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May 17, 2023 | Tom Ballard

VOL COURT | Environmentally friendly device for pumped storage facilities

Kyle Weiss, a native of Seattle and a graduate student in the Bredesen Center, has combined two passions - the outdoors and renewable energy - in a device that does not use electrical energy.

Kyle Weiss’s passion for the outdoors, coupled with his interest in renewable energy, created the idea for Elevate Hydro that captured third place and $500 in the Spring edition of the “Vol Court Speaker Series & Pitch Competition.”

The twice-a-year event is hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (ACEI) in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). It is also the first of a three-legged set of opportunities for student entrepreneurs to vet their ideas and win funding to pursue them.

Just weeks later, Weiss won again in the “Graves Business Plan Competition,” another event organized by the ACEI. There, he captured second place and $3,000 in the growth category for the business.

Born and raised in Seattle, Weiss (pictured here) is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, a program that now falls under the UT-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute umbrella.

Weiss earned his undergraduate degree in environmental engineering technology in 2017 from Northern Arizona University and worked for the next four years in various engineering positions before joining the Bredesen Center in August 2021.

He says the idea behind Elevate Hydro, originally named Elev8 Hydro when he competed in “Vol Court,” was sparked while working as a farmhand on a truffle farm where he saw something called a ram pump that has been around since the 1790s.

Earlier this year, Weiss was selected as a finalist by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Water Power Technologies Office in the DOE “EnergyTech University Prize” competition, and that got the ball rolling.

“It (the ram pump) uses no electrical energy,” Weiss says. “Instead, it uses the water hammer effect . . . a pressure wave, like when you shut off a faucet quickly. The velocity of the water increases as does the pressure.”

Weiss sees the technology being employed by pumped storage facilities as a way to minimize environmental impacts and reduce pumped storage operations and maintenance costs. By leveraging this known technology, the company’s solutions increase grid stability and enhance cost-effective large-scale energy storage.

“It’s definitely something in the early stages of development, but I’m leaning toward converting it (the provisional patent) to a full patent,” he says. “I want to continue to determine the marketability of it.”

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