Chicago startup secures patents for redesigned electrical component

A Chicago-area startup has secured intellectual property rights related to its redesign of a critical component found inside solar inverters and wind turbines. More on Caporus, after today’s tech headlines…

🚌 TRANSPORTATION: A $40 million federal grant hasn’t transformed Columbus, Ohio, into the transportation innovation hub that was expected, but city officials say they have made progress, the Columbus Dispatch reports. Meanwhile, Grist reports that Lincoln, Nebraska, is among the cities turning to on-demand programs called microtransit in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

🔬 FUEL CELLS: Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis are studying fuel cells that operate on a liquid fuel that doesn’t need to be pressurized the way hydrogen does, “eliminating one of the most troublesome aspects of conventional fuel cells,” CleanTechnica reports. The fuel cell the team has developed also produces twice the voltage of hydrogen fuel cells.

💦 FUSION ENERGY: University of Iowa professors have created a 10-year strategic plan for plasma physics and fusion-energy research, the Daily Iowan reports. The main fuel component is isotopes of hydrogen found in seawater. The report sets a goal of building a demonstration fusion power plant in the 2040s.

🤝 PARTNERSHIP: Ohio’s BRITE Energy Innovators is the first U.S. energy and cleantech startup incubator to partner with a Japanese energy competition that helps early-stage companies get a foothold in one of the world’s largest electricity markets, the Youngstown Vindicator reports. BRITE expects six to eight of its portfolio companies to apply to be a part of the Japan Energy Challenge.

Now back to Caporus

Founder Kevin O’Connor told me he is working on a unique design for a dielectric, which act as electrical insulators in capacitors. (Need an explainer on capacitors? YouTube to the rescue!) Renewable energy represents a large growth market for capacitors. “We’re shifting our whole generation and distribution of electric power, and power conversion really plays a big role in that. Capacitors play a big role in the power conversion process,” O’Connor said.

THE TECHNOLOGY:  Most dielectrics rely on ceramics or plastic films, but Caporus is working on a dielectric in which the energy is stored in free space, or a vacuum. The technology is a nanostructure composite, which allows operation in extreme conditions such as high heat.

THE IMPACT: The dielectric’s unique structure optimizes the process and allows it to push a capacitor’s capabilities beyond what others can do. “You can store a lot more energy in a given volume and it's also much less dependent on environmental factors like high temperature operation,” O’Connor said. Caporus’ dielectrics could enable capacitors to be smaller and to operate at higher temperatures.   

WHAT’S NEXT: Caporus is in its research and development phase but recently hit two key milestones. The first was securing the intellectual property rights. The second was demonstrating that it can produce the dielectric material in a scalable manner. The goal for the remainder of 2020 is to further expand the dielectric technology and build relationships with industry partners to do trials and create full-scale capacitor prototypes. Convincing manufacturers to take a chance on a novel material instead of what they have been using for decades will be one of the major challenges to commercialization, O’Connor said.

Do you know of other startups in the Midwest developing technologies that optimize energy use and storage? Send news tips, press releases, and feedback to katie@centered.tech or connect on Twitter @centereddottech.


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