Northwest Energy Symposium Highlights Technologies, Companies, Strategies

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Energy technology event brought together entrepreneurs, utilities, investors, research organizations, academia, and government involved with the region's emerging energy sector.

The Northwest Energy Technology Collaborative brought together 130 energy technology investors, entrepreneurs, researchers and utility executives on August 23, 2005. The Northwest Energy Symposium in Portland, Oregon offered attendees keynotes, a technology track, an investment track, and an academia track.

Keynotes

After introductions by NWETC Chair Lee Cheatham, keynote speaker Matt Steuerwalt, Executive Policy Advisor to Washington's Governor, spoke briefly about the need to better commercialize the state's research and development. Steuerwalt said the Energy Policy Act of 2005 will ease tech transfer.

Carl Imhoff, manager of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Energy Products and Operations product line, reviewed the energy-related research activities of PNNL. The lab's Energy Science and Technology Directorate has been a major player in the energy industry. Imhoff touched on the highlights of the lab's research in solid oxide fuel cells, coal gasification, GridWise, hydrogen, and biomass.

Managing the U.S. electric transmission grid is making a shift that is equivalent, Imhoff said, to the shift from using X-ray to MRI as a medical diagnostic tool. He noted the high-resolution measurement technologies that will reduce grid volatility and are being rapidly adopted throughout the Northeast. The industry's challenges, he said, are to increase price-responsive demand, improve interconnections to the grid, and find ways to reach a 20 percent renewable energy portfolio.

Imhoff stressed the importance of partnering among the players in the energy sector, including PNNL. He said the Northwest has been underachieving in its role as an influencer of national policy, and encouraged the audience to capitalize on such opportunities.

Lunch keynote speaker Andrew Klein, Director of Education, Training and Research Partnerships at Idaho National Laboratory, explained that lab's new goal to become a world-class nuclear energy research facility.

Three tracks were designed to make best use of the event for attendees:

Northwest Energy Technology Showcase

NETS highlighted the latest market-ready technologies and commercial products from seven energy companies. The presenting companies this year were an interesting collection:

(NETS companies from Washington state)

ADI Thermal Power makes super-efficient Stirling engines. Wayne Bliesner, the company's president, said several patented innovations enable his company's dual-shell engine design to run at very high temperatures, full time, with five years between maintenance intervals. The first production units will be connected to three-phase 25kW generators; later models will combine engines inline to drive up to 100kW generators. Exhaust heat is captured through a heat exchanger, but most of the waste heat is in the form of hot water that can be easily repurposed. High efficiency, cleaner emissions and low operating cost should make the Woodinville, Washington company's units competitive with diesel gensets for portable power and distributed generation.

Hydrogen Power's Chair, Jim Matkin, presented the company's process for producing hydrogen from any water source using aluminum, and without requiring any electricity. The process could deliver hydrogen on demand, on site, overcoming the main obstacles for hydrogen fuel cells: the energy required, storage and transportation. The company's first product will be a military application, due next quarter. Matkin acknowledged that the efficiency of this hydrogen production method is predicated on having a ready supply of aluminum, which itself is energy intensive to produce. With waste and recycled aluminum, he said, the process is cost-competitive with electrolysis.

Prometheus Energy's Kirt Montague presented his company's process for producing liquefied natural gas from methane. The company builds, owns and operates its own plants to produce LNG from stranded gas and landfill gas. With a low cost for feedstock, and today's retail prices for LNG, the CEO expects to build a profitable business serving fleets of alternative-fuel vehicles such as natural-gas buses and sanitation trucks.

Stecher Proprietary Interests has patented a technology for transporting sulfur to be burned in power plants or used to extract hydrogen from wells. Waste sulfur is a byproduct of cleaning contaminated gas and extracting petroleum from deposits of oil sands. The company is looking for partners for a project to extract stranded hydrogen from wells in Wyoming, using stockpiles of waste sulfur in central Canada. The stockpiles, he said, are six stories tall and so large they are visible from space.

(NETS companies from Canada)

Novus Power has prototypes of its highly efficient electric motors. Company president Scott Plummer said that 68 percent of the energy generated in the U.S. is used to run motors. Novus has developed pulsed DC motors that are more energy efficient, lighter weight, and cost-effective to mass produce. Craig Peterson, technologist for the company, explained the design and operation of the motor, claiming 98 percent efficiencies. Because of clearly defined initiatives such as EnergyStar and EnergyPlus, Novus will pursue home appliances through OEM deals with the large manufacturers, but is working in parallel on other applications, including automotive.

Carmanah Technologies, established makers of solar-powered outdoor lighting, gave an overview of its product lines in marine, roadway, transit and traditional grid-tied solar power. By far the most mature presenting company at NETS, Carmanah is public and profitable.

First American Scientific has developed a machine that renders a variety of feedstocks usable as fuel for biomass energy generation. Its Kinetic Disintegration System (KDS) Micronex pummels materials into a dust; the high-speed impact also removes a significant portion of the moisture without applying heat. Fuel diversity makes a biomass generation plant less economically dependent on one feedstock or subsidy. David Dungate, the company's marketing VP, said there are over ten KDS installations globally, and he is looking for partners to develop more projects.

EnergyVenture Northwest
The EnVenture Northwest track was a half day for investors to learn more about the Northwest's energy companies. These companies are developing clean-energy technology products that they say are more efficient, have little environmental impact and/or reduced cost of production. The technologies ranged from well-developed technologies to pre-prototype ideas.

The EnVenture session was well attended, with excellent questions posed by a panel of energy investors. All companies had been screened by a panel of investment experts and coached to give clear, concise investor presentations. (EP will report on their technologies in the coming months.)

Other collaborations

I didn't attend the Regional Academic Forum, a concurrent full-day track for academia to collaborate with industry representatives to advance energy technology R&D in the Pacific Northwest. Speakers included national laboratories and universities.

The Northwest Energy Technology Collaborative is a joint effort of business, government, non-profit and educational institutions to accelerate the emergence and growth of the energy technology industry in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. A project of the Washington Technology Center, NWETC focuses its efforts in energy technologies, R&D, and demonstration projects to promote commercialization.