Tuesday, January 31, 2012

patentECO - IP Aspects of a New EPA Regulation

Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, the first national standards to regulate power plant emissions of mercury and toxic air pollution like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide. Early reviews (for example, here and here) suggest that EPA, in its typical bureaucratic, centralized control fashion, has ignored the costs of the new regulations as well as advances in technology. Other pundits suggest that these regs are part of Obama’s pre-election promise and plan that electricity rates “would necessarily skyrocket” (YouTube video).
Are there patents pertaining to the control of atmospheric emissions of the targeted pollutants from coal-fired power plants? Has the nation’s utility industry done nothing about emissions of these compounds?
Yes and no.
A Google Patents search returned 144 patents issued between January 1991 and December 2011 (generally, those patents still enforceable) pertaining to reducing or mitigating emissions of the aforementioned compounds.
Patent number 7,758,827, “Reducing mercury emissions from the burning of coal” was issued on July 20, 2010 to Douglas Comrie of Stow, OH and assigned to NOx II, Ltd. (Port Clinton, OH).
Of passing interest, Comrie received his patent on the 41st anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s little stroll the moon, and Mike Collins’ time as the most isolated human in the universe; Comrie’s city of Stow is about 172 miles from Armstrong’s birthplace of Wapakoneta, OH, 0.07 percent of the distance Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins travelled to the moon.
Comrie’s invention is classified in the USPC system as 423/210. This places the mercury reduction patent within inorganic chemistry technologies, and specifically those that modify or remove components of a normally gaseous mixture. The invention adds sorbents containing calcium, alumina, silica, and halogen to the coal before combustion and/or are added into the flame or downstream of the flame. When used together, the components reduce emissions of mercury and sulfur (an acid-gas forming compound), reduce emissions of elemental and oxidized mercury, increase the efficiency of the coal burning process through de-slagging of boiler tubes, increase the level of mercury, arsenic, lead, and/or chlorine in the coal ash, decrease the levels of leachable heavy metals (such as mercury) in the ash, and make an ash product that is very non-susceptible to leaching.
This patent should be very attractive to the EPA bureaucrats.
Another patent, 7,276,217, “Reduction of coal-fired combustion emissions”, was issued to Jerrold Radway and Thomas Miller; Thomas M. ( both of El Cajon, CA) and assigned to Premier Chemicals, LLC of Conshohocken, PA. The grant date was October 2, 2007; this patent is also classified as 423/210.
This invention is for a process for mitigating fouling deposits within the coal combustion zone, capturing toxic metal emissions, and reducing visible sulfur emissions attributable to sulfuric acid mist during coal combustion.
Yet another patent that should be pleasing to Lisa Jackson and her staff.
The point is that the free market (which isn’t really, and even less so of late, but I digress) and the innovation community will and do develop solutions to problems. The two patents highlighted here represent a small portion of the energy (or is it industry? or perhaps air pollution control?) clean technology patent ecosystem. These inventions are captured by patentECO.
A shame the US EPA doesn’t.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

