A key aim of Rose-Hulman Ventures is to make connections and build bridges between technology expertise and those who need to tap into it. It’s an aim that is complementary with that of an Indiana-based nonprofit organization called NineTwelve, which works to operationalize new technologies in such areas as unconventional energy, 5G telecommunications and advanced manufacturing.
It’s not surprising, then, that these great minds might find reason to work together from time to time. “Our interest is to not create a competitive landscape of nonprofits all clawing after one another, but create an ecosystem to tap into subject matter expertise,” says Sean Hendrix, chief technology officer at NineTwelve. With that spirit of collaboration in mind, NineTwelve reached out to Rose-Hulman Ventures for consultation on an energy-related project.
“We were approached by company to do technology due-diligence on energy storage technology,” Hendrix explains. The company was exploring ways to capture and store excess energy generated by such variable sources as wind and solar, ways other than traditional batteries. “As we look at those solutions the cost of storage is a really big factor—cost and reliability. Conventional wisdom has been that battery technology is relatively expensive, relatively complex and has some unique elements that may not make it suitable for every application.”
The idea being explored in this case is known as gravity-based energy storage, he says. For example, what if you used excess generated electricity to hoist a mass such as a big concrete block into the air and, perhaps, store it atop some kind of a tower, at an elevation of a hundred feet or more? And then, when electricity is required, lower the mass on a cable that spins a turbine and turns that potential energy back into electricity?
“In principle it is very simple,” Hendrix says. “But as with anything involving technology, the devil’s in the details.”
It takes a sophisticated engineering analysis to determine whether it’s a feasible, durable and realistic concept to bring to market. “Companies come in and are looking for neutral trusted parties they can work with, getting a second set of eyes, a second opinion, a technical assessment of the technology. Business stakeholders and investors will use that third-party review to check their work and see if they have covered all their risks,” he says.
“NineTwelve’s team was tasked with this analysis, due-diligence work and we felt like we needed additional expertise and another set of eyes in addition to ours,” he says. “We wanted to tap into some expertise.”
The project output was a technical assessment report, essentially a third-party review of company-provided information. “The Rose-Hulman Ventures team dug in and did their own review of the analysis,” Hendrix says, “looking to see was it complete and were there any mistakes or omissions in the analysis, then wrote up their own technical assessment of that engineering analysis.”
Calling in the expertise of Rose-Hulman Ventures, he says, “was a no-brainer. It was really easy to work with Rose-Hulman Ventures.”