Two Innovations in Low Carbon Tech & How to Fund More

We travelled to Shoreham for a morning of talks and networking on 20th April with the Low Carbon Technology Showcase, organised by Sustainable Business Partnership for the Green Growth Platform. This post is a round-up of what we found most interesting from each of the three talks.

The PowerFrame by Saunders Energy, running on tidal and micro hydro power

The PowerFrame by Saunders Energy, running on tidal and micro hydro power

Adrian Moss from  local company Saunders Energy talked about their company story and how they generate clean green energy from rivers. The initial idea was sparked back in 2009 and they started the business after some basic testing in 2011. Their flagship ‘PowerFrame’ product is now commercially available. They have been doing detailed testing in the river Arun and just one PowerFrame unit generates enough renewable energy to power three average households. Even better, Adrian explained that while the river Arun is a good location, the PowerFrame could actually produce considerably more power if placed in a large fast-flowing one-directional river – as the flow is constant and not affected by daily tidal cycles. An interesting quirk of the design, which can work in-stream or in tidal areas, is that you can potentially claim two types of government subsidy: one for hydro power and also one for tidal power. We wouldn’t advise basing any long-term decisions on that benefit though, as the Conservative government has shown itself to be rather ruthless when it comes to cutting spending on renewable energy incentives. A potentially more exciting benefit of Saunders Energy’s product is that hydro and tidal power are exceptionally reliable sources of renewable energy – something which has been a consistent challenge for solar and wind. Additionally, hydro power – while renewable – has often come under criticism from environmental groups because it usually involves large-scale damming of rivers which has a drastic impact on the river habitat and local wildlife. The PowerFrame is a compact and low-impact turbine-based technology that doesn’t dam or block the river, being only 2.8m high, 5.3m wide and 3.6m long. The turbine itself sits within a mesh cage which prevents fish from being killed or debris from clogging the turbine.

Saltwater battery by Aquion. (Image does not include Circuitree controls system).

Saltwater battery by Aquion. (Image does not include Circuitree controls system).

The second talk was by James Dean of Circuitree, another local green tech start-up. James’ company also tackles the unreliability of renewable energy, but in a completely different way: Circuitree prefers the solar + batteries method for stable clean power. Of course, most batteries whether acid-based or lithium ion-based have many issues – such as being highly toxic, incredibly difficult to recycle and relying on mined resources from the Global South which are unsustainable, finite and sometimes linked to human rights abuses. Circuitree have teamed up with American company Aquion which has developed a very innovative new type of battery. James explained how these batteries are based on clever chemistry to do with saltwater – and are totally non-toxic, non-flammable, non-corrosive, made of abundant materials, easy to recycle and durable – lasting eight to 16 years. Amazing, huh? The only catch is they’re three times the size of lithium-ion batteries. But that’s not really a big deal, considering the other benefits, and the fact that they are tall rather than wide. The role of Circuitree is taking these clean batteries to the next level by developing smart energy management and monitoring controls. The Circuitree system automatically diverts surplus solar power to the battery and accesses it again on cloudy days or at night, while also providing a web-enabled graphic user interface so energy production and consumption can be monitored live and over time. It’s a neat solution as the problem with solar power has always been that the peak production is in the middle of the day while peak consumption is in the mornings and evenings – when most working people are at home. They have only done three pilot domestic installations so far, and the result was households using 78% of their solar power rather than a mere 26%.

Finally, the last talk of the half-day session was from Sandra Dicker from RIFT R&D Tax Credits on how small and medium businesses can claim back money from the government for their innovation. She started with the impressive statistic that RIFT has claimed a total of over £100 million for their clients. Then she stunned the room with another: out of the 1.6 million British SMEs that are eligible for these tax credits, only a minuscule 0.13% have claimed! In response to our collective disbelief, Sandra explained that most business owners simply don’t know these funds are available. (The government certainly don’t advertise it). Or, of the small proportion that are aware of R&D tax credits, many assume they are aimed purely at tech and engineering firms, so their business will not be eligible. In reality the sector doesn’t matter: what matters is if you are developing something that will move your sector forward by dealing with new and uncertain technology or finding new ways of utilising and combining existing technology. Having said that, Sandra did stress that the advisory document for which companies are and are not eligible is around 400 pages long – so best to talk to a consultant rather than wading through that alone!

All in all, it was a very interesting day and we are looking forward to attending other events like this and learning about innovation in low-carbon technology.


What do you think of the technologies discussed here? What’s your favourite low-carbon tech innovation? Tweet us at @KoruArchitects!

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