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Lab, industry partnership leads to tech success

April 8, 2024

By Joelyn Hansen

Twin Falls entrepreneur and inventor Mark Melni is on top of the world.

The U.S. Department of Energy selected his small business, Melni Technologies, to receive funding to redesign and develop its medium-voltage power cable connector, which can make underground electrical repairs faster, safer and more reliable.

Melni’s business was one of 12 companies nationwide to receive the funding, part of DOE’s Grid Overhaul with Proactive, High-speed Undergrounding for Reliability, Resilience, and Security (GOPHURRS) program to strengthen and modernize the nation’s aging power grid.

Melni attributes some of the success to his previous partnership with INL — specifically, the lab provided critical high-voltage electrical testing.

“INL’s testing was a real kickoff point for us in bringing legitimacy to our technology,” Melni said. “Nobody can diminish the fact that if it’s tested and proved at INL, it’s going to work.”

Melni Technologies – a small business located in Twin Falls – was one of 12 companies nationwide selected by DOE to receive funding as part of the GOPHURRS program to strengthen and modernize the nation’s power grid. Pictured is Melni Technologies’ team, Cameron Williams, Janelle Moore and Mark Melni.

ARPA-E GOPHURRS

GOPHURRS, which is managed by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), to several companies, small businesses, universities and national laboratories to develop technologies that reduce costs, increase speed and improve the safety of undergrounding operations.

Melni Technologies will receive $2 million in funding over the next three years to develop and market its novel medium-voltage power cable splice kits or connector.

The kit, which features the proprietary dual helix spiral technology, eliminates the squeezing and crimping involved in a traditional splice and instead uses an electrically conductive spiral that envelopes both ends of the wires.

The technology requires fewer steps and streamlines connections, making repairs to underground electric lines six times faster than existing methods. The technology also significantly reduces human errors and boosts the reliability of underground electrical power distribution systems, Melni said.

Melni Technologies and INL

Melni began developing the connector nearly a decade ago after winning $10,000 from an INL-sponsored entrepreneur contest. His partnership with INL continued years later through the lab’s Technical Assistance Program, which provides 40 hours of free technical assistance to small businesses.

Under the program, the lab helped Melni technologies with high-voltage testing to achieve certification for its connector. Melni said without INL, the testing wouldn’t have been possible.

Melni said seeing the lab’s state-of-the-art capabilities first-hand and engaging with its employees elevated his excitement and attitude about working with INL.

Mark Melni began developing an underground electrical connector nearly a decade ago after winning $10,000 from an INL-sponsored entrepreneur contest. The connector makes underground electrical repairs faster, safer and more reliable.

Mark Hunter, a former electrical foreman at INL’s Materials and Fuels Complex, supervised the electrical tests that Underwriters Laboratory — the ubiquitous UL found stamped on all electrical devices in this country — would subject the connector to before granting certification.

The connector withstood 41,000 volts in INL’s test rig – far surpassing its required 3,400-volt requirement. Subsequent tests confirmed that the connector was up to whatever challenge could be thrown at it. Melni still recalls the awestruck expression on Hunter’s face as the testing surpassed his team’s expectations.

“At first (Mark) couldn’t believe the results they were seeing,” Melni said. “But once he confirmed it, it wasn’t very long before he got really into it.”

Melni said he hopes to continue partnerships with INL because of the value the lab brings to the continued development and deployment of the connector in the marketplace.

INL’s mission

INL serves as a critical hub of research, design and demonstration for companies like Melni Technologies that are also working to address and solve the world’s energy challenges. The national laboratories, including INL, are committed to working with industry to bolster the economy.

INL offers a range of valuable resources and partnership opportunities for businesses, industry or universities to leverage its expertise in nuclear energy, cybersecurity and materials science. The lab also provides funding opportunities, educational programs and workforce development initiatives, fostering innovation and skill enhancement.

“INL works hard to facilitate industry collaboration, aiming to address specific challenges and promote the commercialization of cutting-edge technologies,” Technology Deployment Director Jason Stolworthy said. “Industries can benefit from customized solutions and engage in a dynamic ecosystem that encourages mutual growth and advancement.”

To learn more about partnership opportunities, contact INL at [email protected].

About Idaho National Laboratory

Battelle Energy Alliance manages INL for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. INL is the nation’s center for nuclear energy research and development, celebrating 75 years of scientific innovations in 2024. The laboratory performs research in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and the environment. 

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Posted April 8, 2024

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