Wednesday, February 29, 2012

patentECO - Green Technology Program Closed

USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program Closes
Tripping Through La-La Land
The USPTO Green Tech Pilot Program has closed and is no longer accepting additional applications.
How do we know this? Because of the heading on what passes for the Program home page:
One can only assume that 3500 applications were accepted into the program, as the page does not explicitly state this, other than the ‘3500th’ highlighted in the graphic.
And what about knowing the date on which the Program closed? That information does not appear.
In an effort to track down this information, on February 25, 2012, I emailed the Office of Patent Legal Administration at the email address ( provided at the bottom of the Program home page, asking for the closing date and total number of applications accepted into the program. One would think that would be pretty simple to answer, as someone made a decision to close the program because some threshold had been met. As of today (February 28), there’s been no reply.
So, I decided to call the phone number provided (571-272-7701). I spoke with a very pleasant young man who informed me that the Office of Patent Legal Administration really had nothing to do with the Green Technology Program (to his credit he was aware that it had closed, which I found out when he launched in to a soliloquy before I had even completed my initial question to him, and he assumed that they had received a lot of applications) and I needed to contact the Office of Petitions.
I called the Office of Petitions, and was swept in to their automated voice mail system. As I did not, thank you very much, want to press a lot of buttons, but wanted to speak with a live human-type person, I didn’t press any buttons on my phone, as directed, and then had to endure the hideous noise that passes for background music (note to USPTO voice mail system administrators — get a clue. The background noise is not helpful to your clients’ state of mind). After about 6-10 cycles (it probably only seemed liked 20-30), a pleasant operator answered the phone, and, in response to my question, informed me that I would need to speak with one of the Office attorneys.
Back in to voice mail perdition.
Finally, after finishing my cup of tea, a person (attorney??) answered. After succinctly describing the two (2) pieces of information I wanted, I was informed that “We don’t know, we really don’t do anything with that Program. You’ll need to speak with the Office of Patent Legal Administration, they are the ones that handle this.” I really was very kind (really) when I thanked her for her help.
The source code for the Green Tech Program home page shows the following:

We can therefore assume (and an assumption is all it is, as apparently no one in the known universe, or least the USPTO corner of it, really has the information) that the Green Technology Pilot Program closed on or about February 15, 2012 after receiving 3500 applications. 

Another frightening example of how dysfunctional the federal government is.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

patentECO -- Low Tech Clean Tech

Low Tech Clean Tech

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “clean tech”? Advanced, complex water or wastewater treatment facilities? Extensive wind energy farms? Clean rooms where solar panel technology is constructed? Hybrid fuel cars?

What about a PVC or concrete pipe 39-48” long, 16” in diameter containing a layer of fine sand over gravel?

Patent number 5,993,672, “Slow sand filter for use with intermittently flowing water supply and method of use thereof,” was granted on November 30, 1999 to David Manz of Calgary, Canada, and assigned to University Technologies International Inc., the technology transfer arm of the University of Calgary. The patent is classified as 210/744, which places it with inventions dealing with level sensing aspects of liquid purification or separation technologies.

Claim 1 of the patent states:

“A method of operating a slow sand filter for use with an intermittent supply of water, the filter including a container, filter material partially filling the container and having a top, a water inlet above the filter material and a water outlet within the filter material, the method comprising the steps of:

supplying an intermittent flow of water to the container; and

maintaining the water level in the container above the top of the filter material even when there is no flow of water through the slow sand filter at a maintenance level that is selected such that (1) water falling onto the water in the container does not disturb a schmutzdeuke layer formed on the top of the filter material and (2) the schmutzdeuke will survive even when there is no flow of water through the container for at least 24 hours.”