patentECO - LightSquared & Clean Tech

LightSquared & Clean Tech
A recent Cnet article regarding the LightSquared controversy caught my eye. The article states that “The company has been battling the perception that its network could possibly cripple critical GPS devices--hurting planes, farming equipment, and consumer devices.”
For those of you not familiar with LightSquared, it hopes to build a nationwide wireless broadband and satellite network. There are significant fears on the part of GPS providers, the US military, and others that the proposed network will seriously degrade the nation’s GPS system due to potentially overlapping frequency bands and the power of LightSquared’s transmitters. Government tests concluded this fall showed that LightSquared's base station transmitters created harmful interference for 75 percent of the 92 GPS devices used within the test -- greater than 100 yards away from the base station. LightSquared received a conditional waiver from the Federal Communications Commission in January 2010 to build tens of thousands of stations nationwide. Naturally, LightSquared has strongly disagreed with the test results.
So how is this clean tech? Certainly, a nationwide wireless broadband network would play a role in supporting clean technologies though its ability to transmit large amounts of data to and from rural locations at very high transmission rates. That’s not the link that interests me here, though.
It’s the potential for degrading existing clean technology in the form of precision farming equipment.
A case in point is patent number 6,553,299, “Methods and apparatus for precision agriculture operations utilizing real time kinematic global positioning system systems.” This patent, invented by Russell J. Keller, Mark E. Nichols, Arthur F. Lange and assigned to Trimble Navigation Ltd. (Sunnyvale, CA) was granted on April 22, 2003. It is classified as 701/50. Class 701 of the US Patent Classification system covers data processing inventions for vehicles, navigation, and relative location. Subclass 50 includes construction or agricultural-type vehicles. Many GPS inventions potentially affected by interference with the GPS transmission frequencies are found in this class.
Claim 1 states:
“A method of seeding, comprising:
computing a seeding pattern for at least a portion of a plot of land from one or more data values retrieved from a computer readable storage medium, wherein said seeding pattern is updated for each of a number of planting periods according to a micro crop rotation scheme;
controlling a vehicle so as to follow said computed seeding pattern over said plot of land using positioning information provided by one or more sources of GPS information;
and planting seeds in desired locations within the plot of land by comparing a vehicle position determined using the positioning information to the seeding pattern.”
This invention (one of many in the GPS-enabled precision ag patentECO ecosystem) provides highly accurate seeding, cultivating, planting and/or harvesting operations. Cultivating operations can include precision weed removal (e.g., using a vehicle fitted with weed eradication mechanisms such as augers and/or herbicide sprayers). Crop specific fertilizer or pesticide application is also enabled through the use of centimeter-level accuracy positioning techniques.
Precision agriculture inventions that incorporate GPS technology, such as this one, are a key component of clean technology in the patentECO agriculture patent space. Potential threats to the stability and accuracy of the system should be of great concern.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

patentECO - Green Loans, Leases & Buildings

Green loans, green leases, green buildings.
The US Energy Information Administration estimates that the residential and commercial sectors of the US economy used 42 percent of the energy consumed in the country in 2010.
In residences, space heating was the largest use (41%), followed by electronics, lighting and other appliances (26%), water heating (20%), air conditioning (8%), and refrigeration (5%).
Commercial buildings consumed 51 percent of their energy use for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), 21 percent for lighting, and the remaining 28 percent for water heating, refrigeration, computers and office equipment, cooking, and other uses.
Clearly, energy conservation and efficiency technologies applied to US buildings have the potential for great savings of energy, but may come at the cost of increased installation or retrofit payments by consumers.
One of the hindrances to greater penetration of energy conservation systems, particularly in the residential market, is the up-front cost. This is particularly the case during the ongoing recession, which has drastically affected credit markets, employment, income, housing starts, mortgage foreclosures, and commercial building construction and leases.
Patent number 7,904,382, “Methods for financing renewable energy systems”, invented by David Arfin of Palo Alto, CA, and assigned to Solarcity Corporation (Foster City, CA), was issued on March 8, 2011.  It is classified in the USPC as 705/38; this is a business method classification covering the processing of credit or loans.
Claim 1 states:
A method for financing renewable energy systems, comprising:
displaying by a computing system, home loan options and lease options for a renewable energy system;
receiving, by the computing system, a first selection of a home loan for a homeowner from the loan options;
receiving, by the computing system, a second selection of a lease for the homeowner from the lease options: arranging the home loan for a homeowner in which the interest payable by the homeowners is at least partly tax deductible;
offering the lease to the homeowner for the renewable energy system;
increasing the profits of selling said renewable energy system by obtaining more favorable lease terms and decisions from a lessor with particular internal rates of return (IRR) decision criteria as a result of defeasing the lease debt;
determining, by the computing system, a deposit of cash proceeds from said home loan into a trust held by an escrow agent for the single purpose of paying lease payments for said lease as each payment becomes due;
receiving a plurality of lease payments for said lease when each payment becomes due thereby seasoning said home loan such that the risk of any holder-in-due course reduced thereby;
selling said home loan to said holder-in-due-course;
selling any renewable energy credits (REC's) that obtain from installing or operating said renewable energy system;
and increasing business operating profits with any tax incentives that obtain from installing or operating said renewable energy system;
wherein, the proceeds from said home loan are effectively used to defease the debt represented by said lease.
This business method for financing renewable energy systems includes offering a home loan to a homeowner in which the interest payable by the homeowner is tax deductible. A lease is also offered to the homeowner for the installation and use of a renewable energy system. Cash from the home loan is placed into an escrow account for making lease payments for the renewable energy system.
The patent, which is found in the Industry area of patentECO, demonstrates the linkages between major sub-ecosystems within the overall clean technology patent ecosystem. Although its USPC classification places it as part of industry, its actual application or effect lies within the Energy sub-ecosystem, specifically within the community of clean technology patents covering renewable energy.
Just as in a forest ecosystem, there is a complex web of relationships and information flows between patents, how they are classified, their claimed purpose, and their ultimate effect.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

