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10 start-ups hoping to revolutionise power generation and storage

30/10/2019
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We can’t keep relying on fossil fuels for our energy needs. At least, that’s the thinking behind a plethora of new start-ups which are hoping to revolutionise power generation and storage and usher in an age of clean, green energy.
A plethora of start-ups are seeking to revolutionise the power generation and storage industries.
(Image via Makani).

From innovative energy generation systems to low-carbon energy storage, these start-ups are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible within the power industry. As the team here at EngineeringPro always endeavours to make sure that you’re the most informed engineering and technical professionals on the web, we’ve put together of the top 10 energy start-ups you need to know about.
Makani's innovative energy kites have already attracted the backing of Google and Shell.
(Image via Makani).

Makani


Google and Shell-backed Makani aims to harvest energy from the skies by using ‘energy kites’.

Resembling incredible, over-sized model aeroplanes, the energy kites are designed to fly autonomously, generating electricity as their wing-mounted rotors spin, transferring the energy back to the ground via the kites’ tether.

It’s an innovative approach to wind power generation- especially as there aren’t enough viable locations for traditional land and offshore based turbines to meet the needs of modern energy-hungry economies.

Wind has the potential to power the world 100 times over, but only if new approaches to energy generation such as Makani’s are adopted. By harnessing wind energy from new places, Makani hopes to be able to provide more people around the world with access to clean, affordable electricity.

With over a decade of development already under the wings of Makani’s energy kite technology, and a recent commercial partnership with energy giant Shell, Makani has a good chance of fulfilling its early promise to ‘revolutionise power generation’.
Kite Power Systems is another start-up seeking to change the way we harvest energy from the skies.
(Image via Kite Power Systems).

Kite Power Systems


As their name suggests, Kite Power Systems is another wind energy innovator.

Like Makani, Kite Power Systems has identified that the wind’s enormous energy generating potential is limited by a lack of viable locations for traditional wind power technologies. So, they’ve created a solution which bypasses these limitations by being airborne.

The company’s solution centres on a twin-kite system which they claim is capable of delivering clean, cheap energy at utility scale at a lower cost than wind turbines (whilst using 85 percent less raw materials).

So how does the two kite system work? The first kite is programmed to fly in a pre-defined direction, similar to the path that the tip of a wind turbine blade would make. The flight speed reach by the kite is high- over 100mph in 20mph winds. The strong aerodynamic lifting forces generated by the kite then cause a 100m-200m line to spooled out from a drum on the ground, which is connected to a generator- thus creating electricity.

It’s another very interesting way of capturing wind power, and it’s clearly caught the attention of some major industry players with the likes of Shell, Eon and Scottish Enterprise investing in Kite Power Systems.
Constructis aims to harvest kinetic energy from roads and highways
(Image via Constructis).

Constructis


Every day, vehicles expend an enormous amount of energy traversing the world’s roads and highways. Imagine if there was some way to reclaim this energy? Start-up Constructis has developed a device which they claim can collect kinetic energy from vehicles on roads as they drive over it.

The company neatly describe the device as being like ‘an energy harvesting speed bump’.

Named the ‘REX Power Module’ the technology is buried into the roadway with only the rumble strip exposed. When a vehicle rolls over the REX, the rumble strip depresses downwards, where the motion is converted into energy. 

Constructis claim that the system is designed to produce over 80 kWh per day from a 100,000 vehicle application (equivalent to a typical busy 4 lane road). This is approximately enough energy to power 3 family homes.

By the company’s own admission, the REX Power Module technology can only generate relatively small amounts of energy at present. But if it can be upscaled, and production costs reduced, it could prove to be a valuable addition to the energy mix of towns and cities across the globe.
Nostromo Energy has developed a challenger product to the traditional lithium-ion battery.
(Image via Nostromo Energy).

Nostromo Energy


With renewable energy sources continuing to make a larger contribution to power grids, effective energy storage solutions are more sought-after than ever. But using traditional lithium-ion based batteries for large-scale grid storage presents several potent challenges- most notably the environmental impact associated with lithium extraction. Israel-based start-up Nostromo Energy has seemingly solved these problems by replacing lithium-ion in batteries with water.

