the girl from the future.
Cofounder and Chief Science Officer of LightSail Energy.
We’re making inexpensive, efficient energy storage systems — the missing link in the plan to make the world’s electrical grid green.
January 16th 1987: Hammock not quite meant for two
October 30th 1987: Birth
Until 1992: Halcyon years of childhood
Until 1999: The intermittent misery of compulsory schooling
September 1999: Kafka-esque Jr. High Education Commences
October 1999: Insanity overload
October 30th 1999: Dropped out
Until Summer 2000: Programming and 3D modeling; C++ lessons at Nova Scotia Community College, Horseback Riding Lessons
September 2000 – May 2005: Dalhousie University, graduated with first class combined honors in Physics/Computer Science, with a university medal.
August 2005: Started PhD. program at Princeton’s Plasma Physics Lab
Summer 2007: Realization dawns on me that fusion, if anything, is the power source of the far future, and it is the near future I worry about.
August 25th 2007: San Francisco Bay.
September 1st 2007: Berkeley.
September 2nd 2007: Realize I’d make a terrible employee.
September 3rd 2007: Realize that I’ll starve if I don’t take matters into my own hands and start my own thing;.
September 4th 2007: Realize that I might have a halfway decent chance at making a difference.
Until May 2008: Struggle to launch any of dozens of startup ideas, while working side jobs and supporting cofounders/friends.
June 2008: Start working feverishly on compressed air technology.
June – September 2008: Couchsurfing.
August 2008: LightSail Energy Founded
July 2009: Funded!
November 2009: Our Firehouse Facility is operational.
September 2010: First spray — it works!
May 2011: Present our progress to Bill Gates
June 2011: Learn to surf!
July 2011: All technical goals for prototype reached — science phase complete.
August 2011: First visit to Burning Man. Mind blown.
December 2011: Named the Energy Standout in the Forbes 30 Under 30 for my work with LightSail
January 2012: Elected as mentor at the Thiel Fellowship
Until the present: Saving the world… (or dying trying!)
Mail: me at <my name>.com
or Dani.Fong at <google’s mail service>
Hacker News: DaniFong
I like Amory Lovins’s description of Einfall: “temporary lapses of stupidity”. I second the Polya recommendation
by Fortress, do you mean http://research.sun.com/projects/plrg/ ?!
its barely even a stable language implementation!
It’s not stable enough to build on substantially yet (we’re awaiting static steps for the compiler,) but it’s an excellent language. I’m involved in a semi-secret project to produce an interactive environment with Fortress as a base. Right now I’m using Mathematica as my native language.
I am very impressed with your profile and you blog on smart grid… I am a mgmt consultant/entrepreneur who just winded down his start-up to go back to mgmt consulting. And I like the way you have presented the issues related to selling to utilities. Good luck with your company…
It’s humbling to think that you were born just 13 months before me. What have I been doing? Hopefully, figures such as yourself will inspire me to do more with my life. Unfortunately formal education in the sciences is financially out of the question at this point, but there’s nothing but myself stopping me from opening a maths book.
incredibly impressive and insightful…
You probably don’t remember me. I am a cousin who resides outside of Toronto. My mother is your dad’s oldest sister. Her name is Jean. I met you briefly in the year 2000 (July) in Halifax for the Fong Family Renunion. After the reunion lunch, your grandmother took us to your home in Dartmouth where I spent a few hours chatting with your mom about her writing, while my spouse conversed with your dad. Needless to say, your mom is quite the lady – definitely the offspring have inherited her genes in the neurological sense!! (bright). And your father, is smart too.
I am acquainted with your parents. Most recently, I had been in communication with your dad regarding a family matter.
Both my husband and I are very impressed with your accomplishments. Since my husband is a retired electrical engineer, he took great interest in your current status with Light Sail.
Continued success in your ventures.
Wonderful to hear from you! My mind’s eye is squinting but I think I remember one charming woman named Connie in my deep recollections of half a lifetime ago! Thank you so much for reaching out. Your message brought a smile to my face.