patentECO - Solyndra, Neither Clean Nor Green

Solyndra, Neither Clean Nor Green
We learned last night that a local CBS affiliate has caught Solyndra employees trashing millions of dollars worth of new, specialized German glass tubes used in solar panel manufacturing. Hundreds of thousands of tubes, valued at approaching $10 million. According to CBS, “court documents reveal the company received permission from the bankruptcy trustee to abandon the high grade glass, the court agreeing that it was of “inconsequential value” because the cost of storing them exceeds their value.”
The Washington Times reports that “[t]he head of a House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee investigating the collapse of solar panel maker Solyndra said Friday that tapes showing company workers destroying inventory were “an outrage.”

“First we learn of the ridiculous request for $500,000 in Solyndra bonuses. Now we find out that these employees are apparently destroying millions of dollars worth of equipment,” said Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican and chairman of the committee’s investigations panel.”

Looks like destroying the evidence.  What no opportunity to recycle, reuse, repurpose here? 
From our patentECO clean technology definition, emphasis added:
“Clean technologies use less material, less energy, minimize waste, or lessen negative environmental consequences . . . maintains a focus on efficient and productive use of natural and man-made resources in a sustainable manner, targeting human needs and desired products and services, while conserving resources and the environment so that these needs and desires may be met both now and in the future.”
Solyndra, the bankruptcy trustees, the court, and the Obama administration that facilitated this outrageous waste of money called Solyndra — hypocrites all.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

patentECO - Clean Fertilizers for Agriculture

Clean fertilizers for agriculture?
According to US Department of Agriculture statistics, from July 30, 2008 through June 30, 2009, 17.7 million tons of primary inorganic plant nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium — the N-P-K on your bag of fertilizer) were used in the US. For selected secondary, micronutrients, and natural organic materials (gypsum, sulfur, sulfuric acid, zinc, compost, dried manure, sewage sludge, and other organic materials), FY2009 saw 2.3 million tons consumed. For comparison, the total weight (20 million tons) is the equivalent of 220 Washington Monuments.
“Bio-processed mineral fertilisers including micro-elements”, patent number 8,066,793, was issued on November 29, 2011 to Clive Prebble Sinclair (Pukekohe, New Zealand) and assigned to Kagree Holdings Limited (Waiku, New Zealand). The patent is classified as 71/8, which includes inventions using bacterial fermentation or decomposition processes to produce fertilizer. For a historical perspective, the earliest US patent (number 26,184) issued in this class and subclass was for improvement in fertilizers to Louis Harper of Navasink, NJ on November 22, 1859.
Claim 1 states:
A bio-processed mineral fertiliser comprising:
a crushed phosphate-rich mineral substrate, the mineral substrate having been at least partially rendered bioavailable by a composting process utilizing microorganisms;
organic proteinaceous matter;
cellulose-rich particulate material;
and an effective amount of one or more selected microelements, the microelement being chelatedly bound to the organic proteinaceous matter and/or to the mineral substrate component wherein the fertiliser has a neutral pH, and is capable of slowly releasing the bound one or more microelements over an extended period of time after application of the fertiliser to soil, yet not exposing the composting microorganisms or existing soil microorganisms to a toxic concentration of said one or more selected microelements.
The invention describes a method of including micro-elements in a dry, flowable fertilizer of degraded minerals together with micro-organisms by the use of chelated microelements within the nutrients provided to the micro-organisms at the start of a composting procedure. The minerals can include limestone, zeolites, serpentine, or rock phosphate or a combination, ground to a particle size of 0.3-0.7 mm, and used in part as a digestible substrate (which becomes partly decomposed) by the micro-organisms which are nourished with some waste protein material under relatively high temperatures for a period of weeks. The waste protein material used as nutrients usually comprises waste from the fishing industry (about 70% by weight of a catch is not used for human consumption).
Several aspects of this invention are noteworthy and allow it to be located in multiple locations within the patentECO clean technology ecosystem.
  • This biomediated fertilizer will result in an increased microbial biomass in the soil, which will enhance crop yields and provide a carbon dioxide sink.
  • The total amount of a microelements required for effective treatment is far less (than with conventional crop treatments) when the microelement has been included into the biomass, than if the microelement was spread on the land as an inorganic salt. Further, toxic effects of direct application on soil micro-organisms are absent. Release is slow and is likely to be directly from micro-organism to plant root hairs within or near the rhizosphere, so that waterways are not contaminated.
  • The invention is capable of consuming considerable quantities of fish offal (that is, the about 70% of the original catch of a fishing vessel that is not usable as fish fillets).
  • Macro- and micronutrients are released to the soil slowly, thus reducing episodic loading to neighboring waterways following rain and snowmelt events.
Increased agricultural use of fertilizers such as this could be an important contributor to reducing nonpoint source nutrient loads to water resources like Chesapeake Bay and the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, and to increasing crop yields in a cost-effective way for farmers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

