Ken Silverstein Senior Contributor
During peak load, the price of electricity can spike 5 to 10 times, forcing building managers to adjust temperatures and setting off thermostat wars. But the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has created a grid-integrated personal heating and cooling system that adjusts the temperature and air quality at the workstation — an intelligent hub that sits on the desk. The hub also integrates with a “smart desk chair” with personalized temperature controls.
While scientists have developed a prototype, the technology needs the entrepreneurial spirit to get it from the lab to the market. It could improve energy efficiency by 20%. At the same time, it could dramatically cut costs compared to time-of-use grid pricing.
U.S. national labs foster many promising ideas — intellectual property and technology that can take decades to commercialize. The private sector is also spending money on projects that may never see the light of day or those that come with more hype than hope. The goal is to marry up the climate solutions nurtured by America’s scientists with the country’s great business thinkers. Indeed, the “Cradle to Commerce” (C2C) initiative aims to accelerate encouraging technologies at the scale and speed necessary to address climate change.
“We are trying to avoid ‘greenwash solutions,’” says C2C Director Reshma Singh, in an interview with this writer. “We incubate complex but scientifically validated solutions. We provide a basket of support for entrepreneurs to commercialize these solutions. We hand over the process so they can get to the market faster.”
Cradle to Commerce curates the most compelling climate technologies from four national labs, connecting inventors and entrepreneurs with risk takers and mentors. C2C’s offerings include entrepreneurship training, seed funding, and access to world-class national lab resources, including myriad test beds and prototyping facilities.
The goal is to take one climate technology, such as the intelligent workspace hubs, from the lab to market in three years and get at least three ideas commercialized in five years instead of decades. The focus areas:
Buildings: to increase energy-efficiency to promote decarbonization. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is leading the effort.
Renewables: to harness the clean energy sources for the masses. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is heading the effort.
Grid Modernization and Energy Storage: to reduce emissions and enhance energy grid resilience and reliability. The Argonne National Lab is doing great work in this area.
Nuclear: to drive reliable zero-emissions clean energy. The Idaho National Laboratory is leading the charge to next-gen technologies.
“America’s economy and national security – as well as the health and safety of our citizens – depend on the reliable delivery of electricity,” says Singh, who is also the senior advisor at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office. “The United States electric infrastructure is aging and hammered by increasingly frequent and devastating climate events. Modernizing the grid to make it ‘smarter’ and more resilient through cutting-edge energy technologies can deliver electricity more reliably and efficiently toward a net zero future.”
Spiking the Ball
Consider grid modernization and energy storage: lithium-ion batteries are prevalent today because they have greater density and allow more energy storage — batteries used for electric vehicles and grid balancing. Recycling includes shredding, grinding, and pyrolysis of the materials is energy intensive and leaves a significant environmental footprint. But the Quick-Release Binder eliminates these steps and the production of toxic gasses by using water processes for manufacturing and recycling.
If it sells, the technology will facilitate the use of green energy storage and support the circular economy — the global effort to recycle or reuse products instead of sending them to landfill.
Along those lines, the Argonne National Lab’s lithium-air battery uses a solid — not liquid — electrolyte, boosting the battery’s energy density by a factor of four. That increases the driving range of electric vehicles. Even more, electric vehicle charging stations integrate with modernized electric grids that can carry more green electrons, creating a solid one-two punch — powering cars and providing backup electricity to homes and businesses.
Major companies license some of the lab’s battery technologies, including General MotorsGM -1%, LG Chem, and BASF. And Commonwealth Edison is partnering with Argonne to modernize the grid and ensure greater access to clean energy. But the labs, generally, need entrepreneurs to adopt their blossoming climate technologies.
Take the Berkeley Lab, which has also developed a clean and efficient way to heat and cool homes and buildings, similar to applying salt to driveways to melt the ice: The lab says its technology could phase out “vapor compression” systems, which use gases that lead to global warming.
“The scientists have spent 10 years developing prototypes,” says C2C Director Singh. “The investors get three layers of checks and balances before inventions are handed off to them: incubators, innovation, and pathways. The meetings between the scientists and entrepreneurs start virtually before they physically meet. The climate is a global issue, requiring the free flow of capital to solve the problem.”
No one wants good ideas to languish. And no one wants to bankroll the next big flop. That’s why the C2C provides a matchmaking service introducing members of the business and science communities to get the most credible ideas into the market as soon as possible. One team has broken through the defense and brought the ball to midfield while the other’s job is to get in the end zone — private-public partnerships that can strengthen America’s position in the world.