A “schmutzdeuke layer”? What in the world (at least we assume it is not alien) is that? “Schmutzdecke” is a German word that translates as “dirty layer.” If you look in the Background and Summary of the Invention section of the patent (which follows the claims), Manz defines the “schmutzdeuke layer” as a biological layer that forms at the top of sand when the sand is immersed in flowing water for several days. The schmutzdeuke is formed from various organisms such as algae, plankton, diatoms, protozoa and bacteria. It entraps and partially digests and breaks down organic matter container in the raw water passing through the filter. The organic matter accumulates on the schmutzdeuke and simple inorganic salts are formed. At the same time, inert suspended particles in the raw water are removed mechanically. You can see this reddish-brown layer if you have a sand-filtered aquarium. Think of it as a living version of a coffee filter.

Slow sand filters are effective in removing bacteria, parasites, Giardia cysts, Cryptosporidium oocysts and viruses from water. In fact, sand filters might be a major component of the water treatment plant that provides your drinking water if you are on a municipal water system. While bacteria, parasites and viruses may be killed or rendered inactive with disinfection, dormant cysts and oocysts are very resistant to disinfection unless the disinfectant is administered very intensively. Slow sand filters may be used to supply clean water directly for consumption or may be used to supply water for further treatment, such as by reverse osmosis and ultra-filtration, both of which processes require quite clean water to begin with.

Manz’s invention, by providing a static water level above the sand layer, allows the biosand filter to be used in situations where the water supply is intermittent (the biological filter layer dies if it dries out), such as wilderness cabins, third-world countries, and disaster settings.

Simple technology, such as this one in patentECO’s Water Index, can be clean.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

patentECO - Water on the Move

Power From Flowing Water

The American Water Works Association reports that water systems are evaluating applying smart grid technology to the treatment, distribution, and monitoring of drinking water. Recent patents support this development.

Patent number 7,605,485, “Systems and methods for generating power through the flow of water,” was issued October 20, 2009 to Barth Robins Pitchford (Fairfax, VA), William Dudley Pitchford (Fairfax, VA), Robert Paul Simon (Fairfax, VA), C. David Binning (Warrenton, VA), and David Lewis Rasmussen (Vienna, VA) and was assigned to the Fairfax County (Virginia) Water Authority. The patent is classified as 290/43 for prime-mover dynamo plants, and specifically fluid current motors. As of January 5, 2012, this subclass contains 524 patents related to hydroelectric, wave, and wind power generation, among others.

The FCWA is Virginia’s largest water utility, serving one out of every five Virginians who obtain their water from public utilities. Nearly 1.7 million people in the Northern Virginia communities of Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Alexandria obtain their drinking water from FCWA.

Claim 1 states:

“A power generator system comprising:

a rotating device adapted to rotate in response to a flow of water on the rotating device;

a drive magnet operatively coupled to the rotating device and adapted to rotate in response to the rotating device rotating;

a registration magnet operatively coupled to the drive magnet and adapted to rotate in response to the drive magnet rotating;

a power generator operatively coupled to the registration magnet and adapted to harvest and store energy in response to the registration magnet rotating;

a rectifier operatively coupled to an output of the power generator and adapted to convert the energy from an alternating current (AC) to a direct current (DC);

a first power storage device adapted to be charged by an output of the rectifier and a second power storage device adapted to be charged by an output of the first power storage device;

and a processor configured to monitor voltages levels of the first power storage device and second power storage device and cause a transfer of energy from the first power storage device to the second power storage device in the event that the voltage level of the first storage device is above a first threshold and the voltage level of the second storage device is below a second threshold.”

This invention generates and harvests energy in response to the flow of water through rotating device, such as a nutating or oscillating disk. Mechanical energy from flow of water is converted into electrical energy via an energy conversion unit. The power generation system may be used to power electronic and mechanical devices used in automated meter reading (AMR) systems. The power generator system may recharge a storage circuit that enables long term AMR operations without the need for battery replacement. The power generation system, in various embodiments, can provide additional power for two-way communication and other sensors such as pressure, temperature, water quality and services such as remote shut-off, event-based messaging, and water quality monitoring.

