Well known for being a computer pioneer, surprisingly to the casual observer IBM has made strides in another upcoming industry . . . Cleantech.
One of IBM's top executives was recently named a top ten cleantech leader in New York by Breaking Energy. In the innovation area, New York was second only to California among state leaders in clean energy patents in 2012 (see here for New York clean energy patent leaders).
IBM had the second highest number of clean energy patents in New York behind GE last year and was ranked tenth overall in the number of granted solar patents according to the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index. IBM's patents in 2012 were related to electric vehicles and solar energy.
Electric vehicle are on the rise with adoption rates doubling in the first 6 months of 2013. Currently, electric vehicles require a battery to store electrical energy. Once the energy is used, it must be replenished through charging. For electric vehicles not using gasoline powered engines for on-board recharging (see e.g., the Chevy Volt), charging stations similar to gas stations will be required or at home chargers may be used. IBM currently owns patents directed to technology that may be used at these charging points. One such patent (U.S. Patent No. 8,266,075) is directed to managing electric vehicle charging transactions. This patent sets out a method and apparatus for implementing a set of charging instructions in accordance with an energy transaction plan specific to the electric vehicle. IBM also has a patent (U.S. Patent No. 8,103,391) for detecting interruptions at charge stations during the charging process.
To eliminate the need to make frequent stops at charging stations, IBM is also working on better batteries. In 2009, IBM began work on the Battery 500 project to create a new lithium-air battery to improve energy generation and storage to hopefully produce a battery capable of traveling 500 miles when fully charged. Currently, researchers have successfully shown the fundamental chemistry of such a battery. In 2012, Central Glass and Asahi Kasei joined in the project to help continue developing the battery (see here).
In 2012, IBM was the assignee of over 10 solar-power-related patents. Many of these patents involved photovoltaic cells which convert sunlight directly into electricity. One issue surrounding the use of photovoltaic cell systems for collecting energy is the reliability and efficiency of these systems in converting light. Several of the IBM patents discuss various structures and configurations of photovoltaic cells for maximizing their efficiency. Such configurations include vertical stacking of cells, cells with patterns of holes, and cells without gridlines (see U.S. Patent No. 8,138,410; U.S. Patent No. 8,120,132; U.S. Patent No. 8,115,097).
Recently, IBM research has made great strides in solar power technology. This past Earth Day, IBM researchers announced a collaboration to develop a photovoltaic system that can convert 80% of collected solar energy. The design is cost-efficient as well since it uses concrete and metalized foil rather than steel and glass. In addition to this research, IBM has been involved in a project with Harvard to provide a public database of versatile and cheaper materials to use with solar energy systems. The database, assisted by the IBM-managed World Community Grid, currently includes over 2.3 million compounds that can be used to convert sunlight into electricity. For more information regarding clean energy patents see www.cepgi.com.