In understanding innovation synthesized between multiple parties collaborating, consider the ability of network innovation to help widen your organization's capabilities, or to help launch a program quickly. In many circumstances, organizations may be hesitant to collaborate due to perceived risk, but consider that much of this may be mitigated with honest conversation and well-structured non-disclosure agreements.
From The Ten Types of Innovation:
"Network innovations provide a way for firms to take advantage of other companies' processes, technologies, offerings, channels, and brands–pretty much any and every component of a business. These innovations mean a firm can capitalize on its own strengths while harnessing the capabilities and assets of others. Network innovations also help executives share risk in developing new offers and ventures. These collaborations can be brief or enduring, and they can be formed between close allies or even staunch competitors."
Network Innovation in the Sustainability Space
Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup XPRIZE
Although it was lost in much of the continuing news coverage of the Gulf Oil Spill, a scant three months after the Deepwater Horizon accident began and the same month the well was stopped, XPrize launched a $1.4 million open competition to improve oil spill cleanup technology at sea. No matter how unconventional the means, it's hard to argue with the end: A little more than a year after it was launched, the Oil Cleanup XPRIZE resulted in "quadrupling what had been the current industry rate of surface oil recovery."
If you're unfamiliar with XPRIZE, their mission is as elegant as it is specific:
Founded in 1995, XPRIZE, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is the leading organization solving the world’s Grand Challenges by creating and managing large-scale, high-profile, incentivized prize competitions that stimulate investment in research and development worth far more than the prize itself. The organization motivates and inspires brilliant innovators from all disciplines to leverage their intellectual and financial capital for the benefit of humanity. XPRIZE conducts competitions in five Prize Groups: Learning; Exploration; Energy & Environment; Global Development; and Life Sciences. Active prizes include the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE, the $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE, and the $2.25 million Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE.
Below is a brief look at the process and the Elastec/American Marine team that would go on to take the Oil Cleanup XPRIZE. Please watch the following 6:19 video.
Click for Transcript of Team Elastec/American Marine--Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE Video
[Audio from news clips]
We’re Team Elastec. We’re from Carmi, Illinois. We've been in the oil spill business for twenty years. We’ve got over a hundred employees now, so it's a big, big family here.
We build oil spill recovery equipment. We’re the largest manufacturer in the US, and definitely a contender in the world. We export to over 100 countries. We go out in the field and actually make our equipment work ourselves. During the twenty years we've been manufacturing, we’ve worked in many spills: Russia, China, South America.
We were on the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon incident. There was about 300,000 barrels of oil that we eliminated. So we've been around the business for a while.
So we heard of this X PRIZE challenge, certainly anybody in the industry is going to recognize that’s a pretty high mark to hit. When we first started I gotta admit we said we don't know if we can do this. 2500 gallons a minute was, I felt, was unreachable. Nobody's gonna do that. We like challenges and this certainly was a challenge.
We've been building skimmers with grooves on drums. We just moved our groove technology onto a disk and gave it a shot. We built a single disc prototype. This is the first time it's ever been shown. The first time.
We have a disc with grooves on one side, and then it's a smooth surface on the other side. And we were all just amazed at what it did.
You can see the recovery rate on the right-hand side is much higher than the recovery rate on the left-hand. We rigged up just a very quick little hydraulic motor to be able to suspend in the oil, and then actually just set scrapers up onto it and filled up a 32-gallon garbage can in 35 seconds or something like that. Now that was the Eureka moment for me anyway.
You're not just improving the surface area. You're actually making a channel that the oil will want to adhere to - what we call a meniscus effect. It’s kind of a capillary thing. It's almost like a vacuum that's pulling that into the groove and allows us to spin at very high RPMs. So it can spin faster than competitors and we’re capturing more oil.
This is the largest skimmer we've ever built. I don't think I've ever ordered so much material for one particular project. In our world, ninety days to build something from concept is pretty challenging. So we pulled out all the stops. We have a rather deep infrastructure. We have 140 employees, our own fabrication shops, our own machine shops. So we're able to pull this sort of thing off. But it took a lot of resources, a lot of overtime. It was late nights and early mornings and it wasn't just for us to build, but to pull in all of our vendors. We’ve got technologies here that's never been used before in any other device.
[No narration. Video of skimmer working.]
We never count our chickens before they're hatched. Now the wave action is going to be the biggie.
[No narration. Video of skimmer working.]
Perfect. It doesn’t get much better than this. I think right now we’re the team to beat. We raised the bar quite a bit, so we'll see. Failure’s not an option. We didn't come here for second place.
DeepWater Desal / Data Center Co-Location Project in Monterey Bay
While the project overall has been relatively quiet in the news, the proposed DeepWater Desalinization project is an interesting example of teaming two facilities with complimentary needs. The DeepWater Desal plant chose the location because of both demand and the fact that it would have easy access to the end of the Monterey Submarine Canyon just offshore. The ability to place the water intake more that 100 feet undersea is valuable to mitigate any impacts on what is one of the US's most valuable marine environments.
