Rentricity, a startup based in New York City, seeks to generate electricity from untapped pressure in drinking water pipes. Rentricity was one of four finalists selected from the 2012 Cleantech Open Northeast Regional Competition, and will advance to the Cleantech Open Global Forum later this week.
When most people think of hydropower, they think of large installations like the Hoover Dam. Rentricity rethinks hydropower on the micro scale, producing electricity from excess pressure in residential and industrial water pipes. This pressure comes from many sources, including water moving downhill, chemical reactions in the water, and compressed gas that is released in the pipes.
Currently, utilities install pressure reduction valves (“PRVs”) in pipes to relieve this excess pressure, but do not convert this hydrokinetic energy into something useful. Rentricity’s “flow-to-wire(SM)” system combines a coupled turbine and generator, to produce electricity from water flow, with a complete electrical control and sensor unit, to send and receive signals from the water utility or power grid. This allows Rentricity’s technology to feed electricity back to the water utility (or directly to the grid) in a controlled manner.
According to Rentricity’s profile on the Cleantech Open website, the company hopes to use part of any “cash and in-kind services awarded…to strengthen the intellectual property portfolio so vital to raising a successful venture capital round.” This will be very necessary for the company, since as far as we can tell, Rentricity only has one published US patent application – US20060082159, and no US patent grants. In fact, it looks like this patent application was abandoned in 2007 for failure to respond to a USPTO office action.
Of course, given the 18 month delay in patent filing and patent publication, it is possible that Rentricity has filed additional patents in the past 18 months that have yet to publish. Either way, Rentricity has to improve the scope and quality of its patent portfolio soon, or risk losing the patent battle to potential competitors.
For instance, a quick search of Rentricity’s technology reveals a granted patent (US7357599) held by Criptonic Energy Solutions in Michigan. Criptonic’s patent discloses a system that generates power from piped sewage and wastewater. The patent even cites an article about Rentricity’s technology! Rentricity needs to file new patents soon, or risk additional competitors following the same tactic as Criptonic, and patenting other innovations on Rentricity’s core technology.
In the end, we wish Rentricity luck in the Cleantech Open Global Forum this week. If Rentricity’s technology can succeed at scale, this will be a boon for water utilities and consumers across the country.