These inventors and assignee also were granted patent number 7,671,480, “Systems and methods for remote utility metering and meter monitoring,” issued March 2, 2010. This patent is also classified as 290/43. The patent is a divisional of the application that led to the ‘485 patent. A divisional patent application occurs when a patent examiner determines that a patent application describes more than one invention (a patent can only describe one invention). The original patent application is "divided" into a new application referred to as a divisional patent application.

These types of inventions are a component of the emerging smart water grid. They also illustrate linkages between patentECO indexes, in this case, Energy and Water.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

patentECO - Green Snow Removal

I Don’t Mind Snow, But I Can Do Without Ice

As I write this article in very early 2012, it is snowing here in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. A nice, gentle dusting of snow. Very unlike the Snowmageddon of 2009-2010. I’ve seen no indication of any snow removal equipment yet this morning, which reminds me, what about clean snow removal technology in the patentECO sphere?

For many years, various mixtures of grit and rock salt have been used on highways for snow removal and ice control. More recently, chemical compounds and mixtures that have a lower negative environmental impact and greater melting efficiency have been used.

Two recent patents illustrate this shift.

Patent number 7,879,254, “Snow removal agent and preparation method,” was issued on February 1, 2011 to Seung Cheol Jung and Moo Woong Jung, both of Incheon, South Korea. This patent is a continuation of patent number 7,666,324, “Snow removal agent and preparation method thereof,” issued the previous February 23 to the same inventors. Both patents are classified as 252/70, which are inventions for frost-preventing, ice-thawing, thermostatic, thermophoric, or cryogenic compositions.

The earliest US patent in this class and subclass was patent number 533,950, “Composition for melting snow,” issued in February, 1895. This early invention used a combination of water, common salt, acetic acid, and hydrochloric acid — perhaps not the best combination if one is interested in reducing environmental impacts.

Claim 1 of the ‘254 patent states:

“A snow removal agent for melting snow, comprising magnesium chloride, halite, urea, sodium tripolyphosphate and sodium metasilicate, wherein the sodium tripolyphosphate and the sodium metasilicate each account for an identical weight percentage in the agent, wherein the halite is crushed to a size of 7-20 mm and aged for 24-48 hours.”

Jung and Jung point out that their invention “reduces the corrosion of metallic materials of iron structures, automobiles, etc., is safe when used for a long period of time, is without the problem of re-freezing, significantly reduces the yellowing and withering of plants and is good for the growth of plants . . .” Further, their snow removal agent is “unharmful to plants, fish and shellfish.”

We find this invention in the patentECO Industrial index, which includes green chemistry and clean industrial technology. The slogan used by DuPont from 1935-1982, “Better Things for Better Living . . . Through Chemistry” certainly fits here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

patentECO - Is Your Garden Clean or Green?