patentECO - Simple Tech

When you consider the question, “what is clean technology?”, what comes to mind?
Biofuels? Solar panels? Wind turbines? Environmentally-friendly household cleaning products? Each of these are found in Way Better Patents clean technology ecosystem, and they all have something in common — they are the end products of a large and complex manufacturing infrastructure, and each is a complex product in and of itself.
What about a specialized culvert grate with no moving parts that requires little or no maintenance? Is it clean technology?
Yes, it is.
Patent number 6,338,595, “Storm water control header for culverts ”, was issued on January 15, 2002 to Adrian T. Schollen of Markham, Ontario, Canada. The invention is classified as 405/125, which places it with other inventions that control, treat, or contain fluids using culverts. These inventions are found in the major technology category of hydraulic and earth engineering (Class 405 of the US Patent Classification system).  
Claim 1 states:
“A storm-water header for connection to a culvert or conduit to moderate the flow of storm-water through the culvert comprising, 
a head-wall having a thimble on the downstream side thereof, an adjustable inlet control device on the upstream side of the head-wall, said head-wall being adapted to be vertically mounted in a ditch or water course with the thimble received in said culvert, weir means in said control device for retaining water to a depth of the position of the weir, and having a base section provided with openings to permit the flow of a reduced volume of water through said control device, whereby heavy flows of storm-water pass over said weir, and light flows of rain fall flow through said openings in said base section.”
This invention reduces the velocity of stormwater flowing into a culvert, thus reducing its potential to erode sediment and entrain pollutants in the runoff water. This invention, and others like it, could play a role in reducing the pollution from runoff in urban, suburban, and agricultural areas.
The loading of nonpoint source pollutants such as nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment, toxins, and metals is a very significant concern in much of the country (the Chesapeake Bay watershed is a prime example), and simple, cost-effective, and low-cost solutions, are vital.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

