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Innovating energy: How can we make clean, democratic energy from trash?

We’ve been talking more and more about innovation here at CFI.

There are fewer systems in our world that need huge innovations more than our energy systems:

-we need cleaner energy that doesn’t drive climate change;

-more people need reliable access to energy;

-we need distributed sources of energy generation that democratise energy by letting people generate their own power;

-and we need new options for new forms of renewable power to diversify our energy portfolio.

All Power Labs of Berkeley, California is working on innovating solutions to these challenges. (A great background on the company and an interview with co-founder Jim Mason can be found here.)

I was fortunate enough to tour their shop in Berkeley this week, seeing first-hand the climate of creativity and innovation that their shop/ hack-space foments. Old iterations of their technologies greet you as you enter, with the formidable 100 kW Powertainer demo not far away.

All Power Labs – who is refreshingly 100% self-funded - is now focusing on developing the Power Pallet: a 20 kW wood gasification electricity generator that offers huge potential to rural people around the world. The fifth generation of their Power Pallet technology turns sources of biomass- wood chips, corn cobs, nut shells, etc. – into electricity. Using gasification technology and producing 20kW of electricity, these units could easily provide power for several households or a small village, run a small sawmill, processing facility, or be paired up to run larger operations.

By focusing on such a small scale solution, the Power Pallet is unlike anything else on the market by at least half a million dollars. It is easier for a small biomass plant like this to be clean and genuinely green, as it can make use of small amounts of locally sourced fuels that are often treated as a waste product. Costing between USD $30,000 and $40,000, they are affordable to the small business or individual, meaning that more people will be able to afford them. In so doing, people gain control of their own energy sources, freeing them of the yolk of power monopolies and global commodity markets.

All Power Labs sees the Power Pallet as the ideal energy solution for places where people are currently lacking secure access to the grid and need industrial sources of electricity. Places like rural Africa, Southeast Asia and remote parts of Canada’s north would find the Power Pallet a welcome reprieve from increasingly expensive diesel generation.

With time and further refinement the Power Pallet could be used throughout rural communities in the Maritimes, making use of local sources of biomass from sources like well managed small woodlots, tree trimming jobs or farming operations.

All Power Labs is one of my favorite examples of how entrepreneurs, driven by creativity, their values and pure challenge are innovating the solutions to some of the most difficult challenges of our time.

What other innovations are you seeing in the energy sector? Whats your favorite example of innovation setting us up for a clean and abundant future?

PS- Here, Mr. Bill O’Reily, bastion and herald of Fox News conservatism in the states, shares one of his favorites giving an unlikely plug to one of the sexiest companies around today (skip to 1:35 for the beginnings of his take on climate change and Tesla).

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