March 30th, 2012
Innovative energy and water technologies can assist to meet energy needs and address associated environmental issues both locally and globally. Strategic IP management can help these innovations succeed commercially. Against this background, the Griffith Hack Clean IP blog discusses IP developments in this area. This discussion aims to be relevant to those interested in research and development, investment, production and supply or adoption of Clean IP technologies.
We are excited by the challenges and opportunities that now present to Australian technologists – we enjoy working with them in transferring their technology globally. We also hope you find this blog provides some good links and feeds of interest. We welcome your feedback!
May 15th, 2013
Researchers at the University of Florida have developed a method to turn sugarcane bagasse (crushed-stalk waste) into succinic acid. Succinic acid is a building block chemical for pharmaceuticals, coatings and bio-degradable bags, among other things. Usually succinic acid is petroleum derived. However, the University of Florida researchers developed a new E. coli strain to genetically engineer the succinic acid from the sugarcane bagasse. Yet another way to make use of waste and avoid the need for fossil fuel consumption. Further details can be found here.
May 9th, 2013
The Korea Smart Grid Association is launching a national program to encourage and support the creation of smart grid patents that meet international standards.
This initiative is sponsored by the Korea Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) and supervised by Standard Patent Center. This program aims to promote high value-added standard patents by supporting standard patent-oriented R&D projects conducted by companies, universities and research institutes aiming to obtain patents across the world. This program is designed to form an association that will take the lead in developing technologies and standards that can form a basis for future patents. The association has an emphasis on strengthening the global competitiveness of innovative small and mid-sized businesses. Such businesses typically are not sufficiently sophisticated to deal with patent issues around the world. This initiative also emphasises technologies that can become de facto standards or “platforms” that “can enjoy both market power and monopolistic strength.”
This is a very good example of how patent offices across the world can assist to bring together stakeholders in green technologies and promote research and innovation in their respective countries. Additional reports are also available at Energy Korea, SmartGridNews and Power Insider.
Dr Andy Mukherji
April 30th, 2013
I love chemical engineering solutions that offer hope to solve the handling of carbon dioxide emissions in industrial flue gases. Texas-based start-up Skyonic has developed a process and is now building a commercial plant that turns carbon dioxide into baking soda, which can be fed to cows as antacid. The process involves electrolysing salt to produce caustic soda and chlorine (and then hydrochloric acid). The caustic soda is then used to scrub the carbon dioxide out of the flue gases to make the bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). Skyonic has secured serious funding and backers, so here’s hoping. More details can be found here.
April 23rd, 2013
According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, global investment in clean technology hit a four year low in the first quarter of 2013.
Investment in innovation, and in particular clean technology, is critical to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Segue to Israeli Professor, Daniel Shechtman. In 2011, Professor Shechtman won the Nobel Prize for chemistry, having discovered quasicrystals. In March this year, Professor Shechtman was a panellist at a Monash University open forum discussing innovation in Australia with ABC Science Show host, Robyn Williams, and the Provost of Monash, Edwina Cornish.
For over 27 years, Professor Shechtman has taught entrepreneurship to 10,000 Engineers at The Technion in Haifa. Israel invests 4.5% of its GDP into research. That’s more than double the Australian investment relative to GDP. Australia is home to a number of world leaders in scientific research when it comes to clean technology, yet the industry and its applications are taking place overseas.
In the forum, Professor Shechtman explores the difference in mindset between Israelis and Australians and provides his thoughts and recommendations on strengthening innovation in Australia. To listen to Professor Shechtman, podcast the Science Show on ABC Radio National, or download the transcript here.
April 15th, 2013
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has released a publication suggesting international reduction of energy subsidies. The IMF proposes reducing subsidies on petroleum products, electricity, coal and gas. Increased end cost of these resources would directly affect the cost of developing, implementing and commercialising clean alternatives. Indeed, the IMF states that “Removing energy subsidies… strengthens incentives for research and development in energy-saving and alternative technologies.” Although focused on the financial and social considerations, the paper also considers environmental and climate change issues. For example, a suggestion that proposed subsidy reform could reduce energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by 4.5 billion tons, or 13 per cent (points 19 and 20 and in Appendix II). You can read the full publication here.
April 10th, 2013
AltraRock Energy, a startup backed by Google, has had a major breakthrough in the economical viability of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS). Conventional geothermal energy systems produce electricity from geothermal reservoirs via naturally occurring fractures in earth’s crust. Fluid at high temperatures is pumped from the geothermal reservoir and converted to steam, which drives a turbine. In enhanced geothermal systems, naturally occurring fractures in the rock are widened by way of high pressure water pumped from the surface, thereby increasing the permeability of the rock. This allows the exploitation of geothermal energy at much deeper areas of the earth’s crust, where permeability is too low for operating conventional geothermal systems. EGS has some substantial advantages over other renewable energy sources, one of these being that it is capable of producing a constant base energy load.
