Sustain OC’s Annual Conference and Expo Showcases Energy Innovation Initiatives and Entrepreneurial Opportunities

Past Tides
December 21, 2017 By Wendy Wolfson

On October 19, the Sustain OC 8th Annual Conference & Expo featured Orange County energy entrepreneurs and multiple transformative technologies. Scott Kitcher, Sustain OC president & CEO, Jam Attari, chairman Sustain OC and CEO of BayWa r.e. Solar Projects North America; and Kris Murray, member of the Anaheim City Council and chairperson OC Council of Governments, welcomed attendees.

In the keynote address: “Clean, Safe, Abundant Fusion Energy: Made in Orange County, Getting Ready for the World,” Michl Binderbauer, Ph.D., president of Lake Forest-based Tri Alpha Energy Technologies (TAE), described the company’s progress in developing fusion energy as a source of cheap, plentiful energy without lasting toxic waste.

According to Binderbauer, fusion, the process that creates and powers the universe, has the highest energy potential. Most government-sponsored fusion research will not have viable economic results.  However, TAE has a unique approach to clean fusion that includes benefits such as: no long-term nuclear waste, no greenhouse gas emissions, no proliferation concerns, and cheap, safe, and abundant fuel. “We don’t have massive amounts of gravity to hold massive fusion reactors together, so we use magnetic fields to hold the superheated plasma together,” Binderbauer said. “Think of this problem as an oozy jello of stuff we want to hold in midair.”

TAEs current installation is named “Norman,” after former UCI professor Norman Rostoker who originated TAE’s process. By 2019 TAE will build a machine called “Copernicus,” to do next-generation lean fusion, and is anticipated for startup in 2025. Binderbauer dryly mentioned that historically, fusion power was always 30 years into the future TAE has now condensed the wait to 15 years.

But developing fusion has ongoing technical and economic challenges. TAE still has to address issues of getting enough power needed to conduct a fusion reaction. Norman is power-hungry, consuming about 700 million megawatts, equivalent to the output of the San Onofre nuclear reactor.

Tri Alpha Energy is now spinning off its core technologies — from medicine to isotope production and chemical processing into new companies including TAE life science, treatment of diffuse and difficult to treat cancers. TAE inspection, TAE power management, and TAE security.   

The day’s sessions included an overview of energy investment opportunities by Dipinder Saluja, partner of Capricorn Investment Group; energy efficiency by Southern California Edison representatives, describing initiatives for more effective energy distribution; creating an advanced energy community in Huntington Beach; energy storage issues, and awards.

A few highlights:

In the Renewable Energy session, moderated by Jeff Arbour, section manager, Waste Management Operations, OC Waste & Recycling; Daniel Sullivan, CEO, Sullivan Solar Power; Jam Attari, CEO, BayWa r.e; and Clarke Pauley, VP, Organics & Biogas Division, CR&R Environmental Services; discussed the business side of deriving energy from waste.

OC Waste and Recycling (OCW&R) operates three landfills in Orange County, and extracts methane produced by the landfills for energy. Since their first demonstration project in the mid-1970s, lighting up a Christmas tree using landfill energy from waste methane, OCW&R now taps multiple landfills for methane: the Olinda Alpha Landfill energy project, which powers 17,000 homes using a combined cycle gas turbine plant; the Frank R. Bowerman Landfill energy project that powers 14,700 homes; the Prima Deshecha Landfill engine plant, which will be shutting down in five years for redevelopment; and the Coyote Canyon Landfill, currently under revitalization for future development.

According to Pauley, CR&R is a privately held integrated waste management company based in Orange County that has grown to over 50 municipal contracts, and over three million customers in five counties.  Pauley projects that the future of landfill gas extraction will include innovations in transportation such as natural gas powered trucks with zero diesel pm emissions, and CNG/RNG filling stations, and pipeline injections.

In “California Energy Commission: Paving an Innovation Path,” Laurie ten Hope, deputy director of the CEC Energy Research and Development Division, said CEC invests $140M annually in innovation. “California is committed to energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction,” ten Hope said. According to ten Hope, goals by 2030 include the state using 50% renewable energy, achieving a 50% reduction of petroleum use in vehicles, improving sequestration of carbon in natural and working lands, and reducing pollutants. “California needs to address climate risk, resiliency, safety, costs, and aging infrastructure,” ten Hope said. “We really need to be able to electrify our transportation. We’ve been able to do technology innovation without a hit on the economy.”

CEC goals include introducing two way power flow into the distribution system, better forecasting and predicting weather impact on the grid. CEC is also interested in developing a strategy for smart charging of fleets, affordable zero-net energy buildings, creating a market for energy storage, and bringing energy research projects to disadvantaged, low income families. Ten Hope mentioned tools for entrepreneurs such as LACI, www.laincubator.org, Cal Seed Fund, www.calseedfund.org, and the CEC website’s lists of solicitations and what they are currently funding, www.energy.ca.gov/contracts/pier.htm

In the session Announcing! – Energize California: The CEC L.A. Regional Energy Innovation Cluster, Amanda Sabicer, VP, Energize California, LACI, reviewed opportunities for energy entrepreneurs.

Energize California is a five-year project funded by the California Energy Commission that connects and supports clean energy entrepreneurs and researchers in Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange Counties.