Seattle Lab Aims To Speed Development Of Clean-Energy Tech

Feb 17, 2017

The race is on to get clean energy technologies to market, to help reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that causes global warming. A new lab at the University of Washington opened Thursday. It aims to close a critical gap in getting innovations from idea to prototype. 

The new facility is called Washington Clean Energy Testbeds. It’s a 1,500 square-foot lab inside the UW’s Clean Energy Institute, which was founded in 2013.  Director Dan Schwarz says they can now accelerate ideas that might otherwise never make it to market.

“Testbeds are the spots where engineers work the kinks out of an idea that they’ve maybe prototyped in the lab, maybe have looked at in their research labs. And now they want to see, can it really make a difference?” Schwarz said. 

Among the startups that have already signed up is a company from Denmark, FOM Technologies, that can print paper-thin solar cells on flexible plastic sheeting at a fraction of the cost of traditional solar panels.

"This technology is in a race against time," said FOM's CEO Martin Kiener. "We can’t wait 50 years for this technology to evolve. The poles are going faster than anyone would expect, the climate change has dramatic impacts on everybody’s lives. So the access to testbeds is something that’s lacking around the world.”

 

Also here are several new companies working on energy storage, including Battery Informatics. It’s maximizing the efficiency of lithium ion batteries with an electronic panel that manages power output. It caught the eye of Governor Jay Inslee as he toured the lab.

"You talked about this being self-learning ... How does this work?" Inslee asked the company's co-founder, Matt Murbach. 

"So the self-learning part is really cool because what it does is it lets us just stick this on to any battery and learn the type of parameters that are used to control that battery," Murbach said. "So, we've shown that you can double the battery's lifetime." 

Murbach is a fourth-year grad student in chemical engineering at UW. He says the test beds concept is great because it surrounds them with others working on similar challenges and encourages collaboration.  

“And it’s also just a really good way of having access to equipment. A lot of this equipment is really expensive,” he said. "And for startup like us, we might want to use it for a week or two, but we don’t want to pay the half a million dollars or whatever it is to actually purchase the equipment, or we can’t.”

They can rent it here.

Ultimately, Washington Clean Energy Testbeds expects to become a round-the-clock operation with dozens of clean-tech entrepreneurs signing up to rent the space and equipment.

Leaders from the lab are headed to California next week to spread the word about the new facility, which is one of just a few of its kind around the world.