Is your garden clean and green?
It’s time to think of gardening. One of the tricks known for many years to get an early start on fresh vegetables is to warm the soil. Another related trick to increase your garden’s yield is to limit weed growth and competition for soil nutrients.
How are these gardening techniques related?
Plastic mulch.
Uri Peled (Zichron Yaakov, Israel) and Karl Heinz Bartnig (Ruethen, Germany) were issued patent number 6,601,338, “Plastic film for use in agriculture”, on August 5, 2003. The patent is classified as 47/9, which is Plant husbandry, mulching.
Claim 1 of the invention states:
“A polymeric, multilayer, photoselective mulch film for use in agriculture, Comprising at least two layers, an upper layer facing the sky and a lower layer facing the ground, each of said layers being of a different color, and each being light-transmissive;
wherein said upper layer is of a color which repels insects, and said lower layer is of a color whereby the solar radiation transmitted by said film and reaching the ground is of such a spectral composition as will largely deprive weeds of essential photosynthetically active radiation, while having a spectral component that will be absorbed by, and will heat, the ground.”
That’s pretty self-explanatory. There are obviously other inventions related to mulching of garden and commercial crops. These inventions are found in the agriculture domain of patentECO.
You might be interested to also learn of the two earliest clean tech patents for mulching technology.
The earliest was patented in 1867, by William Griffith of North East, PA. His invention, patent number 64,760 entitled “Mode of propagating grape-vines from single buds in the open field,” claimed “[t]he mode of propagating grape-vines, substantially as set forth, in open-field culture, by covering single bud cuttings with a cold mulch, applied in sufficient depth to keep down the temperature of the bud, and thereby retard its sprouting until the roots have been adequately developed.” His preferred mulch was a two-inch covering of “sawdust, tan [this was the depleted bark from leather tanning operations], or other suitable material.” His intention to increase crop yield through better bud propagation, and his use of sawdust or depleted leather tanning bark as the mulch, all qualify as clean tech, in two different domains, in fact. Agriculture (yield enhancement) and Industry (recycling).
The second oldest mulching patent was number 80,053, “Improved mode of mulching strawberry-beds”, issued in 1868 to Joseph Brett of Geneva, OH. Brett’s invention, also intended to enhance crop yields, relied on planting his own mulch: “The mode of mulching strawberry-beds by sowing thereon the seeds of plants [he preferred oats, but “other plants of analogous character may be used.”], the stalks or blades of which are intended to serve as a mulch therefor, substantially as set forth.” Again, clean tech in multiple domains.
Much of what we consider now to be clean technology is old clean technology with new packaging or using newer materials.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

patentECO - Indoor Wetlands

A December 26, 2011 Associated Press article discussed challenges faced by many cities to control overflows due to wet weather from combined municipal stormwater and wastewater systems. The article references a USEPA memo released in late October, 2011 describing an integrated planning approach that EPA will implement with municipalities to look for opportunities to solve multiple water quality problems. EPA’s announcement of the planning approach touts “[g]reen infrastructure, such as green roofs, rain gardens, planter boxes, and permeable pavement, [as] an example of an integrated solution that can reduce, capture, and treat stormwater runoff at its source before it can reach the sewer system. Green infrastructure provides a cost effective way to reduce overflows and add green space in communities.”
Some of the technologies mentioned by EPA fall into the patentECO Industry ecosystem (e.g., green roofs, rain gardens, planter boxes) while others are transportation-related (permeable pavement). Is there other, more advanced patented clean technology that can be brought to bear on reducing stormwater runoff or pollution in towns and cities, thereby also reducing the potential for overflowing sewage from their combined treatment facilities?
The “greenest” technologies to accomplish this would use living, green plants. It has long been known in ecology that wetlands have a tremendous capacity for buffering storm runoff (and wave action in the case of tidal wetlands) and absorbing and/or converting water pollutants to less toxic or available forms. Early work to apply this knowledge to the treatment of polluted water occurred in Germany in the 1950s. In the US, a number of patents using this knowledge have been granted to John H. Todd:
5,087,353: “Solar aquatic apparatus for treating waste”
5,389,257: “Methods for treating water”
5,486,291: “Ecological fluidized bed method for the treatment of polluted water”
5,618,413: “Ecological fluidized bed system”
Todd’s patents were purchased in 1999 by Worrell Water Technologies of Charlottesville, VA. Worrell has updated the technology and received additional patents.
Patent number 7,320,752, “Integrated hydroponic and wetland wastewater treatment systems and associated methods”, was issued on January 22, 2008 to David C. Austin, David J. Maciolek, and J. Rob von Rohr. The invention is classified in the US system as 210/602; this places it with technology that uses plants or animals of a higher order (i.e., not bacteria) to purify or separate liquids. 
Claim 1 states:
“A method for achieving advanced treatment of wastewater comprising:
removing from water to be treated at least some organic compounds and solids in a first module;
at least intermittently exposing the water to be treated to oxygen in the first module;
achieving at least partial denitrification of the water to be treated in the first module;
channeling the water from the first module to a second module comprising an aerated hydroponic reactor;
and channeling water exiting the hydroponic reactor to a top of a third module comprising a vertical-flow wetland adapted to maintain a population of aquatic invertebrates therein, for achieving BOD removal, nitrification, denitrification, and removal of TSS.”
Worrell’s other patents for this technology include:
7,347,940: “Nitrogen removal system and method for wastewater treatment lagoons”, issued March 25, 2008.
7,378,021: “Tidal vertical flow wastewater treatment system and method”, issued May 27, 2008.
The upshot of these patents is that if you are a building owner interested in reducing the environmental impact of your property, and you desire to improve water quality, the technology to do that with constructed ecosystems exists. It would even make a fascinating addition to your building’s lobby.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

