A green, renewable alternative to nuclear power?
Green technology may be hot right now, but as Joe Sieber, Sc’64, can tell you, it takes some green—in the form of cold, hard cash—to bring to market even the best green energy idea.
Joe has invented a way to extract energy from the waves found on any large body of water—oceans, seas, or lakes. His patented technology is simple, reliable, efficient, renewable, low-cost, and environmentally friendly. It offers the possibility of an endless supply of high-pressure compressed air, which can be used to drive electrical generators to power homes and businesses, desalinate sea water, or power hydrogen fuel cells.
Despite the possibilities, Joe hasn’t yet been able to bring his invention it to market.
The reason? “Money,” he says. “This isn’t a widget that you can build in your backyard. I’m retired, and I don’t have the kind of money needed to build a prototype. I can’t take advantage of government funding programs because I need to have a certain amount of capital to quality. I’ve had some inquiries from private investors, but so far I don’t have a deal in place.”
Part of the problem may be that Joe’s invention looks almost too good to be true. The schematic drawings depict a system that’s so simple that even a non-engineer is left to wonder why no one has thought it if before. The genesis of the idea, like so many great ideas, was one of those “Eureka!” moments that every technically minded person dreams of one day having.
“I was at a friend’s cottage, and I was watching the boats at the dock bob up and down in the waves when I began to wonder if maybe there wasn’t some way of capturing the enormous amount of energy that causes boats and ships to move around so easily when they’re tried up or at anchor.”
Joe, who’s an electrical engineer by training and spent his career working in the Toronto area with the old Northern Electric, North York Hydro, and Brampton Hydro, says he has always “something of a handyman.” In fact, he says he probably should have been a mechanical engineer because that’s where his aptitudes lie. When he thought about how to harness the power of the waves, he came up with an ingenious system that involves a super-efficient network of floats and cylinders that produce compressed air.
“Each stage in a series creates the unique ambient atmosphere for the next stage, allowing each stage to compress air at a low compression ratio and with equal efficiency,” Joe explains. “At 1:5:1 compression ratio, the 10th stage of an array delivers 850 psia compressed air. This can be accumulated from multiple arrays, making this technology like that of a hydraulic system.” It’s this air that can be used to drive electrical generators.
“I patented the technology in 1994 and 1995,” says Joe. “But I retired in 1994 with my wife Lynda and we settled in Qualcom Beach on Vancouver Island. I was busy landscaping our new home, and so I didn’t do much with my invention. It’s only in the last year or two, with all the talk of the need for renewable energy, that I’ve started to rev things up again.”
Joe and his brother Stephen, Sc’78, and two other partners have formed their own company, Solar Inspired Energy Inc., and they’re hopeful they will soon come up with the capital to build a full-size working demonstration prototype of Joe’s “SIE-CAT wave energy accumulator technology.” There was an article about the invention in September/October 2009 issue of Engineering Dimensions magazine, and there has been other media interest, too.
“I believe we have the technology refined to the point that once we have the money to build the prototype, we can have it up and working within a year,” says Joe. “This is not rocket science. The parts, materials, and technology we need to build it are all readily available. That’s the real beauty of it.”
For more information and to view an animation showing how Joe’s invention works, check out his company’s web site at www.wave-energy-accumulator.com.
Please note: this is a reprint of an article that appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of the Alumni Review.