Innovation Pipeline

Emerging University Cleantech Innovation and Business

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The Long View of Blue Sky Research

October 26th, 2010 · No Comments

Research funding over the past few decades, economists say, has made wind, solar and other alternative sources of energy cheaper. But fossil fuels remain cheaper yet. Renewable sources comprise about the same sliver of America’s energy portfolio as they did three decades ago, while the nation’s reliance on imported oil has doubled.
Some of the promising technologies drawing the focus of R&D funding include renewable-energy systems (despite the recent downturn in oil prices), nuclear energy systems and wind turbine systems, which are expected to get a boost from the continuing economic and political pressure for greater U.S. energy independence.
Development of clean water supplies, sustainable processes and low-cost transportation systems will be other areas of focus in the coming year. But does investment in research and innovation pay big dividends to the public? Robert Solow, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics, concluded more than 50 years ago that new economic growth results from public and private investments in innovation. As an example of this, one can look to the government’s long-term R&D investment by NASA and its Apollo missions. Those investments have generated many innovations that have benefited both society and industry. NASA early use of digital imaging processing technology helped improve the technology for today’s widespread medical use of body-imaging techniques, such as computer-aided tomography (CAT scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Even our modern microchips used today in industry are direct descendants of the integrated circuits used in the Apollo Guidance Computer onboard space missions from 1969 to 1972. Astronauts exploring the moon surface needed a durable, long-lasting portable drill to gather deep core samples.
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The Rosenfeld Effect and Cleantech

October 20th, 2010 · No Comments

No one entity has shown the appetite for shouldering the risk involved in funding early stage cleantech research and seeing it through the sometimes long timeline to reach commercial market. Corporate research labs are not up to the task of blue-sky innovation. And Bell Labs is no longer part of the research picture. The venture model is not designed to handle this front-end innovation challenge and government is the best suited for the role of funding research but it’s not clear it can commit to long, sustained investment in research to keep the pipeline fed and generating creative innovations.

There are always going to be exceptions to these forces. And one of those exceptions is the rare individual researcher who realizes a vision for research and then sticks to the vision despite intense opposition and lack of resources over long periods of time. Arthur Rosenfeld is one individual research who accomplished what some view as the impossible over several decades of research at UC Berkeley. We can’t count on the next Arthur Rosenfeld coming along and persevering to create innovative energy and green technologies that move an entire society to a new realm of higher efficiency and sustainability.

In 1973, Arthur Rosenfeld was a brilliant nuclear physicist. But when the Arab Oil Embargo disrupted the U.S. and world economy, Rosenfeld had the vision and determination to focus on the fledgling field of energy-efficiency research.

Arthur Rosenfeld circa 1973

Rosenfeld decided to shift his academic career at the University of California Berkeley by recognizing the dire nature of the energy crisis. He departed on a research journey that spanned more than 30 years and took him into a broad range of technologies and methods, like compact fluorescent lights, heat-reflecting window coatings, national standards for higher efficiency in household appliances and improved insulation approaches for buildings. [Read more →]

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Unnatural Deaths and the Road to Commercialization

July 2nd, 2010 · Comments Off

холови гарнитуриThe road to commercialization is riddled with danger, risks and failed companies. In venture capital circles, people like to quote the ratio of successful startups to failures as roughly one in 10. But news is worse if you count spinoffs just coming into formation. And finding capital for very early-stage companies is increasingly difficult.
For those few companies that manage to beat the odds, there’s fortune and fame. All of which helps perpetuate the casino-like investment scheme for startups. For those who have studied or worked with early-stage pre-seed companies, it’s a wonder any spinoffs from a university campus ever make it to commercial success.
Despite the widespread frustration around commercialization and the poor commercialization track record in both government and private-sector endeavors, there are plenty of experts hawking new winning approaches to break the valley-of-death spell. After all, improving the outcome of technology commercialization is a core driver for the long-term health of the U.S. and global economy.

Comments OffTags: Efficiency · Energy · On Campus · Views & Q's

Microbe Powered Energy

May 4th, 2010 · No Comments

There are a lot of big ideas in the field of alternative power, from massive solar arrays to fields of wind turbines stretching toward the horizon. And then there are microbes.
Scientists are hoping that some sophisticated bioengineering on their part can leverage billions of years of bacterial evolution to combat our growing energy crisis.
Single-celled bacteria have been around as long as life has. “Bacteria have occupied life’s mode from the very beginning,” wrote Stephen Jay Gould in his essay “Planet of the Bacteria,” “and I cannot imagine a change of status, even under any conceivable new regime that human ingenuity might someday impose upon our planet.”
A change of status researchers are working on is to turn bacteria into tiny powerhouses. And their recent innovations stir the imagination. For example, recent study by University of Miami researchers indicate that purple bacteria living at the bottom of lakes and in coral reefs could be useful for their extraordinary light-harvesting abilities.
The bacteria are able to adapt to different light intensities by modifying the arrangement of their light-harvesting mechanism. University of Miami physicists are looking at ways purple bacteria’s unique cellular structure might be applied to make more efficient solar panels.