“While everybody is talking about global warming and Li-ion based energy storage, we have found a way to use water as a highly potent capacitor and solve the most crucial problem of electrical grids: high peak demands, which are wholly subject to cooling demands e.g. commercial chillers. We have developed the cleanest, safest, most cost-effective energy storage system available today and in the foreseeable future,” says a representative for the company.

Nostromo Energy’s Li-ion alternative is called the Icebrick, and is based around a modular thermal cell, which they are aiming to have commercially available by mid-2019 at a cost of less than $400 per kWh with a warranty for zero degradation of the cells over 15 years of operation.

With Li-ion batteries dominating 94% of all 2017 new energy storage implementations, Nostromo Energy’s alternative has a lot of catching up to do…
SEaB Energy is developing a novel waste-to-energy technology
(Image via SEaB Energy).

SEaB Energy


When Sandra Sassow sees waste, she sees a fuel source. Her start-up SEaB Energy wants to turn neighbourhoods or businesses into their own power plants, by using close-loop systems that take food and agricultural waste and turn it into usable energy.

The systems, Flexibuster (for food waste) and Muckbuster (for agricultural waste), fit into a shipping container and use anaerobic digestion to generate heat and then electricity which is sent to a microgrid to be shared between neighbours/businesses.

Like some of the other start-ups listed in this article, SEaB’s energy generation solution is rather limited in scale. The company states that its systems are ideally suited to small and medium scale sites that produce between 500kg and 3000kg of organic waste per day. 
Cuberg's innovative new battery could find use in new drone applications
(Cuberg’s innovative new battery could find use in new drone applications. Image via Boeing).

Cuberg


Boeing-backed start-up Cuberg believes that battery-based energy storage can unlock a low-carbon future, but instead of lithium-ion batteries (with all of their inherent limitations), Cuberg is pushing lithium-metal batteries.

So, what’s different about Cuberg’s battery?

The key innovation is that the lithium-metal battery utilises a new, non-flammable electrolyte that erases the safety risks associated with today’s lithium-ion batteries (which have been known to burst into flames when exposed to high temperatures).

Speaking to Popular Mechanics Cuberg’s CEO Richard Wang described the benefits of the company’s new battery:

“Because it’s also chemically very robust and stable, it allows us to use much more energy dense materials inside the battery to cut down a lot of the excess weight in the cell. The material changes from a typical graphite that you find in lithium-ion to a pure lithium metal foil”.

Cuberg’s lithium-metal battery is also far lighter than current battery tech, making it far more suitable for applications in aerospace, aviation, drones etc. “If you look at anything that’s flying, lithium-ion batteries are just not good enough. When you start looking at more ambitious plans, things like Uber Elevate and more futuristic electric planes or hybrid electric passenger airliners, lithium-ion is not going to cut it. It’s just too heavy; the performance and economics don’t make sense”, says Wang.
 
Earlier this month Cuberg was awarded $1.75m in grant funding from the California Energy Commission for production scale-up of their lithium-metal battery, so expect to see this innovative new battery transforming the world of power storage in the not too distant future.
H2GO is working on a solid-state hydrogen energy storage technology
(Image via H2GO Power).

H2GO Power


Another power storage focused start-up, H2GO Power has developed a hydrogen-based energy storage technology which promises zero-emissions, and a safe and reliable supply of power for commercial applications.

Enass Abo-Hamed, co-founder of the company sees the future crisis not centring around energy generation but around energy storage. Her solution is to store hydrogen gas which can be burnt in fuel cells by using nanomaterials to create a flexible sponge that traps hydrogen atoms in its pores. When this structure is heated it releases the hydrogen gas. 

Like Cuberg, H2GO Power also has the traditional lithium-ion battery in its sights. H2GO states that its hydrogen-based power-storage system is 50% lighter than equivalent lithium-ion batteries, whilst also offering a 3x longer lifetime and more than double the storage capacity.

H2GO Power believes that its solution can find use in developing nations where traditional hydrogen-based technologies that use high-pressure cylinders are not feasible. H2GO has designed its energy storage solution to fit within a standard shipping container and to be ‘plug and play’ so that it can be easily connected to power grids or commercial facilities. Each solution is also equipped with AI algorithms which provide cost-efficient management and optimal storage/response operations, helping users to make the best use of their power-storage tech.

