'Model T of wind energy'? Accio Energy lands $250,000 DARPA contract
Ann Arbor-based Accio Energy recently won a $250,000 federal contract to continue developing its potentially revolutionary wind energy device, which would generate electricity without the moving parts associated with a traditional wind turbine.
Accio General Manager Jeff Basch said the firm received the contract with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to continue the design and creation of its prototype device.
“It’s a real vote of confidence in us,” Basch said.
Basch said Accio (pronounced AK-SEE-OH) is considering expanding its laboratory facilities 5-fold to support the startup company’s growth. He declined to discuss the company’s personnel count but said the firm is hiring engineers.
The contract comes as Accio executives have been reluctant to
discuss the details behind their potentially explosive technology until
the “aerovoltaic” device is ready for a wider spotlight. The technology has yet to be proved on a wide scale.
But Accio President Dawn White, who also founded Ann Arbor-based defense technology firm Solidica, recently revealed some details about the technology in a speech to an entrepreneurial group in Detroit.
A video of the 10-minute TEDx Detroit speech, recently posted to YouTube, also includes a visual sketch of what the wind energy device will look like. (Fast-forward to the 5:20 mark.)
Accio executives have said they believe their device could generate electricity at twice the rate per square meter of solar panels.
Among the details White revealed:
-The device, which wouldn’t using any moving parts or generate noise, uses the wind to separate electrical charges on thin engineered tubes and create electricity.
“Opposing electrical charges, just like magnets, are attracted to each other,” White said. “It takes energy to pull those charges apart. That energy is provided by the wind and we convert it directly to electricity in the same way that a solar panel takes sunlight. And we convert that directly into a current. It’s very much like what happens inside a thunderstorm actually.”
-The device, which could be molded into a variety of shapes, could generate 1 kilowatt of electricity per hour using 640 inches of engineered tube. That would be enough to provide about 20 percent of a typical home's power for a year, according to various energy organizations. White said it might be possible to manufacturing the tubes at existing Michigan facilities for 1 cent per inch.
“That tube is fabricated into panels and then those panels are assembled, and out of them you can create something with custom size and capacity,” she said. “You can kind of look at this like being the ‘Model T’ of wind energy. We can apply automotive mass production manufacturing ideas to creating non-turbine wind energy and do it using technology we have here in our place at low cost.”
Accio’s wind energy device, like solar panels, would be modular.
“You could put one on the roof or you could put a million in the Mojave Desert. It’s the same fundamental technology,” Basch said.
Among the largest potential sources of revenue is off-shore wind developers.
“Putting this technology in close proximity to the population who are concerned with issues associated with traditional turbines is a very attractive market,” Basch said.
As part of the DARPA contract, Accio will work with Tuscon, Ariz.-based Applied Energetics Inc. to address power conditioning issues associated with the wind energy device. Accio will also develop a study on how its device could be used as a portable power solution for solders.
Accio is still reluctant to discuss the history behind its technology. Accio’s scientific developers have said they’re enhancing intellectual property that expired years ago, which would lead to competitive concerns that the technology could be duplicated elsewhere.
The basics of the technology, however, have impressed experts. The National Science Foundation in February distributed a $97,000 grant to Accio in an award generally seen as a validation of the device’s technological concepts.
The company also received $80,000 in early-stage venture capital financing from the student-run Frankel Commercialization Fund at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.