BA 850
Sustainability Driven Innovation

Network Innovation


Network Innovation


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.

Video: Team Elastec/American Marine--Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE (6:19)

Credit: XPRIZE. "Team Elastec/American Marine--Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE." YouTube. October 6, 2011.
Click here for a transcript of the 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.

Video: DeepWater Desal aiming to build desalination plant in Moss Landing (3:02)

Credit: KSBW Action News 8. "DeepWater Desal aiming to build desalination plant in Moss Landing." YouTube. June 17, 2014.
Click here for a transcript of the DeepWater Desal aiming to build desalination plant in Moss Landing video.

We are beginning tonight with what could be a first-of-its-kind facility located in Moss Landing. It would combine a Deepwater Desal plant and a data center that would solve water issues on the central coast and improve energy efficiency for big tech firms.

Action news reporter May Chow has some insight on the plan, 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 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, Monterey Bay region, and use that cold sea water to cool the data center complex in exchange for taking the heat that's produced from the 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 would know...(reporter softly begins listing names...)
GRANT GORON: "any of those companies...Facebook, Apple, Intel, Cisco, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Amazon, any of those companies...eBay...would all 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 all the way to LA. So having a facility here would upgrade fiber optics and increase bandwidth 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.

Video: Freightliner Supertruck: Amerika's 'truck of the future' (4:17)

Credit: Transport Media. "Freightliner Supertruck: Amerika's 'truck of the future'." YouTube. March 26, 2015.
Click here for a transcript of the Freightliner Supertruck: Amerika's 'truck of the future' video.

The fifty percent target was definitely a daunting goal. We want to develop the most fuel-efficient truck running on the streets in North America. The question was how aggressive would we need to be.

Each individual manufacturer received a Department of Energy Supertruck grant. We immediately embraced it because it fit exactly our long-term strategic plans. We want continuously to improve fuel efficiency. They not only wanted us to look at technologies that could be implemented in say the next five to seven years, but also technologies that were 10 years or plus out.

We had to do a clean sheet approach. We looked at the very beginning over the external aerodynamics of the vehicle. You try to take your ideas and shape them into something. Then test it. You say, “Okay, is that aerodynamic?” And once you get there it is a question of how to turn that into a real truck.

So the first phase was identifying and measuring our baseline and then figuring out what we needed to do to get to fifty percent. The cooling team had to work with the aerodynamic team to say, “Okay, yes, we both need to meet our goals but how do we do it together?”

Within the Supertruck program, we are able to leverage the knowledge and expertise of the global Daimler organization - experts within North America both in Portland as well as in Detroit. We have our global hybrid center in Japan. Our powertrain experts came from Detroit and from Germany. You can really leverage expertise across the globe, across different national labs, and that really accelerates the development of the technologies.

The Supertruck features the integrated Detroit powertrain. You can downspeed the engine to reduce the frictional losses and achieve fuel consumption reduction. In order to overcome the trade-off between aerodynamics and cooling, we came up with an innovative grille design. So open the grill only in times when cooling is required, and close the grill under high vehicle speeds in order to improve aerodynamics.

Waste heat recovery was not something that heavy-duty trucking had at all. So what we try and do with heat recovery devices or systems is to recover some of that energy especially from exhaust, which just escapes out of the tailpipe, and utilize that to drive the truck itself, thereby reducing fuel consumption.

The contribution to trailer aerodynamics was certainly a very surprising thing to us. We looked at the nose cone, trailer side skirts, and the boat tail. Over two-thirds of the benefit actually comes from the trailer.

How that affected the tractor - things like equal role and hybrid - we had more energy to recuperate simply because the tractor and trailer were more aerodynamic as a system. At the end, we achieved one hundred fifteen percent freight efficiency improvement on public roads in Texas between San Antonio and Dallas. We also saw better than 12 miles per gallon fuel consumption which is amazing and never heard about in the industry.

A one-percent of freight efficiency over the 10,000 vehicles running at a hundred twenty thousand miles per year – I mean you're saving millions of gallons of fuel

We have to invest in the future - not just of our company or the economy of the United States, but in the future of the entire planet. We were able to work on very high-risk, high-reward technologies and provide functional demonstration on a long-haul vehicle The super truck program provided us the opportunity to see what's really possible: not today, not next year, but many years into the future.