By Khalil Abdullah
Lonnie Johnson’s design for an engine that converts waste heat into energy, yet has no moving parts, was listed in 2008 by Popular Mechanics Magazine as one of the “Top 10 New World-Changing Innovations of the Year.” Seven years later, Johnson, a former NASA space flight engineer, is still in pursuit of his quest to bring JTEC, (the Johnson Thermo-Electrochemical Converter System), to market.
JTEC potentially has applications far beyond just powering automobiles. The principles he has harnessed could be applied to multiple energy platforms. But along the way to production, Johnson has faced skeptics who sometimes questioned his grasp of science — despite over 100 patents in his name.
He acknowledges that even though seeking financing at the (R&D) Research and Development stage is very difficult, he has managed to bring a prototype of his J-TEC engine into existence.
He said his company contracted with the University of South Carolina to build an engine that works. He’s presently developing scalable manufacturing techniques at his 4.3 acre center in downtown Atlanta, GA.
Johnson has used his own capital, derived from patent royalties from his inventions of the Super-Soaker water guns and the firing mechanisms for some of the Nerf toys, to finance his JTEC work. With his other company, Excellatron Solid State, he’s developing batteries that have the potential to out-perform the leading lithium-ion models.
Johnson, from Mobile, Alabama, started with his win in a statewide high school science contest with a robotics entry. He graduated from Tuskegee University with degrees in mechanical and nuclear engineering. That college also houses the rich legacies of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. Johnson hopes he can find a billionaire partner like Carter who was considered a world class scientist by auto magnate Henry Ford.
While serving in the Air Force and NASA he assisted in developing a number of energy systems for several satellite programs. He is utilizing his expertise to help guide the next generation of African-American scientists and engineers through programs like STEM and the FIRST Robotics Initiative competition where his tutees have had success.
Johnson said he wants to build an army of technology mentors who have the time and energy to devote to the youth.
“Lonnie is the ideal role model for the STEM movement with his financial success through his education and training in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math” said Al White, former CEO of Lonnie’s battery company, Excellatron Solid State
“When Jesse Jackson presented me with the Trailblazer Award, I knew my successes would not have been possible without those men and women committed to the Civil Rights struggle “said Johnson who wants to help carve out a space for future generations to be able to follow in his footsteps.
Johnson said he thinks of himself as “someone brushed by God with talents who accepted the responsibility to help make the world a better place.”