AltraRock Energy’s breakthrough involves the ability to stimulate multiple geothermal zones, increasing the flow from the geothermal source and therefore the amount of energy that can be converted to electricity. While this may appear to be a small step, it is important, because it reduces the cost of the generated electricity and makes enhanced geothermal energy systems more economically viable.
Why is this relevant to Australia? Based on temperature measurements taken at a 5km depth across parts of Australia, it was estimated in 2008 that if just 1% of the measured geothermal energy was utilised it would provide Australia’s energy needs for 26,000 years. Even if this figure was overestimated (in fact, it was indicated that this was an underestimate), it is clear that this is an enormous potential energy source.
Enhanced geothermal energy, thus far, has developed slowly due to high capital costs and complex technology. It is yet to be seen whether this development will result in a viable alternative to other renewable and non-renewable energy sources. Large obstacles must still be overcome, such as the transmission of the power from remote geothermal sources. In any case, with further improvements, such as those by AltraRock, EGS may slowly become a realistic renewable energy option.
April 4th, 2013
Chemists from Brown and Yale Universities have discovered a cheaper and more sustainable way to make acrylate, an important commodity chemical used to make materials from polyester fabrics to disposable nappies. Acrylate can be made by combining carbon dioxide with ethylene gas called in the presence of nickel and other metal catalysts. CO2 is over-abundant and ethylene can be made from plant biomass. However, the obstacle is that CO2 and ethylene form a precursor molecule with a five-membered ring made of oxygen, nickel, and three carbon atoms. In order to form acrylate, the ring needs to be cracked open. The researchers have discovered that a class of chemicals called Lewis acids can easily break open the five-membered ring, allowing the molecule to form acrylate in a cheap and sustainable way. Further details can be found here.
April 2nd, 2013
Australian Cleantech Review reports that with 53,000 employees and $29 billion in revenue, the cleantech sector is larger in terms of direct employees than the automotive manufacturing industry in Australia and equal in value to a quarter of the entire Australian Manufacturing sector. Australian Cleantech Review further asserts that employees in cleantech create an average of five times more in revenue per employee than automotive or general manufacturing. The Australian Cleantech Review is published by Australian CleanTech, a research and advisory firm that works for cleantech companies, investors and governments to deliver both an understanding of and growth in the sector. Further details of the report are here.
Dr Andy Mukherji
March 26th, 2013
Most of our pencils have a core made of Graphite, a very interesting allotrope of Carbon. Graphene is a material currently attracting attention from the research community and it is nothing more than an extremely thin sheet (one atomic layer) of Graphite!
Graphene has been experimented with in recent years for various applications in microelectronics. Generally, these applications relate to contacting mechanisms and the replacement of conductive layers.
A paper published in Nature Physics by a research joint venture from Spain and Germany, explores the debut of Graphene as an active material for next-generation solar cells.
Using ultrafast time-resolved optical analysis, the authors demonstrate that the production of secondary electrons can be observed in Graphene layers. Essentially, a single high energy photon may be able to generate more than one electron-hole pair (MEG) in a Graphene layer.
In current solar cells, every photon coming from the sun with enough energy generates a single electron-hole pair and high energy photons are converted into electricity inefficiently. MEG is a crucial mechanism for improving the efficiency of solar cells. In recent years, researchers have focused their efforts on engineering new complex nanomaterials to utilise MEG in novel solar cells designs.
Frank Koppens, group leader at ICFO, stated that it is now crucial to improve the absorption of light by the Graphene layers. Once this next step is complete we will be ready to turn our pencils into ultra-high efficiency solar cells!
 K. J. Tielrooij, J. C. W. Song, S. A. Jensen, A. Centeno, A. Pesquera, A. Zurutuza Elorza, M. Bonn, L. S. Levitov & F. H. L. Koppens, “Photoexcitation cascade and multiple hot-carrier generation in graphene”, Nature Physics, 24 February, 2013.
March 22nd, 2013
As some of you may know, I’m a fan of clever clean-coal technology (even though many think “clean coal” is an oxymoron). Why? Because China and India (amongst others) keep building coal-fired power stations. Researchers at Ohio State University have recently developed a coal combustion unit that is able to produce heat from the coal while capturing 99 percent of the carbon dioxide produced in the reaction. The technology is called Coal-Direct Chemical Looping (CDCL). The process chemically harnesses the coal’s energy whilst containing the carbon dioxide produced so it need not be released to atmosphere. The researchers have discovered a way to release heat without burning the coal; the coal is consumed chemically, and any carbon dioxide is contained inside the reactor. More information can be found here.