Seatrec harvests energy from temperature differences in the environment.
Using technology developed, prototyped, and patented at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and now exclusively licensed from Caltech, Seatrec has engineered a Thermal RECharging (TREC) Battery that extracts thermal energy from temperature differences and converts it to stored electrical energy. The TREC technology has been thoroughly tested in the laboratory and at sea, including an 18-month, 1000+ cycle field trial.
Seatrec’s initial commercial focus will be on the ocean. Clean, renewable electricity harvested from the ocean itself will provide critical power for ocean research and exploration efforts and support the growing underwater systems industry. The earth’s ocean is a hostile and complex environment. Both the scientific and defense communities require distributed and persistent power to operate underwater devices. Unmanned underwater vehicles accelerate ocean research and facilitate critical monitoring – but require a source of electrical power for propulsion, navigation, data collection, and communications. Typically, this power is supplied by toxic and potentially hazardous lithium batteries of which several tons per year are discarded at sea. Seatrec will provide a renewable source of clean energy that extends the useful endurance of underwater platforms, catalyzes the development of innovative new underwater capabilities, and reduces toxic waste in the ocean.
Seed funding has been raised to support product design, construction, and revenue generation. Funding from the Thiel Foundation’s Breakout Labs will enable delivery of a commercial prototype of a TREC- powered profiling float for ocean research. Support from Schmidt Marine Technology Partners in 2017 will accelerate development of a TREC powered underwater glider. Ongoing engagement with DoD/Navy, DARPA, and the underwater systems industry (e.g., BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman) will lead to development of TREC-powered recharging stations for autonomous underwater vehicles.
In 2005, Dr. Yi Chao assembled an innovative team at JPL to develop a system to harvest energy from ocean temperature differences that exist between warm surface water and cold water at depth. Initial seed funding was obtained from JPL’s Research & Technology Development program during 2005-2007. With guidance from Dr. Russ Davis at the Scripps Institution of Oceangraphy, the JPL team (Dr. Yi Chao, Dr. Thomas Valdez, and Jack Jones) built upon previous work with PCM-driven buoyancy engines performed by Doug Webb (now at Teledyne Webb Reseach). Rather than using the PCM volume change as a source of vehicle buoyancy, as Webb had done, the team sought to generate DC electric power from PCM expansion. During the course of their effort, the JPL engineering team developed key component technologies including a thermally actuated hydraulic pump and motor for electric power generation and performed extensive research on PCM characteristics.
With subsequent funding from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) during 2008-2011, the JPL team worked with Russ Davis's team at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography to develop SOLO-TREC, the first environmentally powered underwater vehicle to utilize Thermal RECharging (TREC) technology. The prototype SOLO-TREC was deployed west of Hawaii for long-term sea trials and successfully completed more than 1000 profiles over 18 months. For more information please see:
Key aspects of the TREC technology were patented in 2011 and 2014 by the JPL team. You can review the patents here:
Additional funding from ONR enabled initial development of the SLOCUM-TREC underwater glider by a team including JPL, Rutgers University, and Teledyne Webb Research. SLOCUM-TREC combined PCM-derived buoyancy drive with electric power generation. A 2015 Marine Technology Society presentation by Chip Haldeman (Rutgers) summarizing the development and field testing of SLOCUM-TREC can be found here.
Seatrec, Inc. was incorporated in June, 2012. In 2013, Dr. Chao left JPL with the goal of making TREC available to the oceanographic community. In 2014, Seatrec signed an exclusive, royalty-bearing license agreement granting the right to use the two U.S. patents (7,987,674 and 8,689,556) granted to Caltech in 2011 and 2014, respectively.
Seatrec continues to develop the TREC technology while forging beneficial partnerships with scientific colleagues and the underwater systems industry.