Tomorrow’s World: Evolving Clean Tech Innovation with Digital Prototyping

Erwin Burth, Autodesk business development manager for clean technology, discusses the advantages of digital prototyping in realising clean tech advancements.

Thanks to the significant investment that clean energy attracts, the global clean technology race has, in the last few years, continued to gain momentum. Even the unfolding European financial crisis and a slump in clean energy share prices on the world’s stock markets has not held back the continuing surge of finance for clean energy from venture capitalists.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, wind and solar projects drove financial investment in clean energy to $45.4bn in the third quarter of 2011, a nine per cent rise on the previous quarter and a 16 per cent increase year-on-year. And in the UK too, the results of Ernst & Young’s most recent quarterly clean tech business confidence survey suggest that, despite some recent setbacks, the clean tech sector is also still gaining ground with optimism seeing a significant increase in recent months, thanks, in part, to gathering momentum around the Government’s Green Deal.

Aside from securing vital investment, the clean tech sector also faces a range of other complex challenges – not least the need to achieve sustained innovation. While significant advancements in clean technology are continuing to take place, the urgent major environmental challenges they seek to address such as climate change, landfill shortages, dwindling fossil fuels and water scarcity are steadily continuing to worsen, and subsequently require new alternatives in the battle to conserve finite resources.

Addressing these complex challenges is not easy and requires ground-breaking technologies and new business models. For this reason, many Fortune 1,000 companies put strong emphasis on collaborating with or acquiring smaller firms to tap into new ideas and new markets, as well as to support their own future business viability.

Strong innovation can play a major role in tackling the critical environmental issues that clean tech companies are concerned with, which are typically discovered thanks to new methodologies and completely new ways of thinking. In many cases, this can only be achieved through redesigning existing approaches and using holistic design techniques to create new ones, ultimately contributing to optimised performance and reduced costs.

Digital prototyping can, for today’s design engineers, play a crucial role in enabling the innovation process. The technique helps to make clean tech product development far more efficient, by allowing manufacturers to digitally design, visualise and simulate how the solutions will work under real-world conditions before they are built. In addition, this capability also supports several different types of innovation, which are particularly applicable to the clean tech sector.

One of the major enablers of innovative design is the rapid capture of creative concepts; the sooner and more easily ideas can be captured on screen, the better – even if dozens of iterations are needed after that. The fact that the digital approach allows for the exploration of a range of different concepts gives designers greater freedom to be creative in the knowledge that mistakes made with pixels and bits are much easier to rectify than mistakes made in the creation of physical prototypes, a feature which is particularly important in the clean tech arena.

Meanwhile, in the research and development process, the ability to pass designs to manufacturing in digital form means that they are also more likely to keep their original integrity resulting in better quality, reliable products.

Digital prototyping also enables early but well-informed decisions about appearance and form to be made at the concept stage, with the ability for the design team, colleagues and clients to weigh multiple alternatives. The right design is more likely to please end consumers, and therefore makes widespread adoption more likely.

In the domestic clean tech arena, for example, energy monitoring devices must be pleasing to consumers to be successful in the marketplace. Equally, the right design can make a product more easily understandable to an operator, with renewable power equipment that is simple and easy to operate helping to enhance safety and efficiency.

Proving that an idea will work and prove reliable well before the physical prototype stage is also a key advantage of digital prototyping technology. During the engineering stage, clean tech firms must test product stress and strengths, simulate mechanical movement and analyse the performance of multiple materials to make aesthetic ideas practical. Here, the latest technology enables engineers to perform these tests in hours or days rather than weeks.

Yet innovation is, of course, only of value if the end result is commercially viable. For this reason too, digital prototypes can prove extremely valuable in helping to market a product before it is actually made, with 3D images bringing ideas to life in brochures, websites and other marketing collateral, as well as to illustrate the concept at focus groups, one-to-one customer meetings and to potential future investors.

A further key benefit of digital prototyping is in helping companies to scale solutions and evaluate their impact as they are adapted, while a more practical aspect of innovation can be found in helping to protect intellectual property, as by using a ‘shrink-wrapped’ version in the design review process, data and other commercial information can be protected from third parties.

As the clean tech sector increasingly evolves to serves mainstream consumers, for those creating the new technologies, the focus should undoubtedly continue to be on achieving sustained innovation. In realising this objective, clean tech designers and engineers can benefit significantly from implementing cutting-edge design methodologies such as digital prototyping to capture ideas quickly as well as support fast and informed design decisions.

Getting Started With Digital Prototyping

The Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program provides significant support for early-stage clean technology companies who are working to solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges by providing them with design and engineering software worth up to 120,000 euros – and/or £100,000, for a nominal fee. Many are now using Autodesk software and digital prototyping functionality to achieve pioneering innovation.

The wide range of partners already signed up to the programme includes Pyrum Innovations, a start-up company based in France, which is working on a newly invented recycling process for used rubber from tyres, which would otherwise be burned, and UK-based Cleaner Air Solutions, a specialist in solar power that has been providing renewable energy systems to the domestic and commercial market since 2004.



Skipso Weekly Digest: Cleantech Start-ups

Here are Skipso’s top Cleantech companies for this week:

Cleantech Company: Verdezyne

Location: San Diego, US

Cleantech Sector: Biofuels

Description: Founded in 2005, Verdezyne, formerly known as CODA Genomics, is a privately-held company that integrates its proprietary core technologies to direct the evolution of novel metabolic pathways for cost effective commercial production of biofuels and platform chemicals. Investors in Verdezyne include OVP Venture Partners, Monitor Ventures, Tech Coast Angels and Life Science Angels.


Cleantech Company: Grid Net

Location: San Francisco, US

Cleantech Sector: Smart Grid

Description: Founded in 2006, Grid Net is a leading global real-time, all-IP Smart Grid and Smart Home software platforms provider for utilities, partners, and customers. Grid Net platforms are designed to integrate substation automation, distribution automation, smart meters, demand response, and load management with electric vehicles, buildings, and homes to increase grid reliability, energy efficiency, renewable energy use, and customer satisfaction while reducing capital and operating costs. Grid Net platforms are utility-grade reliable, scalable and built to meet regulatory and governmental Smart Grid interoperability and cyber-security standards.

Cleantech Company: KITEnergy

Location: Turin, Italy

Cleantech Sector: Wind

Description: Kitenergy is an innovative technology to convert high-altitude wind energy into electricity, by exploiting the flight of automatically controlled tethered airfoils (like power kites used for surfing or sailing). The kites operate between 500 and 1000 m above the ground, where strong and persistent winds blow practically everywhere in the world, and electricity is generated at ground level by converting the traction forces acting on the tethers into mechanical and electrical power, using suitable rotating mechanisms and electrical generators.



Cleantech Company: Aquamarine Power

Location: Edinburgh, Scotland

Cleantech Sector: Marine, Wave

Description: Aquamarine Power is a wave energy company, with head offices in Edinburgh, Scotland and further operations in Orkney and Northern Ireland. The company is currently developing its flagship technology, an innovative hydro-electric wave energy converter, known as Oyster. Aquamarine Power’s goal is to develop commercial Oyster wave farms around the world.



Cleantech Company: Watrec

Location: Forssa, Finland

Cleantech Sector: Waste Management

Description: Watrec Ltd is specialized in environmental technology and producing renewable energy from waste and industry byproducts in biogas plants. Core business is to provide solutions for customers who have challenges with their wastes and wastewaters. Our company has had a high variety of different projects relating to environmental and energy issues. Our clients are in industry, energy, and waste treatment sector, and also in agriculture.

For more Cleantech companies and start-ups visit Skipso’s Cleantech Marketplace.