Archive for February, 2008

Capturing Carbon Dioxide from the Air

February 19th, 2008

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This discussion was supposed to be part of Green Patent Blog’s Best of 2007 post, a project that got lost amid holiday festivities.  So here it is now: 

While the important effort to reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions continues, removing previously emitted greenhouse gases from the air may become necessary depending on how dire the climate change problem really is.  That’s what Columbia University physicist Klaus Lackner’s technology does.  Dr. Lackner is a named co-inventor on at least three patent applications and one issued patent relating to capturing and recovering carbon dioxide from the air. 

U.S. Application No. 2006/0051274 is directed to an apparatus for capturing CO2 called a laminar scrubber.  The laminar scrubber is a wind collector having a set of flat plates, or lamellae, arranged centimeters apart from each other.  Air is sucked through the plates by a natural pressure gradient, wind or convection.  A hydroxide based sorbent flows down the plates while a layered airflow passes through the thin spaces between the plates.  The contact between the air and the sorbent causes a chemical reaction which removes the carbon dioxide.  The patent application contemplates groups of laminar scrubber units combined in larger superstructures – what some of the press reports have called synthetic trees. (read articles here and here)

U.S. Application Pub. No. 2007/0187247 covers the next steps of the process, namely recovering the CO2-filled sorbent and separating the CO2 from the sorbent liquid.  The electrochemical methods of the application are more direct and energy efficient than prior art processes, which require transferring carbonate ions to calcium carbonate and then burning off the calcium.  Lackner’s process uses electrodialysis, in which the sorbent flows through cells having compartments separated by membranes.  At one end of the cell is a positively charged anode, at the other a negatively charged cathode.  The membranes also are charged to allow the passage of only positive ions or negative ions between compartments; a positively charged membrane traps positive ions while a negatively charged membrane traps negative ions.  Positive ions flow toward the cathode, negative ions flow toward the anode, and the ions are trapped in compartments along the way based on the type of membrane separating each compartment.  This structure separates the sorbent solution into hydroxide and CO2 by trapping and concentrating the negatively charged hydroxide ions in a compartment bounded by a negatively charged membrane.  The CO2 is released in a concentrated, pressurized stream, which can be sequestered or used for other purposes.

Green Patents Gratis: Sharing Eco-Friendly Technology

February 13th, 2008

Last month IBM, Sony, Pitney Bowes and Nokia started the Eco-Patent Commons, a new initiative to share patented technology that protects the environment.  Each company has donated at least one patent to the Commons, which is administered by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a Geneva-based organization that promotes sustainability in business.  Companies choose which of their patents to contribute, and the Commons selects for inclusion those patents that provide a direct or indirect environmental benefit.  To be selected, the patents must also relate to a technology field on the Eco-Patent Commons Classification List, which the WBCSD has selected from the International Patent Classifications.  As of now, the Commons has 31 patents, the vast majority of which were donated by IBM. 

The patents are identified on a searchable web site hosted by the WBCSD, and the technology is available to anyone, including both members (those companies that have contributed patents) and non-members.  The idea is to allow easy access to environmentally-friendly innovation so that anyone well positioned to implement the technology can do so.   One major advantage of the Commons is the cross-industry nature of the patent pool.  While cross-licenses within industries are common, they are harder to come by between different industries, and the diversity of the pool facilitates cross-industry use of the technology.

Members (known as “pledgers”) sign a nonassert pledge promising not to enforce the donated patents against those who use the patented technology to achieve an environmentally beneficial result (known as “implementers”).  However, the donated patents technically are not in the public domain because the Commons allows pledgers to retain a defensive termination option.  That is, the pledger may terminate its promise not to sue as to implementers who assert their own patents against the pledger. 

At this point the Commons rules get a bit complicated:  the power of termination varies depending on whether or not the implementer asserting its patent against the pledger is another pledger.  A pledger may terminate its nonassert against another pledger enforcing an unpledged patent only if the unpledged patent has a classification on the Commons Classification List and the accused products provide an environmental benefit.  That is, one pledger may sue another pledger for infringement of a patent outside the field of the Commons without losing its rights within the Commons field.   A pledger may terminate its nonassert against a non-pledger who asserts any patent against the pledger.  

There are more posts to come on the Eco-Patent Commons.  Subsequent posts will discuss some of the patents available through the Commons. 

Clorox’s New Eco-Marks

February 5th, 2008

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Last month Clorox introduced a line of natural cleaning products sold under the Green Works brand name. The Green Works cleaners are made from coconuts and lemon oil, are biodegradable and are packaged in recyclable bottles. The products’ green trademark protection comes from multiple angles, including both ordinary trademarks and certification marks (see my previous posts on this subject).

First, Clorox has applied for federal trademark registrations for both the word mark GREEN WORKS and the design mark (shown above) in multiple classes of goods ranging from soap, toothpaste and deodorant to dishwasher and laundry detergents to plastic wrap, storage containers and kitty litter. Most of the applications were filed with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office last year and are still pending, although one application for the word mark in connection with all purpose cleaners was filed in late 2006 and has been allowed.

The products also were certified by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Design for the Environment (DfE) program and bear the DfE label. The DfE certification mark means the EPA has screened the product’s ingredients for potential health and environmental effects and concluded that they are low risk for the class of chemicals used in that product.

Finally, Clorox can impress green consumers with a Sierra Club endorsement of the Green Works product line.   The conservation group’s logo - also protected by a federal trademark registration - soon will appear on the products.