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→ No CommentsTags: Biomaterials · Efficiency · Electronics · Energy · On Campus · Solar · Success Stories · Views & Q's · Water

Awakening the Water Avatar

April 1st, 2010 · No Comments

Water is usually an underappreciated and neglected resource. Until a city, community or village finds it depleted or contaminated.

Similarly, the energy involved in transporting and treating water is obscured, particularly its economic and environmental implications. But as developed countries come to grips with these issues, there’s an awakening about water management much different from its origins 150 years ago.

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Curiosity Kills the Grease

March 10th, 2010 · No Comments

Case Western University researchers have developed an ultralight sponge material that’s able to draw oil out of contaminated water. Composed of clay and plastic, it was originally invented by Ph.D. student Matt Gawryla as a new kitty litter.

University scientists first make an aerogel by mixing clay with a polymer and water in a blender. Once the mixing is complete, the substance is freeze-dried and air fills the gaps left by the loss of water. The aerogel material can be made in a granular form, sheets or blocks.

Researchers say the real advantage of this super-absorbent material is that it leaves behind the water and so has great potential in a variety of environments, including oceans, factory floors, roads and rivers.

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Material Generators

March 3rd, 2010 · No Comments

Harvesting and storing energy is a big challenge for a supercharged tech society on the run. From cellphones and laptops to a growing number of portable music and camera devices, electricity and battery life has become essential for much of today’s business activities.

The trouble is that batteries still cannot deliver the kind of longevity needed for people who want to move about plug-free. That’s why scientists have been trying to crack the secret to longer-life batteries for the past century and only making tiny steps to achieve the goal. But they aren’t about to throw in the towel.

Researchers have been hard at work on some unconventional approaches. Researchers at Princeton University, for example, recently invented a new energy-harvesting rubber material composed of ceramic nanoribbons that could harvest energy from your breathing and walking.

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Nature’s Innovation Spectrum: From Spider Glue to Lotus Leaves

January 14th, 2010 · No Comments

When listing nature’s wonders, you’d have to put spiderwebs somewhere near the top. Strands of biomaterial with the tensile strength of steel formed into complex shapes that withstand wind, heat and sunlight. They’re so impressive that scientists still don’t entirely understand them.

But recently researchers at the University of Wyoming have deciphered the glue that cements web ends to surfaces. It ranks as one of the strongest евтини мебелиglues made in nature, so strong that adhesives based on the web glue could ultimately replace existing petrochemical adhesives, according to Omer Choresh, molecular biologist at the University of Wyoming.

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Up On Charges

January 7th, 2010 · No Comments

A group of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are working on a new type of sodium-ion battery that could prove to be a practical option for storing power from wind and solar farms, says Jay Whitacre, a professor of materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon. Whitacre’s startup, 44 Tech, based in Pittsburgh, will receive $5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the 2009 Recovery Act to develop the technology. The funding is part of a $620 million package for improving the electricity grid.

The 44 Tech batteries could be not only cheaper but also longer-lasting than existing batteries, Whitacre says. This would make them particularly useful for storing large amounts of electricity cheaply–something that will be essential in making renewable energy the primary source of energy in the U.S. rather than the supplemental source it is now. Such storage will make it practical to store energy from wind turbines and solar farms for use when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.

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Small Developments

January 4th, 2010 · No Comments

The efficiency and elegance of materials occurring in nature have always been an inspiration to researchers. Trying to achieve similar results via nanoengineering, scientists are now working on nanoscale particles that automatically orient themselves into unique materials with powerful properties.
It makes sense, this self-assembly approach, because it’s simply too difficult to manipulate nanoparticles with lab devices, no matter how small they are. But if conditions are arranged correctly, self-assembly could be an effective way to manufacture new materials.
Consequently, there has been a lot of work in the area of self-assembly. In one very interesting project, Tel Aviv University researchers reportedly were able to grow peptides resembling small forests of grass that repelled dust and water.

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