But, the access to deep water has the drawback that the water is very cold, which is not desirable for desalinization... so the goal is to co-locate a 150mW data center in the complex. Data centers have tremendous cooling needs, so the plant will first route the cold water to the data center to provide server and infrastructure cooling, and then the warmed water will then flow through for desalinization. Considering Monterey Bay is only about 75 miles to the heart of Silicon Valley's data center demands–and the area already is in need of its own data infrastructure–the project appears to be a win all around. Please watch the following 3:02 video.
Click for Transcript of DeepWater Desal Video
WITH WHAT COULD BE A FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND FACILITY IN THE WORLD LOCATED IN MOSS LANDING.
IT WOULD COMBINE A DEEPWATER DESAL PLANT AND DATA CENTER THAT COULD SOLVE WATER ISSUES ON THE CENTRAL COAST AND IMPROVE ENERGY EFFICIENCY FOR BIG TECH FIRMS.
ACTION NEWS REPORTER MAY CHOW IS LIVE WITH TONIGHT'S TOP STORY.
DAN...COOLING DATA CENTERS WITH COLD WATER ISN'T ANYTHING NEW. IN FACT NEARLY EVERY DATA CENTER IS LIQUID COOLED TODAY. SO WHAT'S DIFFERENT ABOUT THIS IDEA?
NO ONE HAS EVER THOUGHT TO DO IT USING THE MONTEREY BAY. THE FOUNDERS BEHIND DEEPWATER DESAL -- A COMPANY THAT PLANS TO BUILD A DESAL FACILITY AT MOSS LANDING TO SUPPLY DRINKING WATER TO SANTA CRUZ AND MONTEREY COUNTIES -- SAY THEY HAVE A SOLUTION THAT WOULD SOLVE BOTH WATER SUSTAINABILITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES.
GRANT GORDON: "leverage the seawater that's going to be drawn in for the deep water desal project for desalinated water to support the region, and use that cold sea water to cool the data center complex in exchange for taking the heat that's produced from data centers and raising the ambient temperature of the water prior to going into the desal plant."
CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER GRANT GORDON SAYS THIS SYSTEM WILL PROVIDE A MORE EFFICIENT SOLUTION FOR NOT ONLY PROCESSING SEAWATER INTO POTABLE WATER, BUT ALSO COOLING DATA CENTERS. HE SEES IT AS A WIN-WIN SITUATION FOR THE CENTRAL COAST AND THE SILICON VALLEY.
THE SOQUEL CREEK WATER DISTRICT HAS A FUTURE WATER SOURCE. AND TECH COMPANIES REDUCE THEIR CARBON FOOTPRINTS AND UTILITY BILLS.
GRANT GORDON: "these are all household names, everyone in the valley knows Facebook, Apple, Intel, Cisco, HP, LinkedIn, Amazon, eBay. Any of these would be likely candidates for this type of project."
THE PROPOSED PROJECT, WHICH IS STILL IN ITS EARLY STAGES, WOULD BE BUILT ON THE MOSS LANDING POWER PLANT SITE, AND PROCESS 25-MILLION GALLONS OF WATER PER DAY. THE WATER WOULD BE DRAWN FROM THE MONTEREY SUBMARINE CANYON -- LIMITING THE IMPACT ON MARINE LIFE.
GRANT GORDON: "this has not been done anywhere in the world before. The elements have been done. Certainly data centers and desal plants have been created, but the integration of the two has never been done before."
ANOTHER DRAW TO BRING DATA CENTERS HERE ON THE CENTRAL COAST…THERE ISN'T ONE SOUTH OF SILICON VALLEY TO L-A. SO HAVING A FACILITY HERE WOULD UPGRADE FIBER OPTICS AND INCREASE BANDWITH FOR THE CENTRAL COAST, WHICH IS MUCH NEEDED HERE. DAN?
THE DEEPWATER DESAL TEAM SUBMITTED ITS PROJECT APPLICATION ON MAY 30TH TO THE STATE LANDS COMMISSION, WHICH WILL BEGIN THE ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW PROCESS. AFTER WHICH, IT WILL BE FORWARDED TO THE CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION FOR REVIEW. THIS REVIEW WILL TAKE BETWEEN 18 TO 24 MONTHS BEFORE ANY WORK CAN BEGIN.
Freightliner, et al. / Department of Energy Supertruck initiative
While there have been some other "tractor trailer of the future" initiatives, the Freightliner joint venture is not a showpiece: It is what they believe to be the future of their company.
This effort represents the best of network innovation with almost 50 companies, suppliers, and universities coming together on the project, including MIT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Walmart, A123 Systems, and Michelin. Because they believed the truck, trailer, and all systems needed to work in full concert toward the unified goal of efficiency, the team had the foresight to fully involve those organizations and suppliers holding expertise in the respective areas. As could be expected for what would be a worldwide initiative, the needs for communication and open collaboration are considerable, and this is perhaps at the very heart of why this initiative was so important in the first place: Experts in respective areas need to be networked in meaningful ways if they are to solve the "big" problems. (This is not unlike the XPRIZE philosophy, as well.)
The result of taking a network innovation approach? A 115% fuel efficiency improvement while in actual use on public roads. The implications for transportation would be significant, to say the least.
If you'd like to see what HTML5 can do, give their Supertruck initiative site a look (after allowing a few seconds to load). Quite a compelling use of the technology. Please watch the following 4:17 video.
Click for Transcript of Freightliner Supertruck Video