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June 19, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Techstars | Ocean waves for reliable energy in island communities

Narayan Iyer grew up in the Republic of Indonesia, a country of more than 17,000 islands, where one of the biggest challenges to quality of life and economic vitality is the availability of reliable power.

Narayan Iyer grew up in the Republic of Indonesia, a country of more than 17,000 islands, where one of the biggest challenges to quality of life and economic vitality is the availability of reliable power.

Today, from his now home base in Iowa City, IA, he’s working to address that issue by tapping into one of the steadiest and most predictable renewable energy sources available – ocean waves. That compares with wind and solar energy which are intermittent and require expensive storage systems.

Iyer is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Laminar Scientific Inc., a company founded in 2021 that is a participant in Cohort 2 of the “Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator.” He and the nine other entrepreneurs will be featured during the “Industries of the Future Summit” scheduled for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 21 at The Mill & Mine, 227 West Depot Avenue, Knoxville. To register, click here.

You might wonder, “How did Iyer get from Indonesia to Iowa City?”

Well, like many individuals from other nations, he came for college in 2012, earning his B.S. degree in Aerospace, Aeronautical, and Astronautical/Space Engineering from Purdue University. After graduation, Iyer worked for nearly five years as a Platform Systems Engineer for Rockwell Collins.

“It was a good experience in engineering leadership and systems engineering,” he said.

Yet, at the same time, Iyer was troubled by the rising concerns about climate change generally and for island communities particularly. When COVID became a big issue in 2020, he began to develop ideas for ways to address the reliable energy challenges that countries like Indonesia face.

“I developed a prototype and presented it at a conference,” Iyer says, adding, “It was well-received.” Two U.S. Department of Energy grants – each for $150,000 – followed as did a more recent $1 million contract with a Southeast Asia mining and energy company. The latter is what he describes as a patent licensing contract.

In an undated article published by San Francisco-based KingsCrowd, Iyer described how he went from designing cockpits for NASA and Airbus airplanes to launching his own company.

“I really felt like my attention needed to be paid to clean energy given the steep acceleration of climate change,” he told Zee Zhong of KingsCrowd. “I grew up near the ocean and always admired the enormous and constant power of waves. I knew this was the time to take the dive.”

Now, two years into the entrepreneurial journey, Iyer says Laminar Scientific has secured two issued patents and has four more that are pending.

The start-up’s initial product is named the MantaWave, a nearshore wave energy converter that “cups” oncoming waves to power linear generators. It is easy to set up and can produce 40 kilowatts from the power of ocean waves. That’s enough electricity to service 75 homes at a 56 percent reduction in cost.

The MantaWave is ideal for the island communities that lack resilience, are faced with high energy costs, and rely too much on diesel fuel that must be shipped into power-generating capacity.

Installation is also much simpler than for large systems, meaning drones or drivers are not needed. Instead, the WaveShark is towed to the location by another boat (see video illustration here). The MantaWave also has five times fewer moving parts, and its shape can readily change to adapt to oncoming storms.

Being located in landlocked Iowa might sound odd, but Iyer says the University of Iowa has one of the world’s best wave basin testing facilities.

As for the reason for applying to be part of Cohort 2, he cites the partners, particularly Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Techstars itself.

“We’re planning a project with ORNL,” Iyer says. “Techstars has some very good partnerships and sitting in the workshops is always insightful.”

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