STARTUP TO WATCH

nPower Makes Battery Charging a Walk in the Park

Tremont Electric may very well be travelingalong the same path once crossed by the Little Engine That Could. Thetwo-year-old startup is headed where several other power generationcompanies want to go but have yet to get off the research anddevelopment tracks.

If the inventor and developer of the nPower PEG (Personal EnergyGenerator), Aaron LeMieux, stays on schedule, consumers may find hisproduct on store shelves by next Spring. Several developmental delayscompounded a missed target date of reaching market by this pastholiday season.

nPower PEG

The nPower PEG

Still, LeMieux has moved his alternative energy product from conceptthrough basement laboratory development to patented product in alittle under two years. He expanded his initial four-member start-upteam to seven in 2008, adding two engineers and a specialist in theconsumer electronics industry to the team.

“Overwhelming need exists for consumers to remotely charge theirelectronic devices. Getting the nPower PEG to market will allow ourcompany to get into the revenue generation phase faster than any othermeans,” LeMieux told TechNewsWorld.

Kinetics to Go

Creating renewable electrical energy from walking around is not a newconcept. Neither is converting kinetic energy made by phenomena like the waves oflarge lakes and oceans. Actually harnessing that energy, however, is often difficult.

The working prototype LeMieux designed based on what he calls “nPowertechnology” is proof that the concept works, he asserted. He formedTremont Electric, named after the Ohio town in which he settled, tobring a consumer product using that approach to market.

“We deployed the crawl, walk and run strategy. We don’t want to appearthat we are boiling the ocean. But we have a very unique technologythat will allow us to impact the alternative energy market,” he said.

How It Works

The concept is relatively simple. The device lets users never losebattery power for their pocket devices. By plugging a cellphone, MP3 player or portable computer into the PEG and then carrying it vertically, walking orrunning — even peddling a bicycle — recharges the battery.

The company also plans to extend that concept to other forms ofalternative energy generation. nPower WECs (Wave Energy Converters)will convert energy from the waves in lakes and oceans to producelarge-scale energy not unlike that produced through wind and solarpower.

Kinetic energy is produced by human locomotion (walking or running).Since people tend to move at a consistent frequency regardless of bodyfactors, the nPower PEG tunes into this frequency. For example, aperson walking up a set of stairs expends some 200 watts of power.

Cellphone and other mobile devices have batteries that at most acceptis 2.5 watts on a recharge. The nPower PEG harvests 1.25 percent ofthe walking power and delivers it to the mobile device, according tothe company.

Incubation Time

Typical of college students, LeMieux spent much of his time outdoorshiking 10 years ago as an engineering student. He conceived the ideafor a walk-around energy converter while backpacking along 1,500miles of the Adirondack Trail.

“I had a lot of time to think about converting power but couldn’t getthe conversion of kinetic to electrical energy right,” he explained.

In the decade since then, he found a way to pull all of the componentstogether. His Initial design goal was to use as many off-the-shelfcomponents as possible to prove out the technology.

In 2006 LeMieux was ready to move on from thinking about converting energyforms toward actually attempting it. He left his job as a consultant to aFortune 100 company and turned his family’s basement into alaboratory. Less than one year later he established Tremont Electricand hired a startup team to commercialize the technology. In 2008,Tremont Electric moved from the inventor’s basement into its firstoffice, located in Tremont, Ohio.

Stumbling Block

Using off-the-shelf parts instead of engineering components fromscratch often proved troublesome. However, LeMieux also faced a major hurdleimposed by his basement work ethic as an early-stage startup.

“I had to prove myself as both an inventor and an entrepreneursimultaneously. It was difficult to get from the idea in my basementto funding and then build the company at the same time,” heexplained.

Funding the fledgling company was a huge stumbling block as well. However,Tremont Electric sparked some favorable currents for its potential andits geographic location.

County Roots

LeMieux applied to Cuyahoga County for some early seed money. Theselocal officials recognized the potential for converting kinetic energyfrom the wave actions in Lake Erie and the home-grown productdevelopment in a locally based factory the company could create.

As a result, Tremont Electric received the Northcoast OpportunitiesFund from Cuyahoga County to assist with product commercialization.The company was selected from a pool of six other candidates.

“The county created a loan fund for pre-seed funding to help qualifiedstartups. Tremont Electric approached the county with his project andwas selected as the first recipient. We selected him because wethought he had the strongest potential to attract follow-up fundingfor his projects. Since then he has raised (US)$400,000,” Gregory Zucca,Strategic Program Officer for Cuyahoga County Department ofDevelopment, told TechNewsWorld.

Consumer Play

Part of the selection process for Cuyahoga County officials was thepotential staying power Tremont Electric represented. The fact thatmilitary officials are reviewing the consumer product forpossible battlefield use certainly did not hurt the invention’sappeal.

The nPower PEG’s innovation to convert kinetic energy into electricalenergy is being reviewed by the Army and the Navy to see if hisconsumer product can be adapted to meet their needs. If so, it wouldhave to be more militarized, Zucca and LeMieux said.

“Other companies are trying to do the same thing. Tremont Electric isthe first to move towards a commercial market friendly product. Theothers are still in R&D. He’s the first to move his product tomarket,” said Zucca.

His invention has consumer play. But the military interest in it isthe most promising because military personnel carry around so muchelectronic equipment. This can be a big ply for him, noted Zucca.

Scaling the Future

One of the product’s most attractive traits is its scalability.Changing the size and diameter of nPower’s components provides theability to increase or decrease the power output. This ability lendsitself to cross-industry adaptability, according to LeMieux.

Even though Tremont Electric has but one product, it can channel thatproduct into a variety of markets. For instance, over the next two years, the company plans to utilize its nPower technology to producecommercial energy for the electric grid. Independent testing has shownthat the technology can scale upward to produce alternative energy ona large scale.

Reverse scaling is also possible. This gives nPower even greaterproduct flexibility.

“As this device gets smaller and smaller, it can be embedded inmedical equipment. In the future his evolutions will give him a playin the biomedical field,” said Zucca.

The More the Merrier

The overall road map is very scalable technology conducive to theautomotive, biomedical and industrial-scale electrical powergeneration market, according to LeMieux. He is looking at being ableto power netbooks and larger electronic devices with his newtechnology.

He sees multiple market outlooks on the horizon. In addition to havinghis product in consumers’ hands by the spring, he is hopeful to havethe military using the nPower PEG in Afghanistan by the end of nextyear.

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