When most people think about changing the way we use energy, ten companies imagine new ways of generating electricity like solar farms or new nuclear reactors. At an innovation summit organized by the Department of Energy’s high-risk, high-reward research branch, ARPA-E (modeled after Darpa), it’s not just power generation that’s getting a makeover. The companies hawking their ideas there, which all received grant money from ARPA-E or were finalists, are trying to reinvent the entire energy system. Everything is getting a technological re-evaluation from the actual wires that power is transmitted on to the waste heat produced in industrial processes. And of course there are also new ways of making electricity beyond just burning some rocks or oil to create steam to drive a turbine.
Here are 10 companies that caught our attention. Any one technology is unlikely to solve the looming climate change and peak oil problems, but working together within the larger system, they could tilt the globe away from catastrophe and towards a sustainable future.
1. Agrivida: works on plants that release enzymes to degrade the cellulose in their own cell walls — on command. They throw a molecular switch, and the plants start turning themselves into sugar, saving fuel processors a key and energy-intensive step.
2. Phononic Devices: make thermoelectric materials much more efficient and cheaper through nanotechnology.
4. Graphene Energy: they are developing ultracapacitors based on graphene. Ultracaps are considered a very attractive technology because they can be cycled many times over and they can also provide big bursts of power.
5. Superconductor Technologies: They claim that by replacing the cooper and aluminum wires in the grid with a ceramic, high-temperature superconductor, the lines could have five times the capacity and waste less electricity.
6. Velkess: Flywheels are another promising technology. They store the energy mechanically by rotating mass around an axis.
7. Velocys: They use the Fischer-Tropsch process for making synthetic fuels from other types of carbon.
8. Wildcat Discovery Technologies: s trying to bring high-throughput automation to the discovery and synthesis of new materials. Their technology is one way to bring the accelerating advances in robotics and computing to bear on the energy problem.
9. Xtreme Energetics: This company say its technology could make electricity at a cost of $1.50 per watt with 43 percent efficiency and a smaller footprint than traditional solar panels.
10. Potter Drilling: They are trying to commercialize a new drilling technique that replaces drill bits with hot water. The company thinks it can halve the costs associated with drilling enhanced geothermal fields.
If you wanna read more about what these companies are doing, go to wired.com