PARC applies IT innovation to cleantech problems

Summary:Much has been made about the 40th anniversary of PARC, which started life as the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. What you might not have heard is that approximately 10 percent of the research facility's research and development activities are now focused on cleantech innovation.

Much has been made about the 40th anniversary of PARC, which started life as the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. What you might not have heard is that approximately 10 percent of the research facility's research and development activities are now focused on cleantech innovation. I recently spoke with Scott Elrod, a PARC vice president and who is manager of what PARC calls its Cleantech Innovation Program (CIP).

Elrod says there are four primary areas where PARC has a role to play in cleantech: Energy efficiency, water purification, solar energy and carbon emissions capture. "We created this with no background in those markets but in strong competency areas that we thought could be applied to cleantech," he says.

Not surprisingly, the facility's roots in LCD and printer research -- PARC has more than 1,800 patents -- have been called upon for at least one of these research areas, water purification. It turns out that PARC's research on ink cartridges and toners have been useful in helping develop a device to take the particulates out of a liquid using no filter, says Elrod. PARC is negotiating potential deals that would see this technology applied to preparing water for desalination, for oil recovery applications or even for collecting materials, such as algae, which could be used for biofuels production.

PARC's work in managing energy consumption within high-end printers is being applied toward a project that could have implications for managing data center power consumption. The initiative, which is being realized in conjunction with Power Assure and receive a $5 million Department of Energy grant earlier this year, would essentially virtualize power in a data center so that it would flow to where it is needed at a given moment. The idea is that customers would only pay for what is actually being used; this would treat multiple data centers as one data center resource from a power perspective. The PARC lead on the project, Dan Greene, said: "The Power Assure and PARC joint project is a game changer because data center managers and their customers will be able to achieve significant cost savings in their consumption of electrical power in fully virtualized environments. The solution also enables operators to make informed decisions about their power usage and related IT expenditures."

The final area I will highlight is PARC's work in solar, which has been well-documented over the past several years. The group has been able to apply optical design capabilities borne out of laser printer technology to create a concentrator that makes solar panels more efficient. That work is now being expressed as part of technology being developed by SolFocus, essentially as a play to help the company reduce its manufacturing costs. SolFocus actually hit my radar last week, because it is the first company to offer warranty insurance guaranteeing a certain level of performance from its technology. PARC receives a combination of royalties and equity as a result of its development relationship, which is a structure that Elrod says will likely be repeated in future deals. "We're interested in the early conceptualization and innovation," he says.

Topics: Emerging Tech

About

Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist specializing in transformative technology and innovation. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. In a past corporate life, Heather was editor of Computer Reseller News. She started her journalism lif... Full Bio

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