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The Bay Net Exclusive: Local woman discovers new renewable energy source

NAS Patuxent River, MD- There are four renewable energy sources used around the world; solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal—but many believed sound energy couldn’t be achieved. A young woman from right here in Southern Maryland has found the way. After years of people telling her it couldn’t be done, Kristina Rickard, is proud to say, “Yes, it can!” She is the first person in the world to successfully convert sound into a renewable energy source—and she talked exclusively with about how she did it.

The 25-year-old Great Mills High School alumna is a physicist with the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD). When she was just 15-years-old, Rickard set off on a mission to turn noise into energy. “Mr. Skinner, a physics teacher at Great Mills High School, told me there is a whole field called acoustical engineering—the science of sound—and that set me on my path.”

For those of us who are not engineers, the science behind it seems a bit overwhelming—but not for Rickard. Through years of researching, she found many reasons why scientists believed it couldn’t be done. Rickard said by not believing, they were actually giving her the answers. “I read through many research projects by very smart engineers. They would always get hung up on a few things.” That never stopped Rickard. “I would love to ask those people why? Why did that stop you? You told yourself what you needed to do. They would say, ‘no, it’s impossible because the energy density is too low’—but they were giving themselves a checklist of how to find the way around it.”

Rickard had the vision to make it happen but she needed to find a way to test it and to work out the kinks. She was awarded the opportunity through NAWCAD’s “Innovation Challenge.” Employees can submit ideas for inventions and, if selected, they are given a budget of $25,000, a team of four employees and six months to try and make it happen.

“I almost didn’t submit the idea because I didn’t know if I could do it in six months.” Rickard said there was a big key to her success—and there are dozens of them flying around NAS Patuxent River every day. “The key was I could finally test it with jet noise because it was loud enough to overcome many of the issues I encountered.”

And it worked. Rickard found the correct formula to transform sound into energy. Something no one else in the world has ever been able to do. She did it with just $11,000. Her invention, the NavNoiseX, costs only $3,000 to produce. “I tell people it’s like a solar panel but for sound. It transforms acoustic sound into electric energy or battery power.”

Despite years of meeting resistance for her idea, Rickard never gave up hope. “I love when people tell me it’s impossible because they’re telling me what I need to do to make it possible. I think people didn’t have the vision for it.”

Of course none of it would have happened without the support of her colleagues at NAWCAD. “They never doubted it and they were incredibly supportive,” Rickard noted. “It’s exciting that people finally understand it can be done. For years I heard nothing but criticism—I was always told I couldn’t do it. Now that I’ve done it, it proves that science doesn’t care about people’s opinions, it works. It doesn’t matter whether you think it can. It’s nice being able to talk to people who get it and I don’t have to defend it.”

There are currently three companies who are interested in potentially licensing the technology from the U.S. Navy and then they would work on developing it into a sellable product.

Rickard’s invention also gained attention on a state level. On Friday, Oct. 6, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot awarded Rickard with the 2017 Bright Lights Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship for St. Mary’s County—and was the only local media outlet there when she received it.

The award celebrates innovation in the private and nonprofit sectors that strengthen Maryland’s economy, generate jobs and tax revenue and develop new ideas that more effectively deliver services and products within the marketplace.

In addition to recognition from the comptroller, Delegate Deb Rey also recognized Rickard for her work. “This is a huge accomplishment not only for Rickard but for Pax River and St. Mary’s County, as well. We should all be very proud and excited about her work,” Rey commented.

After the ceremony, also sat down with Rickard’s parents, Jeffrey and Diane Dronenburg. “It’s an awesome opportunity and wonderful recognition for what she’s been doing for so long,” Jeffrey said.

“She’s a very brilliant and smart young woman and God will encourage her and guide her path,” Diana reflected. “She will do what she sets her mind to. The sky’s the limit.”

Rickard praised her team for their support and dedication as she made her dream become a reality. “I couldn’t have done it without them. I feel incredibly blessed and I’m going to keep talking to companies and keep spreading the word about it.”

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