Beer Signs That Change the World and A Solar Collector Made Out of Vacuum Tubes and Shot Glasses?
Last week, I was invited by the University of Texas' IC2 Institute to participate in a technology commercialization program between the Institute and Invite (in-vee-tay), an organization established by the governor of the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon to assess technologies coming out of that region. A group of 80 technologies had already been whittled down to 20. The technologists, along with IC2 and Invite staff, were given a lovely reception at the governor's palace in Monterrey. Of the 20 technologies, I was given 5 energy and environmental technologies with which to complete an in-depth assessment, using methods taught in IC2's Science and Technology Commercialization Masters Program. I am a 2005 graduate of this program. Last week was all about interviewing the inventors to understand their technology.
As an economic development project, the Invite program should be emulated by every region that wishes to stimulate technology clusters. I met some earnest, motivated, and passionate inventors with truly world changing technology. With just a little help, these technologies could form the backbone of a progressive economy that is less reliant on low-end manufacturing. Just a sample:
- A 25 year-old engineering student invented a solar thermal collector out of vacuum tubes and shot glasses. One of his professors added some product design expertise (and got real materials instead of shot glasses). This design allows the collector to work more efficiently, while allowing it to do its job past the usual seasonal limitations of the existing technology. It also is less expensive, lasts longer, and requires less maintenance than existing solar collectors. Their University, Instituto Tecnologia de Monterrey, liked it so much, it was patented. More research is needed to determine if the vacuum chamber can be maintained in real world conditions.
- Two professors and an engineering student invented a controller for LED lamps that reduces energy consumption by 80 percent. By sequentially lighting individual LED's at a frequency that is greater than what the human eye can detect (the same principle enables your eyes to perceive a series of photographs as , the quality of the illumination is barely perceptible, but the energy savings not only represents money in the pocket, it also opens up whole new swaths of off-grid applications. The same University created four patents around this one. The project started as a request for a Carta Blanca beer sign that did not cost so dang much to operate. The prototype is pictured at top.
- An electrical engineer in the air conditioning space invented a "sub-cooler" device which makes air conditioning units twice as efficient at one tenth the cost of existing sub-cooling technologies. This device could eliminate the need for giant water cooling towers at large facilities. One thousand of these devices are in use already in Mexico, with loads of documentation backing up the claims. The solution is so elegant, and so simple, Carrier and Trane will wonder why they did not think of it. (Even though more specific intellectual property was revealed, I will not go further than this)
- A wastewater engineer invented a wastewater treatment plant that reduces the need for sludge removal from several times a month to as low as once a year. Since sludge is a hazardous waste, and therefore, expensive to remove, this innovation has the potential to alter the dynamics of the wastewater treatment market. Again, several of these prototypes already exist in the field to back up the claims of the inventor.
We'll see how these technologies stack up after we get a chance to do some primary market research. Following the assessments, which we hope, will contain a roadmap for commercialization, IC2 will help the technologists meet some benchmarks for business development. Then, assuming the governor of Nuevo Leon is pleased, we can start all over again next year. IC2 has similar projects underway for Hungary, Jordan, and India, while a similar project for Kazakhstan was completed last year. This type of transnational knowledge transfer is valuable, important, and yes, fun work. Our hosts were spectacular. I sampled some local specialties, including cabrito (baby goat), crickets (prepared like one would prepare crawfish), and a banderra (tequila, lime juice, and sangria served separately and drank in sequence... interesting!). I can't wait to be asked again.