patentECO - A Guitar-Tuning Flashlight

I recently perused a musical supply catalog and saw a listing for “the world’s first chromatic green [guitar] tuner.” The description of this clean tech device went on to say that the user can “[s]imply give the crank a few turns and you’re ready to tune. No more expensive and wasteful batteries . . . [t]he built-in flashlight lets you tune on a dark stage.”
Of course, the ad doesn’t mention that one could use rechargeable batteries, but let’s not quibble. We can agree that using human-supplied mechanical power to turn the crank to supply the small (my tuners require 2 AAA batteries for a total of 3 volts DC) amount of power needed by this device is clean technology, good for the environment, conserves the metals and other material used for the eliminated batteries, reduces the amount of fossil fuels combusted or nuclear fuel reacted to charge the batteries, and, multiplied by the sale of millions of these tuners, represents one small step on the road to a clean tech society. We would find this tuner in the Energy area of the patent ecosystem.
And because it’s clean tech, and labelled a “green” product, it’s completely new and different, right?
Ah, no, not exactly.
Patent number 252,691, “Combined electric lamp and generator,” was issued on January 24, 1882 to Elizabeth Morey of New York, NY. The invention is classified as 362/192 in the USPC, a class and subclass covering illumination with a generator power source. The purposed of Morey’s invention is “to furnish a portable electric lamp for domestic and business purposes, which is directly combined with its generator, so as not to be dependent upon a central station for the current . . .” The lamp contains “a small dynamo-electric machine or current-generator . . .” Attached to the motor is a “convolute spring and winding-up devices — a motive power of sufficient power to actuate the current-generator.”
Also relevant to the hand-cranked green guitar tuner with flashlight is patent number 983,742, “Electric hand lamp.” Issued on February 7, 1911 to John W. Mead of Buffalo, NY, this patent is also classified in 362/192. Of historical note, this patent was issued exactly one week before patent number 984,519 to John M. Browning.
Mead describes his invention: “The current for lamps of this character has heretofore been furnished by dry batteries located in the handle of the lamp. Inasmuch as such batteries are necessarily small they soon become exhausted and require frequent renewal, thus involving constant expense for maintenance. It is the object of this invention to produce an electric hand lamp containing a magneto for generating the current for lighting the lamp, the body of said lamp having preferably the form of a pistol or revolver and the armature being operated by a trigger in substantially the same manner in which a pistol is fired.”
Much of what we see as new, clean technology in the patentECO patent ecosystem is the re-purposing of old technology in more efficient ways, for new uses, or with new materials. Prior art matters.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

patentECO - Green Investing in Brown Fields

On December 19, 2011, Fox News reported that “EPA Ponders Expanded Regulatory Power In Name of 'Sustainable Development'”. The report links current EPA thinking on sustainable development with the United Nations’ Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development and an August, 2011 National Academy of Sciences study entitled “Sustainability and the U.S. EPA.”
Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.  Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.
Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have,  the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment.
And what is USEPA doing about it? In a sentence from the previous link:
Today EPA aims to make sustainability the next level of environmental protection by drawing on advances in science and technology to protect human health and the environment, and promoting innovative green business practices.
Are there patents covering sustainable development?
Here’s one. Patent number 7,346,572, “Brownfields investing”, was issued on March 18, 2008 to Cheryl Hoffman (Golden, CO) and assigned to CLHSM, LLC (Denver, CO). Brownfields is the term used for former industrial or commercial sites where future use is affected by real or perceived environmental contamination.

