Mark Brandon is the Managing Partner of First Sustainable (http://www.firstsustainable.com), a registered investment advisory catering to socially responsible investors. In addition to Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), he may opine on social venturing, microfinance, community investing, clean technology commercialization, sustainability public policy, green products, and, on occasion, University of Texas Longhorn sports.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

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.
These were just the innovators with whom I worked. My colleagues handling the medical, software, and wireless innovations were just as impressed with their batch. The subject matter expert with whom I conducted these interviews, Richard Amato, formerly of the Austin Clean Energy Incubator and currently with Venti Energy, also came away impressed.

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.

16 Comments:

Anonymous Jay Draiman said...

MANDATORY RENEWABLE ENERGY – THE ENERGY EVOLUTION –R9

In order to insure energy and economic independence as well as better economic growth without being blackmailed by foreign countries, our country, the United States of America’s Utilization of Energy sources must change.
"Energy drives our entire economy." We must protect it. "Let's face it, without energy the whole economy and economic society we have set up would come to a halt. So you want to have control over such an important resource that you need for your society and your economy." The American way of life is not negotiable.
Our continued dependence on fossil fuels could and will lead to catastrophic consequences.

The federal, state and local government should implement a mandatory renewable energy installation program for residential and commercial property on new construction and remodeling projects with the use of energy efficient material, mechanical systems, appliances, lighting, etc. The source of energy must by renewable energy such as Solar-Photovoltaic, Geothermal, Wind, Biofuels, etc. including utilizing water from lakes, rivers and oceans to circulate in cooling towers to produce air conditioning and the utilization of proper landscaping to reduce energy consumption.

The implementation of mandatory renewable energy could be done on a gradual scale over the next 10 years. At the end of the 10 year period all construction and energy use in the structures throughout the United States must be 100% powered by renewable energy. (This can be done by amending building code)

In addition, the governments must impose laws, rules and regulations whereby the utility companies must comply with a fair “NET METERING” (the buying of excess generation from the consumer), including the promotion of research and production of “renewable energy technology” with various long term incentives and grants. The various foundations in existence should be used to contribute to this cause.

A mandatory time table should also be established for the automobile industry to gradually produce an automobile powered by renewable energy. The American automobile industry is surely capable of accomplishing this task.

This is a way to expedite our energy independence and economic growth. (This will also create a substantial amount of new jobs). It will take maximum effort and a relentless pursuit of the private, commercial and industrial government sectors commitment to renewable energy – energy generation (wind, solar, hydro, biofuels, geothermal, energy storage (fuel cells, advance batteries), energy infrastructure (management, transmission) and energy efficiency (lighting, sensors, automation, conservation) in order to achieve our energy independence.
"To succeed, you have to believe in something with such a passion that it becomes a reality."

Jay Draiman, Energy Consultant
Northridge, CA. 91325
1-16-2007

P.S. I have a very deep belief in America's capabilities. Within the next 10 years we can accomplish our energy independence, if we as a nation truly set our goals to accomplish this.
I happen to believe that we can do it. In another crisis--the one in 1942--President Franklin D. Roosevelt said this country would build 60,000 [50,000] military aircraft. By 1943, production in that program had reached 125,000 aircraft annually. They did it then. We can do it now.
The American people resilience and determination to retain the way of life is unconquerable and we as a nation will succeed in this endeavor of Energy Independence.

Solar energy is the source of all energy on the earth (excepting volcanic geothermal). Wind, wave and fossil fuels all get their energy from the sun. Fossil fuels are only a battery which will eventually run out. The sooner we can exploit all forms of Solar energy (cost effectively or not against dubiously cheap FFs) the better off we will all be. If the battery runs out first, the survivors will all be living like in the 18th century again.

Every new home built should come with a solar package. A 1.5 kW per bedroom is a good rule of thumb. The formula 1.5 X's 5 hrs per day X's 30 days will produce about 225 kWh per bedroom monthly. This peak production period will offset 17 to 24 cents per kWh with a potential of $160 per month or about $60,000 over the 30-year mortgage period for a three-bedroom home. It is economically feasible at the current energy price and the interest portion of the loan is deductible. Why not?

Title 24 has been mandated forcing developers to build energy efficient homes. Their bull-headedness put them in that position and now they see that Title 24 works with little added cost. Solar should also be mandated and if the developer designs a home that solar is impossible to do then they should pay an equivalent mitigation fee allowing others to put solar on in place of their negligence.

Installing renewable energy system on your home or business increases the value of the property and provides a marketing advantage.

Nations of the world should unite and join together in a cohesive effort to develop and implement MANDATORY RENEWABLE ENERGY for the sake of humankind and future generations.

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