “Workers’ Shrinking Share of the Pie” [Archived PDF] which has the following “conclusion:”

So what explains the recent decline in labor’s share? Unfortunately, it is difficult to untangle the separate roles of automation, globalization, and changes in market power. Automation has likely played a role, but its independent impact is hard to gauge, due to the difficulty in differentiating the recent wave of automation from previous episodes in which labor’s share of national income held steady. Globalization appears to have been a strong contributor—a claim that is buttressed by the near simultaneity of the rise in U.S. trade with China and the decline of labor’s share. A variety of evidence also points to firms’ increased pricing power in product markets and workers’ weakened bargaining power in labor markets. In product markets, information technology and globalization appear to have increased the pricing power and profitability of certain dominant firms. And in labor markets, the insecurity engendered by automation and globalization may have helped to weaken workers’ bargaining power. In short, from the perspective of workers, multiple forces have come together to narrow their slice of an expanding economy.

(second/third quarter 2019 Econ Focus, Richmond Fed, page 17)

It so happens that Professor Robert Lawrence of Harvard (Kennedy School) in his very careful analyses, shows how American economic “numbers” in recent years are consistent with internal American numbers from decades ago and this implies the overall transformation of the American economy was primarily from within (“endogenous”) and not till very recently, from without (“exogenous”). Pre-exisiting internal American trends might be the dominant cause for many decades.

The variable or axis “endogenous versus exogenous” (internal pushes or external pulls?) adds a whole dimension to the discussion and we have to therefore avoid mono-causal explanations.

We live not only in a multifactorial world but in one where “inside pushes” can be confused with “external pulls.”