Evening organizers Anthony Buehrer of SmartShape and Doug Paige of CIA welcomed the enthusiastic crowd and introduced the Town Hall topics and the entrepreneurs who are tackling the themes in unique ways.
Theme 1: Energy Storage & Getting off the Grid
Imagine lighting units smart enough to store energy during non-peak usage times and savvy enough to go off the power grid (operating from stored energy) at highest peak times. That's the vision of Wireless Environment, a Cleveland-based company founded in 2007.
Company co-founder and President, David Levine, explained how their solution combines LEDs, integrated batteries, and patented sensors to achieve this objective. "The biggest issue for power companies is trying to meet the ever-increasing demands at peak usage times," said Levine. "That's a major reason they have to keep building more power plants." He envisions a time when they'll sell power much cheaper per kilowatt at non-peak, creating a market for devices that buy power off-peak and store it for use later. The solution Levine presented provides 24/7 light output, while reducing ongoing operational costs. If enough of the market migrated to this kind of approach it would be possible to flatten out the peak energy demand, reduce the need for more power plants and achieve significant financial and environmental benefits.
Doren contextualized his vision by giving an overview of small space design from Buckminster Fuller's 1929 Dymaxion House, and Ken Issacs' 1974 Microhouse, to more recent "Microtecture"-inspired structures, one a teepee, another built on the bed of a small truck.
His vision is a solution that encompasses reclaimed materials, low land impact, remarkable affordability (both up-front and operational costs) and easy mobility.
In the breakout session that followed, the assembled team generated many ideas around sustainable features and construction methods for micro-homes. They discussed how the small house movement is particularly compatible with the transient lifestyles of the younger generation.
Theme 3. Implementing EV Charging Stations into Transportation Infrastructure
Everybody wants an electric car but the big challenge continues to be how far a vehicle can go on one charge and how to charge the vehicle away from home.
As Director of Product Development for Recharge Power, King Heiple lives and breathes these questions every day. His company creates charging stations for commercial applications, meaning pretty much anywhere that's not your garage at home.
Heiple shared a market overview projecting that up to 2.4 million electric vehicles will be on the road in the US by 2015. Noting that "range anxiety" is the primary consumer barrier to buying an electric vehicle, he reinforced the importance of readily available charging stations in locations where people are already going. "Drivers have to feel safe about not getting stranded because they're out of power," said King.
Unlike the time required to fill a tank with gas, an electric car requires hours to recharge so charging stations must be located at convenient places where drivers will be leaving vehicles for at least a little while. Recharge Power already has 36 stations installed around Cleveland, even though only one vehicle is currently in use in the area.
Topics of discussion in the breakout session included the specific design challenges of a power cable that is both easy to connect to the car and able to withstand unsupervised public use.
Paige is working on this project with classmates ("Team Mangrove") in the biomimicry certification program offered by the Biomimicry Institute. Asking participants to remember their high school lessons on the water cycle, Paige said the challenge is to devise ways that humans can use water and return it to the water cycle in good condition, "like a library book."
Three CIA students also shared their ventures into sustainable products design:
CIA student Alex Starinsky set out to create an amplification device that requires no electronics or electricity to operate. His concept is the Amplifone, a ceramic unit that acts as an audio amplifier for a cell phone, iPod or similar device.
Inspired by Edison's early phonograph and the Victrola, his Amplifone adds a second parabolic surface suspended above the first, creating an additional resonance chamber. The user simply places the iPod in a slot at the bottom of the device and the Amplifone bounces the sound out into the room. Alex's idea is a zero-electronic, zero-electric solution for the environmentally responsible consumer.
Savannah Eby presented her "e.courier" sustainable messenger bag concept with a nod to greater convenience and log-term usability. The beautifully designed bag is made from hemp, a biodegradable material which she said grows using 30% less water than cotton.
Andrew Schad deconstructed a store-bought dehumidifier and found it had more than 125 parts, not including the compressor and condenser. His version would use thermoelectric technology, a heat sink and a cold sink, to compress the humidity from air without using toxic refrigerants. Water would collect in clear vase-like vessel that could be used to water houseplants.
In the breakout session, talk turned to the need for more "heirloom consumer products"—items that are durable, timeless in design, and are passed on to future generations.
Post written Leo Zimmerman, with contributions by Ann McGuire
Photos by Madeline Hoyle and Rob Muller