Archive for February, 2010

February 15th, 2010

 

Green Patent Blog is taking a brief sabbatical.

LG Gets Chilly Response to Legal Plea to Keep Energy Star Rating on Fridges

February 11th, 2010

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In a previous post, I wrote about the settlement agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and LG Electronics (LG) about certain LG refrigerator models that had received the ENERGY STAR certification despite not actually meeting the required efficiency standards.

As part of the agreement, LG engaged in certain remedial measures for consumers of the models at issue.  In addition, the agreement detailed how the refrigerator models were to be tested going forward. 

DOE adjusted the testing procedures for LG to take into account the peculiarities of the particular models at issue – so-called “French Door” models – that use more energy because they incorporate an ice maker within the fresh food compartment of the refrigerator. 

The fridges use a fill tube heater and an ice ejection heater to maintain the fresh food compartment above freezing temperatures while maintaining the ice making assembly below freezing temperatures.  LG was permitted to test the fridges with the ice maker disabled and the two heaters off. 

The agreement provided these exceptions were “for the purposes of testing under this Agreement subject to further notice by DOE.”

DOE subsequently determined that this test procedure exception resulted in underreporting of the energy consumption of the French Door refrigerator models.  So DOE revoked the exception provided in the agreement and demanded that LG remove the ENERGY STAR label from the models at issue.

Late last year LG sued DOE in federal court in Washington, DC requesting that the court issue an injunction to allow it to retain the ENERGY STAR label on its French Door refrigerators.  In a motion for preliminary injunction, LG argued that DOE’s actions violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the Energy Policy and Conservation Act and LG’s due process rights.

Last month, the court denied LG’s motion.  In a Memorandum Opinion (lg_opinion.pdf), the court held that DOE did not violate the APA because the agreement did not represent a definitive interpretation of testing procedures but only a revocable exception to its procedures. 

The court further held that DOE’s justifications for revoking the agreement’s testing exception were not arbitrary and capricious.

As to LG’s due process claim, the court found that LG’s due process property interest was satisfied by its “post-deprivation suit for breach of contract.”  The court also held that being required to remove the ENERGY STAR certification from only certain refrigerators does not rise to the level of implicating a due process liberty interest.

Despite the setback, LG is maintaining its commitment to energy efficient refrigerators:  before the court decided its motion LG was already making French Door fridges that comply with the DOE’s certification requirements and will bear the ENERGY STAR label.

CO2 Effects Not So Nice? Use it Twice, Says Carbon Sciences

February 8th, 2010

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Carbon Sciences is a Santa Barbara, California company that has developed a proprietary process to recycle carbon dioxide emissions into gasoline and other liquid fuels.

The company breaks down CO2 and extracts the carbon atoms to make new hydrocarbon chains.  According to its web site, Carbon Sciences’ process requires less energy and is more scalable than previous known techniques, which used expensive inorganic catalysts.

The key to the process is a multi-step biocatalysis that uses organic biocatalysts.  The company’s biocatalytic method uses inexpensive, renewable biomolecules to catalyze certain chemical reactions required to transform CO2 and water into fuel molecules.

Through nano-engineering of the biocatalysts and efficient process design, Carbon Sciences can operate these catalysis steps on a large industrial scale.  In particular, the company’s smart particle technology provides improved encapsulation of the enzymes that prolongs their effective lives and allows them to perform many reaction cycles.

The major components of the process are a CO2 Flue Gas Processor, a a Biocatalyst Unit, a Biocatalytic Reactor Matrix, a Filtration system and a conversion and polishing unit.

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The Biocatalytic Reactor Matrix is the heart of the process.  It is here, in a matrix of liquid reaction chambers, that the large quantities of biocatalysts perform the multi-stage breakdown of CO2 and transformation to hydrocarbons.

The company’s CEO, Byron Elton, told me that Carbon Sciences has filed four as yet unpublished patent applications directed to its CO2 recycling process.  Elton expects the company to file 4-6 more new patent applications this year. 

Carbon Sciences owns U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 2008/0277319 (’319 Application), entitled “Fine particle carbon dioxide transformation and sequestration.”  According to Elton, the ’319 Application covers the company’s initial forays into carbon capture and sequestration.

The ’319 Application is directed to methods and systems for breaking down carbon dioxide into micron- or sub-micron-sized particles, classifying or separating out the particles of a desired size and reacting those particles to form mineral carbonates.

Carbon Sciences’ technology extends into several aspects of CO2 capture, sequestration and recycling, including advanced chemical processes that can use flue gas and brackish water to capture CO2 emissions and scrub it to yield pure CO2.