patentECO - New Biofuels at the Jetport

I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane
The 2011 Thanksgiving through New Year holiday travel season is over, the escape from the cold travel season is kicking off.  From November 2010 — January 2011 US domestic airline fuel consumption was 2,744.5 million gallons, costing $6,565.6 million, according to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics (Airline Fuel Cost and Consumption (U.S. Carriers - All) January 2000 - September 2011). This fuel was consumed over a total of 1,397,832,000 miles flown during that period (Domestic Revenue Aircraft Miles Flown (000) (Nov 2010 - Jan 2011)).
The Federal Aviation Administration announced on December 1, 2011 “$7.7 million in contracts to eight companies to help advance alternative, environmentally-friendly, sustainable sources for commercial jet fuel . . . the eight companies selected for the contracts will help the FAA develop and approve alternative, sustainably-sourced “drop-in” jet fuels that can be used without changing aircraft engine systems or airport fueling infrastructure.  As part of that work, the companies will develop these biofuels from sources such as alcohols, sugars, biomass, and organic materials known as pyrolysis oils.  In addition, the contracts call for research into alternative jet fuel quality control, examination of how jet biofuels affect engine durability, and provide guidance to jet biofuel users about factors that affect sustainability.”
The award winners are:
  • $1.1 million for Honeywell UOP of Des Plaines, IL
  • $3 million for LanzaTech, Inc. of Roselle, IL
  • $1.5 million for Virent Energy Systems of Madison, WI
  • $1.5 million for Velocys, Inc. of Plain City, OH
  • $280,000 for Honeywell Aerospace of Phoenix, AZ
  • $250,000 for Metron Aviation, Inc. of Dulles, VA
  • $50,000 for Futurepast: Inc. of Arlington, VA
  • $25,000 for Life Cycle Associates, LLC of Portola Valley, CA.
One of the most recent patents granted to Amyris Biotechnologies, Inc. in the area of alternative jet fuel is patent number 7,942,940, “Jet fuel compositions and methods of making and using same”, issued on May 17, 2011 to Neil Renninger, Jason  Ryder, and Karl Fisher. Related US patents of the same title are 7,935,156 and 7,671,245. The ‘940 patent is assigned to Amyris Biotechnologies, Inc. of Emeryville, CA, and is one of 16 presently owned by the company.
The ‘940 patent is classified in the US Patent Classification system (USPC) as 44/300, which covers liquid fuels (excluding fuels that are exclusively mixtures of liquid hydrocarbons), under Class 44 fuel and related compositions. This invention falls within the Energy category of Way Better Patents cleantech ecosystem.
As of 12/5/11, 165 patents are listed in 44/300. The earliest patent issued with 44/300 as the original classification (USPTO-speak for the core inventive subject matter of the patent) is 1,575,437, issued on March 2, 1926.
Claim 1 states:
“A fuel composition comprising or obtainable from a mixture comprising:
 (a) a C.sub.10 bicyclic isoprenoid; (b) a petroleum-based fuel; and (c) a fuel additive, wherein the amount of the C.sub.10 bicyclic isoprenoid is at least about 2 vol. % and the amount of the petroleum-based fuel is at least about 5 vol. %, both amounts based on the total volume of the fuel composition, and wherein the fuel composition has a flash point equal to or greater than 38.degree. C. and a density at 15.degree. C. from about 750 kg/m.sup.3 to about 850 kg/m.sup.3, and wherein where the C.sub.10 bicyclic isoprenoid is pinane, the fuel composition comprises from 0% to 10% of a hydrogenated naphthalene-containing material.”
The ‘940 patent yields jet biofuel produced in part from microorganisms; more than 80 microbial genera or species that can be used in this innovative clean technology process are listed in the specification. You may have heard of some of them:
  • Aspergillus — bread and potato mold; basement mold & mildew.
  • Bacillus subtilis — soil inoculant in horticulture and agriculture; laundry detergent additive.
  • Candida albicans — fungus that grows both as yeast and filamentous cells and a causal agent of oral and genital infections in humans.
  • Escherichia coli — bacterium that is commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms (endotherms). Most E. coli strains are harmless, but some can cause serious food poisoning in humans and are occasionally responsible for product recalls.
  • Fusarium graminearum — plant pathogen which causes devastating disease on wheat and barley, responsible for billions of dollars in economic losses worldwide each year.
  • Lactobacillus helveticus — most commonly used in the production of American Swiss cheese and Emmental cheese but is also sometimes used in making other styles of cheese, such as Cheddar, Parmesan, romano, provolone, and mozzarella. The primary function of L. helveticus culture is to prevent bitterness and produce nutty flavors in the final cheese.
  • Penicillium — members of the genus produce penicillin, a molecule that is used as an antibiotic, which kills or stops the growth of certain kinds of bacteria inside the body.
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae — perhaps the most useful yeast, having been instrumental to baking and brewing since ancient times; believed to have been originally isolated from the skin of grapes. Antibodies against S. cerevisiae are found in 60–70% of patients with Crohn's disease and 10–15% of patients with ulcerative colitis. Used in brewing beer as a top-fermenting yeast.
  • Salmonella enterica — Most cases of salmonellosis are caused by food infected with S. enterica.
  • Shigella dysenteriae S. dysenteriae, spread by contaminated water and food, causes the most severe dysentery because of its potent and deadly Shiga toxin, but other species may also be dysentery agents. Contamination is often caused by bacteria on unwashed hands during food preparation, or soiled hands reaching the mouth.
  • Staphylococcus aureusS. aureus can cause a range of illnesses from minor skin infections, such as pimples, impetigo, boils (furuncles), cellulitis folliculitis, carbuncles, scalded skin syndrome, and abscesses, to life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, osteomyelitis, endocarditis, toxic shock syndrome (TSS), bacteremia, and sepsis. Methicillin-resistant S. aureus, abbreviated MRSA, is one of a number of greatly-feared strains of S. aureus which have become resistant to most antibiotics.
The patent does point out that non-pathogenic strains are preferred.
Thus, if the technology protected in this patent reaches commercial application, your future holiday air travel could be fueled, in part, by the action of microbes which can be our friend (bread, cheese, beer, penicillin, jet fuel) or foe (mildew, infections, dysentery, MRSA).
Food for thought, so to speak.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

