By GREGORY ZELLER //
Don’t call Reed Phillips a patent collector.
Yes, he and his Stony Brook-based startup Energystics Ltd. – specifically, its trademarked Vibristor technology – are earning U.S. patents at an impressive clip: six to date, including an October nod from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office covering the distinctive oscillating motions of magnets inside a proprietary wave-energy harvesting device.
And yeah, the entrepreneurial inventor is expecting two more pending patents to be approved “any day now,” one covering a unique method of harvesting and combining electrical energy from multiple generators – maybe even thousands of generators – and another that will unofficially mark the company’s first commercial foray.
And OK, sure, Phillips is just getting started, predicting “seven to 10” additional patents within the next 18 months, resulting in what he understated as a “fairly robust” patent portfolio.
But far from a patent collector – the practice, often engaged by holding companies, of amassing publicly traded patents (ie: other peoples’ ideas) as ammunition for potential litigation – Phillips is a constant tinkerer refining a technology he believes will revolutionize the conversion of linear motion into electricity.
And the tech, he notes, has lots of moving parts.
“This is a system, not just a device,” Phillips told Innovate LI. “It has several components that are necessary to overcome many problems in difficult environments.
“You need this many patents to cover the various aspects of the technology,” he added. “It’s not just the number of patents you have in your portfolio, it’s the marketable products.”
Which makes that second anticipated patent, the 2012 startup’s first covering what Phillips termed “an entire system,” such a big deal: By patenting Energystics’ “wave-powered navigational and instrument buoy,” it will herald the launch of the company’s inaugural commercial product.
“We are working on several commercial products right now,” Phillips noted. “But this is the one I have decided to go with to start getting this technology commercialized.”
In its “simplest form,” Phillips said, it will have the same buoyish charms as any other navigational marker floating in any marina; it can also be outfitted with global-positioning technology, atmospheric and oceanographic sensors and other scientific bells and whistles to be determined by the user.
“It’s really unlimited,” Phillips noted. “It’s up to the end user, what instruments he wants to put in there.”
The kicker is Energystics’ built-in Vibristor technology, which makes the buoy and any equipment it packs self-sufficient – creating the electricity they need from harvested wave energy and promising up to 15 years of maintenance-free operation, according to the inventor.
A brief Vibristor review: Move a magnetic field past a copper wire or other stationary conductor, and you produce electricity. Determined to use movement – wave energy, or vibrating highway struts, or anything else that reliably shimmies – as his power source, Reed has essentially developed a method of shaping and focusing magnetic fields so none of the mechanical energy (which moves the magnetic fields) is wasted during its transference into electrical energy.
Stick that tech on a buoy and combine it with Energystics’ now-patented method for collecting and combining electricity generated by thousands of small generators, and you create potentially game-changing wave-generation possibilities, according to Phillips.
“The exact same technology can be deployed by the thousands in large, compact arrays, like a carpet, and produce megawatts of power for grid-scale applications,” he said.
And that’s just one potential application for the self-powered buoy, for which Phillips foresees a “tremendous audience.”
“The Coast Guard, the Navy, harbormasters, intelligence agencies, NOAA … I can think of lots of people who could use this,” he said. “The idea is to get the technology commercialized with a simple-to-roll-out product that will provide a revenue stream, so the company can attack the larger applications.”
Phillips has largely built his prototypes himself – he gave props to the Stony Brook University Machine Shop for some key engineering assists – and has self-funded the entire operation, investing about $140,000 to get Energystics off the ground and about $3,000 a month to keep it afloat.
This has allowed him to retain all of his intellectual property, but the inventor and his startup – a resident of SBU’s Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center and part of the university’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program – are definitely ready for some financial fortification.
To that end, Phillips is now attempting to secure up to $475,000 in grant funding through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s Advanced Clean Energy research fund.
Phillips has gunned for outside funding before, including a $475,000 U.S. Department of Energy stipend, and come up short. But with the patent on his wave-energy buoy about to come through, he likes his chances with NYSERDA.
“[The buoy] is a stepping stone for a grid-sized application,” the entrepreneur said. “I’ve already talked to them over at NYSERDA, where they like larger, grid-scale projects, and they said this is a strategy that they can live with.”