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Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco lab’

Photo: Otherlab via the Smithsonian.
Saul Griffith’s latest venture, Otherlab, is a research company reminiscent of the “invention factory” created by Thomas Edison.

Here’s an Australian inventor who aims to stop global warming. I especially like his ideas about a substitute for lithium batteries — not just because it could save money but because lithium and other rare minerals are the new “blood diamonds.” Mining them is bad for Nature, bad for communities.

Rachel Pannett writes at the Washington Post, “During a TED talk, Australian inventor Saul Griffith wanted to show his audience how much a person’s individual choices can affect the planet.

“The person, in this case, was himself. And so, the tall engineer with tousled brown hair pulled up a chart on a big screen behind him on the stage.

“On display was an exhaustive audit of his personal energy impact, calculating the carbon footprint of every action in his life down to his underwear, toilet paper and taxes.

“The founder of a wind power company and a dedicated bicycle commuter, Griffith was ashamed to discover that he was consuming much more power than the average American. In short, a planet hypocrite, he told his audience. …

“Since that TED talk 10 years ago, Griffith’s San Francisco lab has attracted $100 million in capital from investors and spun out a dozen companies.

“The 47-year-old, who won a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant in 2007 for his prodigious inventions ‘in the global public interest,’ from novel household water-treatment systems to an educational cartoon series for kids, has spent the past decade working to solve climate change through technology. His solution: mass electrification.

“While most environmentalists have taken aim at the fossil fuel industry, Griffith wants to decarbonize each American household — replacing every gas cooktop, furnace and hot water heater with electric devices. Otherwise, he says, efforts to reach net-zero carbon emissions will fall short.

“Most of Griffith’s tinkering happens in a nearly century-old former factory in San Francisco’s Mission District. … From every available space on the ceiling and walls, Griffith’s team has hung bicycles — from cargo bikes to a four-seater electric model.

“Otherlab, which Griffith co-founded more than a decade ago, is where the Australian and two dozen other scientists are trying to find a way to stop global warming.

“One of the lab’s current projects aims to radically redesign offshore wind platforms. Another team is designing a solar-powered scooter set for launch this year. They also designed a tracker system that helps solar panels follow the sun’s path through the day.

“ ‘Things don’t stay on paper very long,’ said Joanne Huang, Otherlab’s special projects lead, who joined the company in 2019. ‘It is like a build-it-and-see kind of place. It’s very fun in that way.’ …

Griffith believes climate change is solvable, and he imagines a cleaner future that looks better than what we have now. …’There is every reason to believe the future can be awesome.’

“In the first-floor workshop, Huang and Hans von Clemm, an engineer, were recently working on modular cubes designed to stack neatly in the corner of a person’s garage to store excess energy from rooftop solar systems. The heating and storage systems are being tested in several homes in California, including Huang’s. Their hope is to store electricity from rooftop solar panels for far less than the cost of a lithium battery — making the technology accessible to more people. …

“For the task, Griffith has assembled an eclectic team. Von Clemm is a former ski instructor; Huang was a competitive snowboarder.

“Von Clemm, who joined Otherlab as an intern in 2016, remembers the day he interviewed for the job. Griffith asked to see his hands, which were calloused and covered in cuts. The week before, von Clemm had been building a knife drawer for his mom. ‘All right,’ Griffith said approvingly.

“He then handed the young engineering student a piece of paper and a pen and asked him to draw a working bicycle in 60 seconds. Von Clemm said his hands were shaking. When he finished, Griffith declared: ‘Okay, you can start tomorrow.’

“Griffith’s vision for addressing the devastating impact of climate change bucks tradition. Instead of just focusing on shutting down coal and gas-fired power plants and polluting industries and switching to renewable power generators, he wants to also focus on suburban life. … There is little use in having wind or solar power if your stovetop, furnace and water heater are powered by gas.

“Griffith acknowledges this could be a tough task — furnaces are not easy to swap out like appliances such as refrigerators: Typically, you replace them only when they are broken. …

“ ‘We need a Cambrian explosion of local experiments of how to locally solve the problem,’ said Griffith, whose book, “Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future,” will be published in October.”

More at the Post, here.

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