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Energy Innovators Light Up Northwest’s Cleantech Showcase

(Editor’s Note: a diamond ♦ indicates link to Cleantech Concepts article on the specified company)

There’s a lot of energy in clean tech in the Pacific Northwest. From the land with huge hydro, wind and solar power assets, there’s a surge of innovation in other key elements of a renewable infrastructure, including energy storage, management platforms, and generation technologies.

That’s what we discovered at the 2016 Cleantech Showcase, an annual event organized by Seattle’s own Cleantech Alliance. We wanted to see what’s going on in cleantech in various regions of the U.S., and what better place to start than…in our neighbor’s backyard?

This highly active trade association has a membership that includes dynamic companies such as Boeing, McKinstry, Ikea and Itron, and the group taps into the latest cleantech research through tight relationships with Pacific Northwest National Labs and the University of Washington.

Energy Storage Expands

While selection of topics was as vast as the state of Washington, energy storage seemed one of the most dynamic areas. For example, energy storage powerhouse UniEnergy Technologies gave an update on its progress in scaling up vanadium flow batteries. It discussed recent announcements for what it called “the world’s largest battery,” rated at 800 Megawatt-hours, that strategic partner Rongke Power will deploy for the Dalian peninsula in northern China. This is hot on the heels of a 450kW/1440kWh energy storage system for a utility substation on the island of Sicily. The company cited numbers from GTM Research quantifying total worldwide installed energy storage of 2081 MW by 2021, saying “behind the meter storage will be half of that.”

Down the hall, we joined a presentation from start-up ♦ ZyncNyx, a zinc-air battery promising virtually unlimited cycles for remote locations. By using atmospheric oxygen, the ZincNyx zinc-air technology needs just one storage tank—much like a fuel cell—resulting in a more simple, compact and scalable flow battery.

Mainstream flow batteries usually use two electrolytes (for anode and cathode) separated by an exotic, expensive membrane that allows ions to pass between the two. ♦ Ionic Membranes, a start-up from the University of Washington, exhibited a poster detailing a hybrid proton-conducting membrane produced with cheap, safe, widely available silica gel, borrowing technology from the food packaging industry.

Energy Generation Diversifies

The Showcase unveiled new, sustainable ways to generate power for all the coming utility-scale storage.  Of particular interest, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL) showed the ♦ Solar Thermochemical Advanced Reactor System (STARS) that converts natural gas and sunlight into a more energy-rich syngas, which power plants can burn to make electricity. By using a highly efficient mirrored parabolic dish, STARS offers nearly 70% solar-to-chemical energy conversion. By converting solar energy into chemical energy, the system can be coupled with highly efficient, low-cost, combined-cycle power generation technology and obtain higher efficiency in producing electricity than either solar or natural gas plants alone.

STARS was not alone in expanding the options for sustainable energy production:

  • Modern Electron presented paper-thin, nano-engineered generators that generate electricity from heat with no moving parts.
  • Supercritical Technologies showed compact, modular power generation units driven by pressurized CO2
  • Ag Energy showcased a new approach to generate biomass from crop by-products.
  • Hotrock Energy Research Organization discussed its efforts advance use of Advanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) across the country.

The Showcase made room for start-up ventures involved in the Cascadia Cleantech Accelerator, a joint program of the Cleantech Alliance and Oregon BEST. One of the more interesting innovations was the ♦ Hydrostar USA hydrogen electrolysis system, which uses a stainless-steel electrolyzer and a non-toxic electrolyte that the company calls B9. While promising for production of clean hydrogen for industrial use, the company is initially focusing on transportation, increasing efficiency and reducing emissions from off-road trucks

The Showcase also delivered numerous presentations on new energy management technologies and services that can help utilities and industry incorporate new storage and generation options. For example, 1Energy systems, now part of Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction, showed a software solution with controller and distributed energy source, for “utility-scale integrated megawatt storage.” Other solutions included Outback Power, with monitoring and control for renewable energy, and 38 Zeros, offering cloud-based data logging for smart buildings. New service models for energy management and efficiency were seen from Allumia and Distributed Energy Management.

Environmental Cleantech Soars

While much of the focus at the Showcase was energy-related, environmental clean tech companies were also well represented. Of particular interest to the Northwest is of course its dominant aerospace industry. To help build lighter aircraft materials, Polydrop has developed a proprietary polymer to improve electrostatic discharge dissipation with significantly less loading than metal-based solutions. On the other end of the manufacturing line, ♦ Vartega Carbon Fiber Recycling offers novel technology, processes, and equipment to recycle carbon fiber for for use in low-cost, mass-market applications. Similarly, the Composite Recycling Technology Center talked about its mission to expand carbon-fiber recycling all across Washington.

Looking beyond aerospace, Kane Environmental discussed its broad environmental solutions portfolio that spans environmental site assessments, soil and groundwater remediation, and geotechnical services. Ronin8 presented its closed-loop process for electronics manufacturing using electromagnets and sonic vibration to separate out all materials, including precious metals, from e-waste.

Of course, we can’t neglect to mention ♦ Aquapel, which won best poster session at the show.  This start-up has developed an active self-cleaning technology for solar panels, which can lose up to 35% of their efficiency from dust, dirt, and let’s face it, bird droppings. Check out their video in ♦ our article – it’s pretty impressive.

It was impossible to take in all the innovation at the Showcase, but we do want to acknowledge some other ways that the presenting organizations are advancing sustainable technology:

  • Membrane-based water treatment—MicroHAOPS
  • Sustainable food from insects—Beta Hatch
  • LED lamp retrofitting—Aleddra

For a full list of all the companies, please see the Cleantech Showcase web page.

About Tom Breunig (63 Articles)
Tom Breunig is principal at Cleantech Concepts, a market research firm tracking R&D projects in the cleantech sector. He is a technology industry veteran and former international marketing and communications executive who has worked with organizations in semiconductor design, water monitoring, energy efficiency and environmental sensing. He has spoken at numerous technology and energy conferences.
Contact: Twitter

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