The Hoffman invention is classified as 705/37 in the US Patent Classification system. Patents that claim trading, matching, or bidding within a finance framework are found here — this is a business method patent. It is found within the Industry category of patentECO’s clean technology patent ecosystem.
Claim 1 states:
A method for managing a Brownfields fund, comprising:
storing in a computer system information relating to the Brownfields fund;
accepting investor capital from at least one investor into the Brownfields fund;
storing information in the computer system relating to the at least one investor, the stored information including investor identification information, investment amounts, and terms of investments;
storing information in the computer system concerning an entity and a Brownfields project, the entity having an ownership interest in the Brownfields;
approving the entity and the Brownfields project for financing with investment capital from the Brownfields fund according to select criteria using the information stored in the computer system concerning the entity and the Brownfields project;
and providing the investment capital from the Brownfields fund to the approved entity to at least partially finance the approved Brownfields project without taking any ownership interest in the approved Brownfields project, the approved entity being provided the investment capital using at least some of the investor capital from the at least one investor.
According to the inventor, “contaminated properties have been considered a current and future liability to their owners (current and future), and to the communities in which they are located. The market value of real property is directly affected by contamination and pollution. Valuation of real property is negatively effected by risks that are not quantifiable in terms of time and/or money. Valuation affects decision making during cleanup of contaminated property, and, likewise, decision making during remediation affects valuation, of the contaminated property and surrounding properties. The result has been that many of these properties are idle and abandoned in spite of their potential value.”
This invention provides a system and method for investing in brownfields-related projects capable of supporting all aspects of a remediation/development/redevelopment project, while shielding investors from environmental liability.
We tend to think of clean technology as things, when in fact, it includes processes and methods of doing business in ways that use less material and/or energy, minimize waste, or lessen negative environmental consequences. Certainly, financing inventions that provide diminished risk of investing in contaminated properties meets this criterion.

Friday, February 3, 2012

patentECO - Water - The New Oil

Water is the new oil.  This means two things 1)  inventions that conserve water or improve its distribution and treatment will be very important; and, 2)  the companies in the water industry will be hot commodities as the source of both new products and services and value growth and financial gains for their investors.

According to Citigroup, 70% of the globe's population will live in urban areas by 2050.  The demand for water will skyrocket by five times.

“As urban areas increase in size and become more affluent, changing diets and sanitation requirements can cause the demand for water to increase five-fold beyond the ‘basic water requirement’ needed for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene,” wrote Michael Geraghty of Citi’s global equity strategy group.

Willem Buiter, the bank's global economist sees water as one of the most important physical commodity asset classes predicting, "fleets of water tankers..and storage facilities that will dwarf those we currently have for oil, natural gas, and liquified natural gas (LNG).

Citibank identified the following firms as companies to watch:

Danaher Corporation (DHR) which trades on the NYSE and has a market cap of $32.24 Billion as of December 2011.  Danaher is a diversified industrial firm.  Its environmental segment provides products to help protect the Company's water supply and air quality.

 G.U.D. Holdings (GUD), an Australian industrial firm owns Davy, a water products firm that manufactures, sources, and distributes a comprehensive range of products for the transfer, conservation, and treatment of water.  The latest addition to their patent IP is US patent 7,997,295, "Controller, system, and method for providing supplementing water."

Pentair (PNR), a water filtration firm with a market cap of $3.25 Billion and 99.8 million shares outstanding.

Nalco (NLC) a water services firm that was recently acquired by Ecolab (ECL) to create an $11 Billion global leader in cleaning, sanitizing and water management serving institutional, industrial and energy markets. (They use a lot of water.)  The merger was completed on November 30, 2011.  Nalco holds patents across a variety of technologies and has a number of applications pending including work done in collaboration with Rice University.

