Six technologies that could change the Earth

25 11 2009
These phosphorescent microparticles could power photovoltaic cells 24/7 for up to 12 years. Steve Stark/MPK, CO.

This sheet of phosphorescent microparticles could power photovoltaic cells 24/7 for up to 12 years. Steve Stark/MPK, CO.

From emissions-eating biofuels to metals-scavenging chemicals, the Midwest Clean Tech 2009 conference this week showcased a tidal wave of green ideas. Here are six expo show stoppers. Still in the developing stages, most won’t emerge on the market for at least another year. But they prove that the green movement is moving on innovation.

Photovoltaics that work in the dark – Solar power has one major drawback. It turns off once the sun disappears. Most researchers are searching for ways to store it for future use, technologies often involving batteries. But Michael Kohnen II and Steve Stark of MPK CO. took a completely different approach. They developed tiny micro particles of gas and crystals that can power photovoltaic cells 24/7, sidestepping the storage problem entirely. The two main components, tritium gas and phosphor crystals, work together to produce light. The tritium emits electrons. The electrons make the phosphor send out photons (light particles). When sandwiched as a sheet between two photovoltaic cells, the photons hit the cells and produce electricity.
MPK CO, Clayton, Wis.,

Biofuels that stopper CO2 before it forms – Biofuels can emit carbon and still decrease the Earth’s carbon footprint. It works because users are burning fuel from biomass that, if left on its own to rot, would emit much more CO2. The U.S. produces more than 1.3 billion tons of solid biological waste every year from forestry, agriculture and other industries. All this unused mass sucked CO2 out of the atmosphere during its organic life and will spew it back out when it decomposes, unless something stops it. Paul Wever and Paul Anderson of Chip Energy developed a strategy to burn it for energy and also produce charcoal. If done correctly, almost half the carbon atoms that would have escaped into the air to form CO2 get locked in the charcoal, which then gets buried in the soil. It’s a bit like the clean coal strategy, except it’s more effective.
Chip Energy, Goodfield, Ill.,

Software that gets buildings a paycheck for their electricity – This efficiency strategy is 10 percent science and 90 percent economics. Vincent Cushing and Andrew Whiting of Clean Urban Energy knew, as all energy developers do, that the real price of electricity isn’t fixed. It fluctuates literally every minute of the day. But utility companies have to set a fixed price for customers, and when the real price goes above that, they take a loss. At such times they try to pay some of their customers not to use power – which often means turning down the air conditioning and enduring sweltering heat. Clean Urban Energy’s software can run the air conditioning in large buildings during the night, when the price is low. The walls, ceiling and floor absorb the cool air and, in effect, store it. During the grueling afternoon when the price shoots up, the software automatically turns down the air conditioning and lets the building release the cool air it stored in its mass during the night. The buildings make money from the utilities without a drop of sweat and cut energy use.
Clean Urban Energy, Inc., Chicago, Ill.,

Smart box that stores renewable energy – This Intelligent Generation invention follows the same philosophy as the Clean Urban Energy software, only in a slightly more tangible form. Called the “optimizer box,” it works like a virtual power plant and sounds like something out of the Transformers movies. The box first estimates how much electricity a building will use every given hour of a day. Then it figures out the most cost-effective way to buy it, storing the low-cost electricity in lithium-ion batteries for use during peak high-cost times. CEO Jay Marhoefer predicts the box will sell for $500 and be ready for the market in 14 months. The optimizer box took first prize at the conference’s Innovation Competition.
Intelligent Generation LLC, Chicago, Ill.,

Chemical process that pulls valuable metals from water – The copper market is booming. Mines in the U.S. alone scrape up more than 1 billion pounds a year according to Patrick James of Blue Planet Strategies. And with prices soaring, watching their profits escape into streams is bad for the environment and bad for business. Enter DEMET, a solution that adds electrons into the water and turns the drifting copper ions into solid metal. Blue Planet Strategies is developing the solution. Company President Patrick James said, although their processes have focused so far on copper, they should work for cobalt, silver and even gold.
Blue Planet Strategies, Madison, Wis.

Algae that de-scummify lakes (and save fish) – The green algae pools that encrust the surfaces of lakes and oceans are unpleasant to look at, but they can be lethal as well. When the algae die, they sink to the bottom and suck up waterborne oxygen as they decompose. That can mean death for fish that normally thrive in the colder, deeper waters. Geoff Horst said his company, Algal Scientific, decided to nip the problem in the bud by using algae to filter out the culprits – nitrogen and phosphorous – before wastewater enters the ecosystem. The algae in their system absorb the nutrients they need to grow, ensuring that new algae will not form elsewhere.
Algal Scientific Corp., Plymouth, Mich.,




One response

7 03 2010

6FBcaE Excellent article, I will take note. Many thanks for the story!

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