When it comes to optimising methods of energy generation, the main challenge for innovators lies in raising efficiency and power output, all the while lowering consumption of natural resources and negative impact on the environment.
Thanks to key patented inventions, major improvements could be made in the field of renewable energies - a trending subject in the political arena. By the year 2020, the European Commission is aiming to have 20% of energy in the EU generated from renewable resources.
Here are the top contributions in this field by winners and finalists of the European Inventor Award:
Here are the top contributions in this field by winners and finalists of the more than 25 GW.
The foundation for Europe’s strong position in the solar energy market was laid in large part by German photovoltaics pioneer Adolf Goetzberger, founder of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) in Freiburg, Germany. In 2009, Goetzberger was named "European Inventor of the Year" for his lifetime achievement in solar energy generation.
In 2006, the list of EIA finalists included the highly efficient solar cells developed by Martin Andrew Green and Stuart Ross Wenham of the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Based on silicon technology, their solar cells convert light directly into electricity - – and do so far more cost-effectively than their predecessors.
Recently, major improvements in the manufacturing of solar cells were achieved by implementing a more efficient way of producing so-called "selective emitter" solar cells. The man behind these advances was engineer Jörg Horzel, a finalist for the EIA 2013.
The greatest proportion of energy from renewable resources currently comes from hydropower: generating electricity from bodies of water. According to the European Commission, hydropower currently provides nearly 20% of the world’s electricity.
But for many years, hydropower was regarded as somewhat problematic in the alternative energy mix: traditionally it relies on dams, which can disrupt ecosystems and significantly alter the landscape. The industry took a quantum leap with the invention of a versatile spiral turbine for generating electricity by US engineer Alexander Gorlov at Northeastern University. With its greater stability, the turbine increases the energy generated from water currents from 20% to 35% – no dams involved.
Energy generation from wind turbines has tremendous potential: by the year 2030, the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) expects offshore wind capacity to reach 150 GW, supplying 14% of Europe’s electricity demand.
A major challenge: wind turbines in offshore energy parks are directly exposed to the brute forces of nature. German engineer and EIA 2008 finalist, Sönke Siegfriedsen, helped protect the turbines from the elements with his corrosion shield for offshore wind parks while optimising energy yield with an internal air circulation system.
By the year 2020, energy generation from biomass – by incinerating wood or commercial waste – is expected to cover 10% of the EU's energy demand. A major step toward meeting this goal was achieved by the highly efficient biomass system created by engineer Jens Dall Bentzen at Dall Energy Aps in Denmark, winner of the EIA 2011 in the SMEs category.
The patented invention increases energy efficiency by 20 to 25% while lowering the cost of combustibles by 20 to 30% and decreasing construction cost for biomass plants by 10%.
Some EU member states have already exceeded the 2020 target of generating 20% of their energy from renewables, including Sweden which generates over 51% of its energy that way.