Executives from prominent names in the energy sector are backing a newly formed Atlanta company led by inventor Lonnie Johnson, who says he’s found a way to harness untapped, renewable energy.
Johnson, a former NASA engineer who invented the Super Soaker children’s toy and is president of JTEC Energy Inc., says he created a device that can convert any waste heat, such as from solar panels, factories or cars, into energy.
It’s a game-changer in clean energy and efficiency, according to JTEC Energy CEO Mike McQuary. The company has raised a $1.5 million seed round to bring the product out of the lab and start real-world testing.
That seed round has investments from Southern Company and General Electric executives, which McQuary said helped validate the importance of their project. McQuary declined to provide further details on the investors.
“This could be one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of energy production in terms of renewable, new energy,” McQuary said. “It’s a completely new energy source.”
The type of energy is called thermo-electrochemical, McQuary said, and the JTEC Energy product has a conversion efficiency of heat to electricity that makes it another viable energy source.
A large-scale use of the machine could be in solar fields, McQuary said. Right now, solar panels capture light and turn it into energy without capturing the sun’s heat. The JTEC Energy product would capture that heat as well, adding another way in which solar fields could produce energy.
The company plans to double its seven-person staff in the next eight months, mostly looking for more scientists and engineers, McQuary said. Next year, it wants to raise a Series A round to bring the product onto the market.
JTEC Energy launched in April of this year as a spinout company from Johnson Research and Development, which is Johnson’s company for developing new technology products.
“He came up with the concept for JTEC about 20 years ago and has continued to do experiments and refine the process,” McQuary said. “It’s only been in the last two or three years that material science has caught up so that Lonnie could prove his science with these new materials.”
JTEC Energy has a contract with John’s Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and NASA to experiment how that technology could be applied in space.
“This is huge for Atlanta and for the world going forward,” McQuary said.