In honor of Earth Day, the Lemelson Center celebrates inventors whose problem-solving has resulted in greener, more sustainable energy solutions.
In 2015, the Lemelson Center opened Places of Invention, an exhibition that explores how hotspots of innovation develop. Fort Collins, Colorado, was one featured community that was notable for its focus on “inventing green.”
“Every device I could think of was limited by the battery,” says Amy Prieto, a synthetic chemist and professor at Colorado State University. “So, I thought that if I could make a better battery, the devices wouldn’t be limited in that way.”
By experimenting with materials, methods, and forms, Prieto developed a more sustainable lithium-ion battery. Her battery is three-dimensional, containing a lightweight copper foam substrate that, like a sponge, has holes to accelerate the flow of lithium ions. The greater surface area within the battery simultaneously increases its energy storage capacity and ability to recharge quickly.
Amy Prieto discussing her inventive activity in a 2014 interview for the Places of Invention exhibition. © Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
Made from materials that are non-flammable and more eco-friendly, Prieto’s battery has attracted the attention of manufacturers looking to create greener products. In 2009, Prieto started her namesake company to bring her invention from research lab to market. Investors in the technology have included Intel and Stanley Black & Decker.
While Prieto has focused on advancing battery technology, Sunil Cherian has devoted his expertise and inventive thinking to improving the efficiency of the energy grid.
With degrees in mechanical engineering from Colorado State University and experience in distributed energy applications, Sunil Cherian started the company Spirae in 2002. The software that his company developed contributes to smart grid technology, facilitating communication between those managing renewable and distributed energy sources to create an infrastructure that is more responsive. By pulling energy from areas of low use and rerouting it to areas in greater demand—and even being able to feed unused energy back into the grid—the software makes the delivery of energy more efficient and reliable, and better able to meet the needs of consumers.
Sunil Cherian discussing his innovative thinking during a 2014 interview for the Places of Invention exhibition. © Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
So what drew Prieto and Cherian to Fort Collins, and why have they stayed? For both inventors, the community—from the state university there to the government to businesses to the residents—appreciates and actively supports their innovative thinking. For those curious to know more about Prieto, Cherian, Fort Collins, and inventing for a greener future, I encourage you check out this recording from the Innovative Lives public program on April 12. And if you haven’t seen Places of Invention, be sure to visit the exhibition before it closes this summer!
With “everyone is inventive” as its guiding principle, the Lemelson Center is committed to raising awareness and celebrating the history of diverse inventors.