Because the market for gasoline and liquid fuels is likely to remain quite large for some time, Carbon Sciences’ recycling process provides an interim carbon mitigation option:  use the CO2 molecule twice.

eSolar and Penglai Electric Co. Enter Master Licensing Agreement for Solar Thermal Power in China

February 5th, 2010

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eSolar is a Pasadena, California solar thermal startup that makes solar power plants using flat mirrors, or heliostats, to concentrate sunlight onto a centrally located water tank suspended on a tower.  This type of structure is known as “power tower” architecture.

Founded in 2007, eSolar has seen very rapid success in business deals to implement and deploy its technology.  The latest, which is the biggest solar thermal deal ever, is a master licensing agreement with Chinese electrical power equipment manufacturer Penglai Electric (Penglai).

Penglai will develop at least 2 gigawatts of solar thermal power plants in China over the next 10 years using eSolar’s technology.

eSolar owns at least four published U.S. patent applications and at least half a dozen international applications relating to its solar thermal technology.  U.S. Patent Applications Pub. Nos. 2009/0241938 and 2009/0241939 are directed to solar receivers and U.S. Patent Application Pub. No. 2009/0107485 is directed to calibration and tracking control systems for heliostats. 

According to the technology description on eSolar’s web site, its cost-effective utility scale power plant is “based on mass-manufactured components and designed for rapid construction, uniform modularity, and unlimited scalability.”  The company’s heliostat is the “building block” of its power plants and is designed for deployment in pre-fabricated “heliostat sticks” for easy installation.

One factor that affects the efficiency of power tower plants is the positioning of the heliostats relative to the tower and to each other.  eSolar’s “modular field” of concentrating mirrors consists of thousands of systematically spaced heliostats arranged to optimize the layout and maximize efficiency. 

U.S. Patent Application Pub. No. 2009/0133685 (’685 Application) is directed to eSolar’s heliostat array layouts.  Some embodiments of the ’685 Application comprise three segments (128) with each segment divided into two variably spaced heliostat zones (128a, 128b).

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Heliostats (328a) in the first zone (128a) are spaced closer together than heliostats (328b) in the second zone (128b).  The heliostat locations are also staggered with respect to heliostat locations in adjacent rows.  A thermal receiver (228) is mounted on a central power tower.

Last year, eSolar entered into a similar deal with an Indian partner, ACME Group (ACME), to build solar thermal plants generating up to 1 gigawatt of power in India.  ACME is the exclusive licensee of eSolar’s technology in India.

eSolar’s success in deploying its solar thermal technology in emerging markets such as India and China belies claims by those countries and other developing nations that IP rights are acting as a barrier to transfer of clean technologies (see China View article here and my previous post here). 

Various proposals to weaken or eliminate IP rights, including compulsory licensing and even excluding green technologies from patent protection, have been put forth by India, China and other emerging market and developing countries and were contained in the official UNFCCC negotiating text for the Copenhagen meetings in December.

However, eSolar’s success in finding willing partners in India and China may actually be driven, at least in part, by intellectual property protection:  it’s hard to imagine Penglai or ACME investing in such large scale projects without the exclusivity in their home markets guaranteed by the master license agreements.

eSolar’s China deal was announced in early January.  It’s interesting that while climate change treaty negotiators were discussing IP as a barrier to international clean tech transfer eSolar and Penglai were probably finalizing the terms of the master license agreement that would be part of the largest ever transfer and deployment of solar thermal technology to China.

 

USPTO Director Talks Up Green Patent Initiatives

February 1st, 2010

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David Kappos, the Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), recently authored a guest column for Law360 in which he discussed the role of the USPTO and green patents in addressing climate change.

The piece, entitled “Patents Key to Fighting Climate Change,” reads like a mini-state of the union address for the USPTO and green technology.  In it, Kappos stresses the important role that the patent system plays in fostering clean tech innovation and touts USPTO initiatives relating to green technologies.

The article cites the following USPTO green technology programs:

the Green Technology Pilot Program that allows accelerated examination of patent applications relating to environmental quality, energy conservation, renewable energy resources or greenhouse gas emissions reduction (see my post about this program here)

an initiative to generate empirical data on the relationship between patents and international tech transfer

research on green technology innovation and diffusion in  China

development of a green technology web site to link inventors who want to license their their inventions with companies that want to develop them;

development of IP policies for R&D collaborations between the U.S. and other countries such as India and China

Mr. Kappos says that all of the initiatives are based upon a “deep understanding that timely and properly issued patents foster green technology innovation and promote widespread access to the benefits of such innovation.” 

According to Kappos:

the United States Patent and Trademark Office is committed to doing its part to ensure that the patent system fosters and incentivizes the creation, development and diffusion of green technology.