Accio Energy, With New CEO, Uses Physics to Harvest Wind Energy Without Turbines

9/22/10Follow @xconomy

It’s hard to hear the term “wind power” without picturing the giant, bladed turbines that are currently used to generate this kind of renewable energy.

Ann Arbor, MI-based Accio Energy is trying to shake this up. The company is using fundamental physics to produce wind power without turbines—a transformation that could make wind energy more widespread and easier to deploy, says Jennifer Baird, who joined the company as CEO just last week. (Baird is no newcomer to Accio, though, having worked on a part-time basis at the company for a stint earlier this year.)

Accio‘s (pronounced ACK-ee-o) method hinges on flat panels that spray an electrically charged mist of water into a windy area. “That charged mist is a screen and the wind is pushing against that screen and doing work,” she says. Baird didn’t give too many details on how exactly it works, but essentially the device separates the charged water particles and creates an electric current that can be harvested. And the wind’s movement produces more energy than it takes to get the particles charged, Baird says.

While traditional turbines require significant planning, space, and maintenance to harvest wind energy, Accio says its technology can be easily scaled, since it all relies on the flat-panel units (check out this report for a picture of the devices). The “aerovoltaic” system can be expanded by linking additional panels together, to accommodate larger areas and generate more energy, Baird says.

The main challenge to the system is the water supply that’s required to create the charged mist. But Baird says that’s less of a burden than it might appear to be on the surface. “The really scarce resource is clean drinking water; [The Accio system] can use lots of other versions of water,” like unpurified or wastewater, she says,

Baird says this method of using fundamental physics to generate usable wind energy was first explored during the energy crisis of the 1970s, but that other elements weren’t in place to allow it to take off, such as computer systems that could enable the real-time modeling of environments and energy outputs. “This is very, very complex physics,” she says.

Accio, founded in 2007, has attracted a total of $2 million in seed funding, grants, and research contracts from organizations like the Michigan Public Service Commission, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Earlier this summer, the company received $250,000 in seed-stage money from Automation Alley, the Michigan technology business association. The startup also counts EDF Ventures managing director and founder Mary Campbell as an angel investor and board member.

Accio, which has eight employees, is still tweaking and testing its product before it goes pitching it to customers. The technology seems like a big bet at this point, but one with big payoffs if it works. In the meantime, Baird is ramping up to start raising a Series A financing round. She most recently served as president and CEO of Ann Arbor-based Accuri Cytometers, a life sciences instrument company that she co-founded and saw grow from two employees to 80, when she left in February.

“I enjoy this phase when you’re trying to break all the rules,” she says of Accio’s potential to transform the wind energy space. “It’s the kind of thing that just gets me enthusiastic.”

Ultimately, it’s about streamlining something that has been seen as clunky and complex to the end user, Baird says. “Making a wind turbine is like making an airplane,” she says. “We’re using the technology that looks more like an automobile, not as complex to build. It’s a real opportunity to contribute to the renewable energy field.”

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  • anne cooper

    I liked this article as it is more indepth about the technology and the science. It helped my understanding. I appreciate too that all types of water are potential for use with the product.

    I hope it succeeds because its seeming portability and unobtrusiveness are benefits.

  • William Dieter

    The theory is sound. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.