patentECO - The Unintended Consequences of Inventions

The presence of the Patent Office and high tech, bio tech and innovation corridors and the Federal government organizations responsible for billions in research grants means that there is lots of innovation going on here.  In addition to inventing new stuff, a lot of people come here to see if the stuff they invent is any good. The Washington area is a special kind of melting pot. Lots of people from somewhere else brought here for work, military assignments, school, government or politics. We have representatives from every state representing their populace in Congress and people from every country with the possible exception of Cuba, Iran, and North Korea, as part of the diplomatic community. The people who come here bring their driving and shopping habits with them. The Washington area is a market research bonanza for everything from the McRib to the LED traffic lights. When it snows here it makes for an interesting opportunity to evaluate new signal light technology.

This time last year the New York Times reported on safety issues with LED traffic lights in its article called "LED Signals Seen as Potential Hazards". The LED traffic light offer many advantages to cash strapped municipalities - lower operating cost both in terms of power consumption and a tremendously long useful life compared with conventional signal lights. The LED traffic signals reduce the need for DOT personnel to hang precariously in bucket trucks above busy intersections to change the incandescent bulbs. One of the unintended consequences of innovation is that LED signals don't emit much in the way of heat. Lots of work went into making the lights work in the existing signal light housings. To do that you had to eliminate the heat.

The heat from conventional incandescent lamps is what melts the snow on traffic signals. Without the heat from the conventional traffic signal bulbs, snow and ice gets packed into the lights obstructing the lens so that you can't tell what color the light. This results in people having accidents. Tragically some of the accidents resulted in fatalities. To make matters worse, in storm situations only one side of the signal can be obscured - the side with the gusting wind. So one side works and the other doesn't. Not good in a snow storm when one side is working and the drivers on that side follow the lights and the drivers on the other side can't see what's going on with the lights.

The pace for replacing traditional incandescent signals with LED signals is accelerating. Wisconsin, a place with lots of snow, has converted more than 90 percent of the lighting controlled by the state to LED bulbs. So now instead of hanging precariously from bucket trucks to change bulbs, the DOT workers need to hang precariously from bucket trucks in the snow and use brooms to sweep off the snow and ice that obstruct the lenses on the traffic signals.

The LED traffic signal patents almost all tout the benefits of improved energy efficiency and lower cost to operate. Many of the inventions deal with techniques for improved heat dissipation so that the new LED lights can be retrofitted into existing traffic signal housings, and operate better in warmer climates. Others deal with improving the life of the LED lamps by reducing the heat emitted. One would assume from the New York Times article that the heat dissipating means which conduct heat away from the LEDs appear to be working particularly well since snow isn't melting from the lenses.

Enter US Patent 7,211,771 for a Deicing System for Traffic Signals. David Smith and Steven Canan of Precision Solar Controls, Inc. have invented a circuit for detecting and eliminating the buildup of snow and ice on the viewable face of an LED traffic signal lens. One circuit measures ambient temperature, a second transmits a signal when the ambient temperature is below a predetermined level, a third signal receives a reflection of the transmitted signal when frozen matter is present on the LED signal and the fourth signal heats the lens until the ambient temperature on the lens is above the predetermined level or the frozen matter on the lens is eliminated. The patent application was filed in November of 2005 and granted in 17 months on May 1, 2007, pretty quick.. The patent is clear and concise in disclosing the invention without all the vocabulary obfuscation of other patents. Precision Solar Controls has a hot patent in its portfolio and hopefully one that when put into action will eliminate the unintended consequence of LED traffic lights keeping the DOT workers out of the bucket trucks on snowy days. It will no doubt be of benefit in places where snow and ice and traffic lights are a hazardous mix during the winter helping perfect the LED signal light technology. Here in Washington we'll probably just stay home anyway.

Here is a link to Phil Falconer's article at timesunion.com.  Another interesting discussion of the problem.

There's lots of information about the art and science of lighting at the Lighting Research Center which is part of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.

The Federal Highway Administration of the US Department of Transportation has information on their latest research and development activities. Check out the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center and their research work.