Lots of Energy on Tap at MIT Energy Night

10/19/09Follow @wroush

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venture backer Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, of Menlo Park, CA, which is concerned about intellectual-property issues. (By the way, keep an eye out for another funding round for FloDesign soon.)

Levant Power—This Cambridge-based MIT spinoff, which won $10,000 in the transportation category of the MIT Clean Energy Prize competition in February, has built an advanced vehicle suspension system that captures the energy that traditional shock absorbers dissipate as heat and turns it into electricity, which can then be used to improve fuel economy. The technology recently won an Invention Award from Popular Science magazine, and the guys from the company were proudly displaying a copy of the June 2009 issue at their booth. Levant says existing vehicles can easily be retrofitted with its “GenShock” units; it’s targeting the defense and trucking industries first.

NRG Systems—Like Somerville, MA-based Second Wind, this startup in Hinesburg, VT, makes equipment that planners can use to measure wind conditions at a prospective wind-farm site. But whereas Second Wind’s devices use sound-based technology called “sodar” to detect air movement, NRG uses a light-based LIDAR system. The company brought one of its units to the Energy Night event: it’s basically a big white box with a LIDAR eye that stares upward, complete with a little windshield wiper to keep the lens clear during rainstorms. The advantage of LIDAR for wind measurement, according to an NRG staffer I spoke with, is that it can accurately profile wind speeds up to 120 meters above ground, or about twice the height of a standard wind turbine tower. With other technologies, such as traditional anemometers, technicians have to make an educated guess at windspeeds above 60 meters (which is the FAA limit for a test tower).

Trophos Energy—This Somerville startup, led by MIT mechanical engineering graduate and Sloan MBA student Michael Chiu, is developing microbial fuel cells that harvest energy from the metabolic processes of anaerobic bacteria that occur naturally in soil or seafloor sediment. A staffer told me the prototype unit can generate up to a milliwatt of electricity, enough to power periodic data transmissions by a wireless temperature and humidity sensor. (That’s comparable to the amount of power generated by Voltree’s tree-power system.) Trophos had a laptop at its display table showing live data feeds from a small network of such sensors placed around Boston; environmental monitoring could be one of the initial applications for the technology.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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