Getting clean energy into high gear at MIT (photos)
The annual MIT Energy Conference shows off technologies under development--many from MIT spinoffs--ranging from wind to tidal power to hybrid cars.
BOSTON--This could be a replacement for dirty diesel generators. It's a scaled-down model of an inflatable wind turbine from Altaeros Technologies, shown at the MIT Energy Conference held over the weekend here. The idea is to have an inflatable shroud around a 100-kilowatt turbine blade and lift the turbine to higher than 600 feet to capture stronger winds. The company intends to market the device for off-grid applications, such as the military or other remote spots.
Burt Hammer from Seattle-based Hydrovolts shows off a hydrokinetic turbine designed specifically for man-made canals. Canals are an interesting place to harvest energy because the turbines can be installed without lengthy environmental studies to monitor the effect on aquatic life, Hammer said. The company's plan is to build three sizes, with the largest able to fit into a shipping container and generate 10 kilowatts of power.
A look at the generator inside the Hydrovolts hydrokinetic turbine. The company can adjust the blades of the turbine to different canal conditions and water speeds. It hopes to market the device to farms or other land owners with canals. The power can be used on site or, if there are net metering laws, be fed back onto the grid for credit.
Here is a cut-away of the turbine and a model (behind, on table) of Free Flow Power's tidal turbine. The company's strategy is to sell these to dam operators to capture more energy at those locations and to install its hydrokinetic turbines in rivers where the flowing current can generate electricity.
Flex Energy has designed a power generator that works with fuels that are low in energy content, such as the gas from closed landfills or residual biogas from anaerobic digesters. Rather than by work by combustion, the fuel is oxidized at low temperature to operate the generator. That means that it could work with gases not suited for a typical generator or microturbine and its emissions are cleaner, according to the company.
If you're going to sell hybrids purely for money savings, fleet operators are a good customer. XL Hybrids, founded by MIT students, has developed a system and business model around retrofitting existing cars, and later vans, to operate as hybrids. A generator is attached under the car and a battery in the trunk, giving fleet owners better mileage and fuel savings.
7AC Technologies is working on improving building efficiency with better air conditioning. This is a photo of a desiccant which removes moisture from the air in what the company says is a more efficient method than commercial air conditioners. The AC can also be paired with solar panels.
One way to address what Bill Ford calls the coming "global gridlock" of travel in cities is to rethink the automobile. An MIT project called CityCar does that by designing electric vehicles which can be shared inside cities and folded up to take less space. This model shows the heavy reliance on technology this system would have.
Energy storage is one area that has seen a great deal of research and development. But it's not all about better batteries. Here is a model of a flywheel power generation station, two of which are now connected to the grid in the U.S. The flywheels (the cylinders) spin continually and convert that to quick bursts of electricity which are fed into the grid. The main application is for frequency regulation, which requires anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes of power to maintain an even balance between grid supply and demand. What's currently used are natural gas plants.