They sound like sci-fi, but these new technologies could become mainstream [video]

Technicians working in lab (Courtesy of Cyclotron Road)
Cyclotron Road seeks to take technologies out of the lab and move them into the marketplace. (Courtesy photo)

Homeowners looking to make their homes more energy-efficient may soon be able to buy inexpensive coating that they paint on their windows. Special “carpets” on the ocean floor will someday generate electricity.

These are just some of the projects underway at Cyclotron Road at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab in California, where top entrepreneurial researchers are developing cutting-edge clean energy technology. Its mission is to “define a new innovation pathway.”

Engineers, business specialists and industry partners work together at the facility so that breakthrough science and entrepreneurship can develop side by side. Projects are varied, using an array of natural energy resources.

Here’s a sampling of the work being done there:

  • The Calwave project aims to convert ocean waves into electricity by carpeting select areas on the ocean floor with special piston pumps. As waves move over the pumps, electricity is generated. This Wave Carpet technology is durable and can survive stormy seas, so it won’t break apart and cause pollution or collide with wildlife.
  • The goal of Iris PV is to “blanket rooftops and fields across the world” with highly efficient solar panels. The team has combined silicon — currently used alone in solar panels — with the mineral perovskite to better absorb sunlight. Tests show that this “tandem” solar panel increases power output up to 50 percent.
  • The polySpectra team has found a cheap way for people to improve the energy efficiency of windows, simply by applying a heat-reflective coating. The coating reflects the sun’s heat away from the building. “Instead of hiring expensive contractors, a homeowner could go to the local hardware store, buy the coating, and paint it on,” lead scientist Raymond Weitekamp said.
  • Opus12 is one of the teams at Cyclotron Road transforming carbon dioxide capture from the air into liquid fuels, such as ethanol. The project was founded at Stanford University. Opus 12 is competing for the $20 million X-Prize to develop ways to turn carbon dioxide into useful materials by 2020. Research elsewhere has turned carbon into stone and building materials.

These and other innovative startups have attracted significant funding and attention. Some of the scientists have made the Forbes magazine “30 under 30” list for achievements in energy. Their projects are gaining more attention, particularly after the 2015 Paris climate treaty, which calls for sharp emissions reductions to combat global warming.

Cyclotron Road is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. The work also gets grants from the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, the National Science Foundation and global oil giant Shell, among others.