Energy Industry Innovations (Part 1)

"Innovation is the unrelenting drive to break the status quo and develop anew where few have dared to go." -Steven Jeffes, Marketing & Business Expert

Energy Industry Innovations: Producing New Sources of Power

In 2020, a large majority of the electricity produced in the United States was from non-renewable sources like natural gas, nuclear energy, and coal. On the other hand, renewable sources like wind, water, and solar only generated about 20% of our power. It is estimated that, at our current rate of use, our nonrenewable resources will be gone by the year 2060. In less than 40 years, the energy industry will be a completely different landscape. We need innovators to lead the charge to find new sources of power. Luckily, several scientists and inventors are stepping up to meet the challenge. This month the JCL Energy Journal is putting the spotlight on energy industry innovations and inventions moving us into the future of power.

Hannah Herbst (BEACON Project)

Hannah Herbst is a young inventor and innovator that hit the energy industry like an ocean wave- literally! Named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2018, Herbst created BEACON (Bringing Electricity Access to Countries through Ocean Energy). This prototype device captures the kinetic energy of ocean waves through the use of turbines. The energy is then converted into electricity. She has also modified the device to add a water purification system.

Herbst had a few personal motives that drove her to create BEACON. In an interview by the University of Pennsylvania’s Knowledge@Wharton, Herbst said “I decided to focus specifically on water power for a couple of reasons. Populations tend to settle around bodies of water because it’s necessary for survival. The second reason is that I live in Florida and I’ve been surrounded by big bodies of water my whole life. Thinking about these problems led me to [create my device] BEACON.” 

Herbst’s inspiration for her device was also a desire to affect positive change in countries that lack access to consistent power sources. In her teens, she had a pen-pal in Ethiopia who wrote to Hannah about having no lights or fresh water flow. Their correspondence was the initial spark that led to BEACON. Herbst feels passionate about deploying her device in areas that need it the most. In 2019 she started her own company Tiburon Technologies, LLC. She is open sourcing her prototype, hoping to drive positive change in countries without access to consistent power.

Inna Braverman (Eco Wave Power)

About 71% of our planet’s surface is covered with water. With such vast oceans, it is no wonder that another young innovator also focused on using the ocean’s energy as a source of renewable power. At just 24 years old, Inna Braverman created her own technology to turn the power of the ocean’s waves into electricity. In 2011 she founded Eco Wave Power with partner David Leb. Her innovation earned her a spot on MSN’s list of “30 most influential women of the 21st century”. Other notable names on that list include Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. 

In an article by Business Sweden, Braverman said, “I grew up by the beach in Israel watching the ocean. When I met David, he had just invested in and renovated a surf hotel in Panama. As it turned out we were both passionate about wave energy and about eliminating the problems hindering the commercialization of wave energy.” Braverman didn’t just focus on harnessing the ocean’s energy- she focused on solving the main problems with previous offshore energy devices. Knowing that the offshore devices were expensive, easily damaged, and disruptive to marine life, she instead decided that her system would operate “onshore”. The paddle-like floaters connect to an existing structure like a pier. They capture energy as they move up and down with the waves.

In May 2016, the Gibraltar Wave Farm officially opened off the coast of Spain. It is the first commercial, grid-connected wave energy power station in Europe. Eco Wave Power also has several future projects in the works in locations like Mexico, China, and several other places in Europe and the UK. In the meantime, Braverman is working on expanding the Gibraltar Wave Farm by adding solar panels to the top of the floating units. She believes that wave energy will be the next big thing. “Wave energy will be as cost efficient as solar and in suitable locations can be available 24/7. The density of water is a thousand times greater than air, so our installations take up much smaller spaces.”

Sahil Doshi (PolluCell)

The next energy industry innovation proves that being young is no barrier to great ideas. Sahil Doshi was only 14 when he invented PolluCell, a battery powered by a carbon dioxide solution. In 2014 Doshi participated in the Discovery 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Contenders were charged to “identify an everyday problem and solve it”. Like Herbst, Doshi’s inspiration came from the knowledge that millions of people around the world are without access to reliable power. He also knew he wanted his invention to provide clean energy that would not worsen pollution.

In an interview with the science magazine Nautilus, Sahil said, “Going to India definitely exposed me to a lot of the global problems that we face because India is a very, very highly populated area. As a matter of fact, my grandparents are in India right now and they’re actually suffering from a throat illness because of the amount of pollution that’s in the air. So there is a lot of pollution … The air there is extremely dirty. There are also problems like poverty, and other problems that people don’t necessarily think about when they think about other countries. Going to India definitely exposed me to global problems, and to problems in general, and that’s kind of what sparked my interest in solving problems through scientific means.”

Doshi began his experiments in his mother’s kitchen, eventually taking over all the counters with his project. He knew that not only would he need to generate energy, but also a way to store it. Through countless rounds of trial-and-error, not to mention a few spills that made his mother less than happy, Doshi finally created PolluCell. The battery utilizes the charged particles formed by putting carbon dioxide in water. Only cost-effective, everyday items are used to build it. Doshi really wanted to focus on inventing something that would utilize as much recycled material as possible, like old guitar strings with silver plating.

Doshi said that he is looking into other methods of converting carbon dioxide into energy. He also told his interviewers that he is interested in studying diseases and finding ways to control the spread and eventually prevent them.

Jun Yao & Derek Lovley (Air-gen)

The next two innovators are pushing the boundaries of power sources even further. They are using something that we have in great supply- the air around us. Jun Yao and Derek Lovely, two scientists working at University of Massachusetts Amherst, created Air-gen, a device that can literally create electricity from the moisture in the air. The device is essentially a film about a dozen microns thick made up of protein nanowires. These proteins are naturally conductive. The film is placed between two electrodes, which causes the water vapor in the air to be absorbed. When this happens, it creates an electric charge.

Air-gen is still relatively new technology. However, the next steps in research and development could see the production of an Air-gen patch. A patch could power small devices such as smartwatches and cell phones. This technology is especially exciting because, unlike other renewable sources like solar and wind, there is no need for the correct weather conditions to create energy. Air is always around us, all the time. 

In a University of Massachusetts Amherst press release, Yao said, “The ultimate goal is to make large-scale systems. For example, the technology might be incorporated into wall paint that could help power your home. Or we may develop stand-alone air-powered generators that supply electricity off the grid. Once we get to an industrial scale for wire production, I fully expect that we can make large systems that will make a major contribution to sustainable energy production.”

The Future of Energy

With continued energy industry innovations from minds like these, the push towards using more clean and renewable energy sources strengthens each year. We must match our growing energy needs with a growing focus on moving away from using nonrenewable sources to generate electricity. JCL Energy celebrates the energy industry innovations that keep us moving forward in a cleaner, greener way. Next week, we’ll take a look at exciting new technologies that harness the power of plants in the continued search for renewable energy sources.


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