Launch is a global joint venture formed by NASA, USAID, Department of State, and Nike to “identify and support the innovative work poised to contribute to a sustainable future and accelerate solutions to meet urgent challenges facing our society.” The group, whose name is a terrific leveraging of NASA’s brand, works primarily through it’s identification of world-class visionaries and the subsequent showcasing of them in forums in which their innovative work gets a chance to strut it’s stuff. You might think of it as a kind of American Idol contest for the future survival of the human race.
The three-day Launch Energy Forum just wrapped up this weekend, and, as expected, there were a number of very impressive presentations. Here is a brief overview of the ten innovations that were selected from over 200 submissions:
- Gram Power – this company produces “smart DC microgrids” serving 20 to 1000 homes each in Sub-Saharan Africa, that receive electric power, in many cases for the first time, in the form of pre-paid, metered battery packs. The primary benefit is the replacement of kerosene fueled lighting and stoves that were responsible for 190 million tons of CO2 emissions in the region and claimed 1.5 million lives a year through carbon monoxide poisoning and respiratory illnesses.
- Hydrovolts – provides a form of ultra-low head or what they call micro-hydropower, meaning that there needn’t be any appreciable elevation drop at all to provide water power. Any source of moving water, from rivers and streams to irrigation canals is sufficient to generate electricity. The highly efficient, submersible turbines can be placed at any depth to capture the strongest currents. Depending on turbine size and flow conditions, they can generate anywhere form 100W to 16kW using their proprietary “flipwing” rotor that can deploy either Darrieus or Savonius blades, depending on flow conditions.
- Turbococina –a revolutionary and highly efficient wood cook stove from El Salvador that requires only four percent of the amount of wood used in a traditional stove.
- Point Source Power – has been called a pocket-sized Bloom Box. It is a solid oxide fuel cell that can create enough electricity to charge a cell phone. It is fueled with biomass: anything from wood chips to cow dung, so the fuel is essentially free. It is activated by being placed in a fire.
- The Solanterns Initiative – another program aimed at replacing kerosene lanterns in Kenya, in this case with solar powered lights.
- Powerzoa - is an enterprise-wide energy management system aimed at eliminating vampire electric loads. Devices like televisions use power, even when they are off. Powerzoa enables control down to the individual device. Their Zoa plug, which is used as an individual power strip, connects to a network which then monitors power use and removes power from the devices when not in use. They claim a system like this can save 10 to 14 percent of total energy use.
- Promethean Power Systems - provides refrigeration in rural areas by means of a thermal battery that stores cold instead of electricity. The batteries are “charged up” using a conventional refrigeration system and are then transported to their end use locations. You might think of them as a high tech ice pack. This technology is making a considerable impact in India’s milk supply chain.
- Thermofluidics - has developed a Non-Inertive Feedback Thermofluidic Engine technology that uses low temperature heat to efficiently pump water with essentially no moving parts. It is made out of cheap materials and simple production processes and was jointly developed at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Exeter. It can be used in both drinking water and irrigation applications.
- ITN Energy Systems – has developed a revolutionary flexible electrochromic film for windows that allows active control of the sun's transmitted light and heat.
- NanoTune Technologies – uses nanotechnology to produce an ultra-capacitor that has five to seven times the energy storage capacity of traditional capacitors. This capability is expected to exceed that of lithium-ion batteries which could make it the next generation energy storage technology of choice. The technology is inherently low cost and has a low environmental impact.
It is exciting to see the level of innovation emerging from all corners of the globe which serves as a healthy antidote to the steady doses of bad news we’ve be seeing of late.
RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water. Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.
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