I made an error in my last message. I had a senior moment!! I intended to say that your grandfather, my Uncle Dow is my mom’s younger brother. Just thought I would correct this error which I noted after reading your reply.
Just out of curiosity, if you dropped out of middle school, how come did you go to university?
How much of the energy is stored in the form of:
1) Compressed air
2) Heated Water
Hello Dani – I met your father, two aunts & grandmother at the restaurant (your dad’s) in Dartmouth a few weeks ago. My cousin (Jim Haugen) used to be your dad’s business partner (in the 80’s I think). It was a pleasure meeting your family, and interestingly to find I had the commonality of having a daughter same age as you (born June 29, 1987) named Danielle. She is going to Burning Man this year and I think it would be fantastic if you happen to cross paths [as your dad said you were going back]. Best of luck to you…you are an impressive young mind!!!
Danielle, I have been sales over 35 years. I have resently started a new era holiday resort project TauriSol which is going to be a pilot for sustainable, energy independent resort, which we are planning. See info from http://xeeme.com/taurisol I´m establishing a startup company with 5 engineers. In the project is Finnish Goverment base research unit Vtt.fi UKI Architects and other partners (The Unisversity of Oulu building fysics) I found you with a tip from friends from States. That you have a innovation to storage energy eficiently. Could you please contact if interested to save the Planet and change the wolrd:) you can fin my Entire Social Media Presence at http://xeeme.com/markkutauriainen startup presence at http://xeeme.com/taurisol Waiting your contact!
did you find a way to draw as big as you vizualize? if yes which support are you using in order to see at the same time the little detail and the big picture?
I think explicitly about the level of thought I’m at and move often and fluidly between them.
Hi Danielle, I came across your blog by pure accident whilst researching funding into root causes of poverty. I don’t have anything profound to say but just wanted to send a message of thanks for trying to create a storage generator that could potentially have the impact of curbing climate change and basically making the world a better place! Good on you xxx
[…] The technology was developed by the company's founder, Danielle Fong. […]
I just read about your project at http://qz.com/36699/why-google-maps-is-better-than-apples-real-people-collect-its-data/.
While reading your bio I noticed this line: “Until May 2008: Struggle to launch any of dozens of startup ideas, while working side jobs and supporting cofounders/friends.”
Did you have a methodical approach in creating / identifying / selecting ideas? Was there a process that perhaps others could repeat? If you could have a blog post about this subject that would be awesome.
I have launched a few online startups with more / less success, but I find myself drawn into basic research / ventures as those seem to have the greatest potential to benefit both mankind as well as the founders.
I just had to think about what would make the biggest difference. :-) I couldn’t stop working on this once I did.
Hi Danielle. I’m an American student with a miserable school experience too. I raged about it to my parents nearly every day for close to ten years. I shudder when I look back at how much time I wasted there (and complaining about being there, haha). College, though significantly better, suffers from many of the same problems.
What were the problems you had with compulsory schooling? What did you think of college, and why did you drop out of graduate school? Was it simply that the topics were not relevant enough to society, as you seem to imply, or were there other reasons? The more detail, the better!
I’ve got a billion ideas for how it can be done better, and I think I’ve come up with a good way to wrap it all together. The typical difficulty is that autodidacts tend to learn rather shallowly, but crowd-based content generation and some gaming principles give an excellent method to overcome that tendency. Now, if this system allows people to practice those skills on specific projects, we should get a far superior learning environment and one which actually produces valuable products (which I always hated in school: if the work you tell me to do won’t be useful to anyone, why should I do it?). Can you imagine the potential value of all the time that every child in the country spends in school? Can you imagine what we could do if those children could develop useful skills, more effective attitudes, and experience creating products that solve problems all before most finish high school? If it sounds interesting to you, I’d love to discuss the idea and any that you may have at greater length. (Also, you seemed to be a spectacularly successful autodidact: what strategies do you use?)
Also, I’m an engineer interested in clean tech entrepreneurship, and I’m interested to hear why you went to the bay area. Did you already have a plan/connections? How tough was it to find business partners? How is the clean tech community?
