-Reed Phillips, CEO, Energystics
Vibrational Technology: The Renewable Energy Wave of the Future
Imagine a renewable source of consistent, continuous vertical motion that generates kinetic energy. Then imagine a technology that can harvest that vibrational energy. Finally, imagine that harvested energy connected to a specially designed linear electric generator that can produce clean alternative energy with decreased carbon emissions and lower energy production costs while reducing hydrocarbon imports.
That was the research goal of Dr. Reed Phillips, CEO of Energystics Ltd, whose company is a member of CEBIP. And the result of his research is the Vibristor® device.
But to understand the challenges of developing this technology, a brief background summary is necessary. As Reed explained, typical electrical generators work by moving a magnetic field close to a wire that causes electrons in the wire to start moving, thereby producing electricity.
“That’s the way that every generator in the universe works: you move magnets up against a coil of wire,” he said. “All our electricity comes from that type of arrangement: a rotary energy that harvests rotational energy from something that is moving: whether it’s hot air, water from a dam. That gives you the 60 cycle alternating current that’s part of our grid.”
But take a source of vertical movement—waves, for example—and the challenge of translating vertical motion into electricity becomes immediately apparent. While the process has been achieved in some common systems—for instance, the vertical movement of pistons that, via the transmission system, cause car tires to rotate—you need a linear generator to produce the energy from renewable sources such as the ocean waves.
And while many variations of these types of generators have been developed over the years, “their efficiency is very low,” said Reed. “You have to do a lot of shaking to get a little bit of current. No one so far has been able to develop a device that is simple enough, reliable enough and cheap enough to, on a continuous basis, convert mechanical vibrational energy of ocean waves to electrical energy for the grid.”
But that didn’t stop Reed from trying, and indeed, he holds eight patents on his linear generator, with yet another application recently submitted on the only linear electrical generator to his knowledge that can be submerged in the ocean for extended periods of time without the use of any seals or mechanical devices to keep it water-free.
Another unique aspect of his wave technology project is that he eschews the “bigger is better” philosophy for one that focuses on “small and many”: multiple small “energy harvesters” laid out carpet-fashion across the ocean surface. Not only is that more efficient, said Reed, it’s also easier to repair. “If one of those small machines went down, you pluck it right out like changing a battery on your cell phone, put the new generator in and you’re good to go. Meanwhile, while you are making those changes, the other 999 are still working.”
This wave energy concept is just one aspect of his vibrational energy research, which can be adapted to any source of vibrational energy. Along the way, there were both good surprises, such as a significant improvement in efficiency and electricity output, and impediments.
“Most of the time you run into a setback that squashes the whole thing,” Reed said. “Once I made a list of the number of technical issues that I had to solve to make this work, and it came out to be about 65 different issues. But we solved them all, and each time we solved a problem we got better”—the “we” in this case including Masoud Masoumi, the engineer who created all the computer simulations that verify how the linear generator works. “The work he has done for me is invaluable,” said Reed.
Another challenge involved time constraints, since Reed was a two-career person: one as an applied physicist and the second as a medical oncologist. But having retired from the latter at the end of 2017, Reed is now free to pursue his research full-time.
And as he continues, Reed will be drawing more on CEBIP for support and expertise, especially when it comes time to seek outside investors to commercialize his project. Like other companies seeking funding, Reed will take advantage of the opportunity to get feedback from the CEBIP Advisory Board on his presentation before meeting with potential investors. He also lauds the networking, legal advice and grant-writing assistance that CEBIP provides, adding, “The amount of benefit they provide is awesome. It’s one of most efficiently run operations that I’ve seen.”
In the meantime, he will continue developing his renewable energy technology, until it becomes the “wave” of the future.