Valmont Industries (VMI) manufactures mechanized irrigation systems as part of its industrial goods business.  It's known for its industrial lighting, support structures, all of which play a part in the emerging clean tech marketplace.  The firm's most recent published patent application is for a mechanized irrigation system.

We'll be keeping track of innovations in the water space and at these firms as part of our patentECO clean tech analysis.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

patentECO - Put That in Your Pipe

First, a few statistics.
  • 170,000 public drinking-water systems are located across the US
  • 54,000 of these systems are community water systems that collectively serve more than 264 million people
  • The remaining 114,000 are non-community water systems, such as those for campgrounds and schools
  • More than half of public drinking-water systems serve fewer than 500 people
  • The nation has far fewer public waste-water systems than drinking-water systems —  approximately 14,780 wastewater treatment facilities and 19,739 wastewater pipe systems as of 2008
  • Aging pipes and inadequate capacity lead to the discharge of an estimated 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage each year
  • The cost of the capital investment required to maintain and upgrade drinking-water and wastewater treatment systems across the US in 2010 is estimated as $91 billion. Only $36 billion of this was funded, leaving a capital funding gap of nearly $55 billion.
The nation’s drinking- and wastewater systems are aging and in major need of rehabilitation.
These are a few of the observations of “Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Water and Wastewater Treatment Infrastructure,” released by the American Society of Civil Engineers on December 15, 2011. The report states that “[e]ven with increased conservation and cost-effective development of other efficiency methods, the growing gap between capital needs to maintain drinking-water and wastewater treatment infrastructure and investments to meet those needs will likely result in unreliable water service and inadequate wastewater treatment.”
The American Water Works Association published “Dawn of the Replacement Era: Reinvesting in Drinking Water Infrastructure” in 2001. One of the stunning stats in that report is that the replacement cost value of water mains plus water treatment plants, pumps, etc., is over $13,000 per household in 2011 dollars, on average.
Is there clean technology that can be applied to this problem so that water infrastructure repairs and replacement can proceed in a targeted, cost-effective manner that also reduces the environmental effects of the construction activities that will be required?
One tool in the patentECO patentsphere is water pipe inspection and repair robots.
Patent number 8,024,066, “Autonomous inspector mobile platform,” was issued on September 20, 2011 to a team of inventors, with Carlos Reverte of Miami, FL as the first-named inventor. The patent, assigned to RedZone Robotics, Inc. (Pittsburgh, PA), is classified in the US system as 700/245. This classification places the invention with others that feature robot control in generic control systems or specific applications of data processing.
Claim 1 states:
A method, implemented by an autonomous robot, for inspecting an interior of a sewer pipe, the method comprising:
a) capturing information about the interior of the sewer pipe via at least one sensor;
b) storing data representative of the captured information;
c) determining a position of the autonomous robot in the sewer pipe;
d) relating the determined position to the stored data;
e) traversing through the sewer pipe, while performing steps (a)-(d), wherein traversing through the sewer pipe comprises traversing based on the captured information, and wherein at least steps (a)-(b) and (e) are performed automatically by the autonomous robot;
and (f) utilizing a tether connected to the autonomous robot to determine a distance traveled by the autonomous robot.
The invention provides streamlined and low cost inspection and surveillance of pipes and pipe networks using trenchless methods. An autonomous robot, which may be untethered or tethered for mechanical, communications and/or power, is deployed within the pipe. Once deployed, the robot navigates through the pipe capturing image data to form a complete picture or map (2D or 3D) of the interior structure of the pipe. The image map is used to determine the condition of the pipe and the existence of one or more defects that need to be corrected.
Although this invention is found within the Water category of the clean technology patent ecosystem, it is classified by the USPTO as a data processing invention. This is an excellent example of the overlapping nature of clean technologies, and the fact that clean tech covers a vast territory.