Following H2GO Power’s spin-out from the University of Cambridge, the company appears to be busy make its tech commercially scalable and affordable. As Abo-Hamed said in a recent interview:

“It takes long cycles of development to scale production and reduce costs. So, it takes time and big funding rounds. If we can contribute to increasing the adoption of clean technologies and encourage others to do the same, that could help combat climate change and help make air quality better”.
Oxford PV is developing a technology that will radically boost the efficiency of commercial silicon solar panels.
(Image via Oxford PV).

Oxford PV


Listed by the MIT Technology Review as a ‘top 50 most innovative company’, Oxford PV is setting out to radically boost the efficiency of commercial silicon solar panels by almost a third, for just £1 a metre.

First established in 2010 as a spin-out from the University of Oxford, Oxford PV’s new perovskite solar cell technology has the potential to allow silicon solar cell and module manufacturers to break through their performance barriers. By significantly improving the performance of silicon photovoltaics, Oxford PV hopes to drive cost reductions which will transform the economics and power-generation via solar and therefore accelerate the growth of solar generation globally.

The performance gains achieved by Oxford PV are impressive- record breaking in fact. The company’s perovskite-silicon solar cell has achieved 28% conversion efficiency which will be a game changer for solar power-generation. However, the company is not resting on its laurels:

“This record demonstrates the unprecedented pace of our technology development. We are continuing to push our perovskite-silicon solar cell technology, with a roadmap that extends beyond 30% efficiency. The solar cells we are developing are not only efficient but also stable”, says Dr Chris Case, Chief Technology Officer at Oxford PV.
Wind City is incorporating variable geometries into turbines to increase their energy generation output.

Wind City


Wind City wants to make wind and water turbines radically more efficient. The way it intends to do this is by developing turbines that allow variable geometries to adapt in real time to flow variability.

As the founders of the company put it, “Would you buy a car that is worth 100 kW but then for some reason it does only 25% of the work?” No! But Wind City reckons something similar is happening with today’s wind and water turbines. With nature offering a variable flow of water or wind, turbines cannot always turn. By adapting to the flow offered by nature with variable geometries, turbines can more effectively make use of the flow and turn more regularly- therefore generating more electricity.

By incorporating variable inclination of blades on its turbines Wind City hopes to create turbines which can make a much more consistent contribution to power grids, mitigating the intermittency issues which have been associated with renewable energy sources to-date.
Modvion is lower the carbon footprint of wind turbines by developing modular cross laminated timber construction techniques.
(Image via Modvion).

Modvion


One of the enduring problems of many renewable power generation technologies is that they often require a significant ‘fossil-fuel subsidy’. Basically, they may be able to generate low-carbon power, but the construction of wind turbines can be a carbon intensive process (from the extraction of rare earth elements for the turbine, and the vast amounts of concrete poured for foundations etc). 

Swedish start-up Modvion has found a way to mitigate this problem by developing modular wind turbines which are constructed from CLT (Cross Laminated Timber). By utilising what is effectively strengthened wood, Modvion has found a way of reducing the fossil fuel subsidy that wind turbines require in their construction. The modular design of the turbines has additional benefits such as making the turbines far easier to transport and install.

With significant interest from venture capitalists, Modvion is sure to have big impact upon the power generation industry in the years ahead.
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Recent Comments
Constructis sounds like a dodgy idea to me. I suspect all that is happening is the vehicles on such a road would use more fuel because the rolling resistance of the road will have increased due to the energy being used in pushing these little 'rumble strips' down. So it won't be green energy, just energy stolen from all the road users who will lose out.
Julian Muirhead, 30 October 2019
Energy storage decreases by 94%. You'd think that would 'solve' the intermittency-problem, but: "...It would appear 24/7 electricity from renewables + storage still has a way to go..." https://bwrx-300-nuclear-uk.blogspot.com/2019/10/the-intermittency-problem-will-energy.html
Colin Megson, 01 November 2019
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10 start-ups hoping to revolutionise power generation and storage - Time to read 11 min
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