Innovators and their new ideas

What people are doing to save energy

By David Adams, Times Staff Writer
Published May 28, 2007

Cutting lawns and energy costs

Sampuran Khalsa, president of Orlando-based Nanak's Landscaping, the largest private landscaping firm in the state, considers himself an earthy guy. He changed religion in his teens, became a sikh and practices kundalini yoga.

At 54, he has a new passion, borne from reading last year about state rebates and federal tax credits for solar-power generation.

In February he installed $160, 000 worth of solar panels on the roof of his office in Altamonte Springs. He recently received a check for $80, 500 signed by Florida Treasurer Alex Sink. After he factors in the 30-percent tax credit he will receive, he calculates he'll make a 15-percent return on his investment.

"In the past, solar systems sounded like you are living in a teepee, " he said. "But the sun is producing all the energy we could ever use; we just never got organized to collect it."

Major player

Progress Energy is equipping public schools with solar panels. It also offers customers a "net-metering" system whereby they can get credit for excess energy produced from domestic solar panels.

Progress recently signed a contract with a Pensacola firm to build the largest biomass power plant in the country outside Orlando, generating 130 megawatts of electricity by gasifying a locally-grown "E-grass, " a reedy crop similar to bamboo.

The company is also working with hydrogen fuel cell technology research, including a sustainable hydrogen generator and fuel cell that uses solar energy to extract hydrogen from water to provide power to the Wildlife Encounter Pavilion in Homosassa Springs state wildlife park near Crystal River.

Water in the tank

One Clearwater company, Hydrogen Technology Applications, believes it has discovered a hydrogen gas, that it calls Aqugen, made from water that when injected into gasoline greatly improves fuel economy and reduces tailpipe emissions.

The whole process can be done using an onboard generator to create the gas by electrolysis, where water is subjected to an electric current to separate its components, hydrogen and oxygen.

The technology has its skeptics who warn that the system simply borrows energy from the alternator, and thus creates no overall energy saving.

"We are not violating any laws of physics here, " says project director Stephen Lusko. "Yes, we cause a drag on the alternator, but our tests show a positive net gain of 25 to 35 percent by putting the gas we generate back into the engine. And the emissions are way lower."

Green futures

Jim Robertson and Jim Damask teamed up last year to start Biofuels America in Fort Lauderdale, part of a large brokerage house, Ocean Connect.

Using simple Internet chat rooms, they bring together biofuels producers with buyers in the futures market, trading up to 6-million gallons of ethanol and biodiesel on a good day.

"It feels good, " said Damask, who got tired of trading on the Chicago exchange. "It's green, it's clean and all the smart money is getting behind it."