San Francisco-Ian Turner wants to get rid of wire and replace it with computer cable.
Turner, CEO of England's Juice Technology Limited, has come up with a system for replacing the wiring for lights in buildings with twisted pair cables. LED lights are hooked onto the cable -- without splicing into the cable -- and soon after, they emit light. Energy from the still-covered cable is transferred to the light through magnets contained in the LED light fixture through induction. We spoke this morning at the Cleantech Forum taking place in San Francisco.
The system -- which will come out later this year for commercial buildings and about a year from now for homes -- has a number of advantages. First, it gets rid of wires, which can be expensive to install in buildings. Basically, to run wire, you need an electrician. On the other hand, your IT guy can run cable. Second, you can add other sensors, such as smoke detectors or carbon monoxide alarms, to the system.
Third, it saves energy and reduces components. A single cable can provide 50 watts of power to light sources clipped onto it. Ergo, a single cable can support several LED lights, which typically consume 7 to 12 watts of power each.
"You don't want one power supply per light. You want one power supply for several lights," he said.
The lights can also be dimmed and controlled remotely through ZigBee nodes clipped onto the cable or through power line networking. Currently, lighting consumes around 22 percent of the electricity in America and only 1 percent of lights in California's commercial buildings are networked. Studies conducted by PG&E have shown that the budget for power for lighting in commercial buildings can be reduced by 50 percent or more with clever networking and dimming.
A few companies in the U.S. will come out with similar concepts later this year. Potentially, the benefits are substantial and will reduce the resistance to graduating to LEDs. The main market will be for retrofitted buildings and new construction.
Other companies at the conference:
--SBAE from Belgium has a new way to farm algae. It sticks mesh nets into a simulated river. Diatoms, a type of algae, cling and grow on the nets. When it is time to harvest, the company pulls the nets out and harvests it.
The net system lets the company circumvent one of the vexing problems of algae: separating the algae from the water. No centrifuges or evaporation systems are needed: SBAE just hoists it out. The company can get about 60 tons of algae in a warm, sunny climate and about 25 tons in its native Belgium, said CEO Jan Vanhoutte. (Vanhoutte's son, a biologist, came up with the idea.) The company also doesn't need to worry about bubbling carbon dioxide into the mix: enough comes in through the natural flow of the stream.
"It is a river we imitate," he said.
Although it could produce algae for fuel, SBAE will target the less demanding market for fish meal for aquaculture. Fish meal -- essentially ground-up fish fed to the fish that ends up on your plate -- costs around $1,750 a ton today and rising. SBAE can produce algae for less than $1,000 a ton. By mixing in algae with fish meal, it can reduce the cost and increase the volume of feed. (Producing fuel would also be tough because the simulated river lets multiple cultures grow in the same environment and most fuel makers want monocultures.)
"The aquaculture market is doubling every few years. That is the fish trap," he said.
SBAE has built a few small prototypes and wants to move toward commercial production soon. Other companies looking at aquaculture: Oberon and Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies.
--Finally this morning, do you ever notice how cold a carbon dioxide cartridge gets after it is discharged? Frost forms on the side. EcoThermics says it can harvest that same power to help air conditioners and hot water heaters.
It has created a system that can compress carbon dioxide to 1,800 psi. The compression chamber is then surrounded with heat exchangers. As the carbon dioxide gets compressed, the chamber gives off tremendous amounts of heat. That heat is funneled into heating or plumbing systems to create hot water, which can get as hot as 210 degrees Fahrenheit.
When the gas is released from the chamber, the carbon dioxide rapidly expands and the resulting cold air is funneled into the air conditioning system. On the expansion cycle, temperatures can hit minus 100 degrees. As a result, you get concurrent heating and cooling, said CEO Merle Rocke.
Leftover heat from the compression cycle can additionally be funneled into a waste-heat generator to produce electricity.
EcoThermics developed the device at the request of the U.S. Army, which needs new types of air conditioners for the interior of tanks. The E.U. has issued mandates that will force companies and government agencies, including NATO forces, to abandon chemical-driven air conditioning. EcoThermics has been working on this for about eight years.
It has established some commercial partnerships and the system will be integrated into commercial air conditioners later this year. The carbon dioxide system adds about $1,800 to the cost of air conditioning systems and pays for itself in two to five years, he said.
Utilities and some lawmakers are preparing programs to offer building owners rebates on installing new air conditioners, so EcoThermics could benefit from that. Air conditioning is a lot hipper than you think.