Thanks! I hope to hear from you.
I had no connections directly, but I knew about Paul Graham and YCombinator, and greatly respected his writings and work. So I moved there because he said it was one of the best communities for starting companies. He was right.
He said if he were starting a company, he’d do in in one of 3 neighborhoods: Cambridge in Davis or Harvard Squares, Palo Alto on California or University Avenue, or Berkeley immediately north or south of campus. I moved to the cheapest of these neighborhoods!
My secret for learning is to jump in, and to not fool myself into thinking I understand something at a deep level without really knowing it. I keep working at it until I’ve trained my intuition. Then I can base other things off of that.
I watched your SolveforX video on compressed air storage and now have another hero and fell in love at the same time. If I was just one month younger. :)
I grew up in west Texas with water well windmills everywhere, plus the occassional wind storm… http://www.crystalinks.com/duststormcity.jpg
During the 1980’s I worked with scientists at Sandia Labs to find economical ways to harness the ever present wind energy energy around me. I was fighting math that concluded wind is free but gas is cheaper. The capital costs, maintenance and unpredictable supply issues of wind just seemed intractable. Additonally I was unhappy with the direction the industry was taking of ever bigger horizontal axis three blade turbines. Those things are noisy, unsightly to some, take lots of land, kill birds and bats and are just plain scary when you are near one on a windy day (imagine standing under a large helicopter – the ground shakes). I understood the efficiency equations, but on some level I just believed the solution lay in vertical axis designs like
Recently engineers have determined that fields of properly spaced vertical axis machines can produce more energy, at lower cost, than the large blade designs due to complimentary wind vortices from offset placement and more compact land use in general. Plus the vertical designs are quiet, do not kill birds and are visually more pleasing… and not so damn scary when you are close to them. But the sporadic nature of supply still remains an issue. Now you have an answer!!! Your work may help realize my life long dream to make wind a reliable, economical and environmentally sound source of energy. Thank you.
”My secret for learning is to jump in, and to not fool myself into thinking I understand something at a deep level without really knowing it. I keep working at it until I’ve trained my intuition. Then I can base other things off of that.”
I absolutely endorse that. And typical school education usually encourages a mechanical, aimless routine which rewards only those who are good at convergent thinking, at applying prescribed methods. They kill the latent passion, the creativity.
[…] the age of 21, Danielle Fong cofounded LightSail Energy, a venture focused on energy storage via compressed air, with heat […]
I’m just interested on renewable energy and I’ve been long aware of the problem of generating excess electricity in the night when demand is lowest (whichever means, wind, hydro). My initial thinking was the system they were testing in Texas maybe where electric cars were storing the electricity charged in the night and turning some of it back to the grid during peak time. As a firm believer in Tesla I think this is a viable option until I came across your sight and the technology. Do you believe your compressed air technology is more cost effective than a system of electric cars returning it to the grid? How is your method effective in developing countries? I do believe investors like Mr. Kosla & Gates would not participate if it’s not viable I just didn’t see enough information.
Danielle, I saw this press release awhile back, and just assumed it was Lightsail Energy’s project, but see that it came from SustainX:
How is there tech different from yours? It seems that they use water to store the heat of compression as well. Does the government fund Lightsail Energy to build a demonstration unit, as they did SustainX?
Sad to say but they did change course and then end up doing an awful lot that we are public about. Unfortunately for them, their compressor is way too big and expensive (maybe 10x ours?) and they didn’t do a bunch of things we aren’t public about.
DOE funded the earlier version of their project, then they changed to water spray + reciprocating — even though we had patented it. We haven’t received DOE funding.
Dear Mrs. Fong,
I read with a lot of interest all I could find on the web about the energy storage technology you are trying to develop together with your colleagues at LightSail Energy.
While, from the limited information available to me, it certainly looks like a very promising approach to the issue of energy storage, other promising approaches seem to exist as well and I was wondering what would be your opinion, as an expert in the field, regarding the Liquid Air Energy Storage technology from Highview Power in UK ( http://www.highview-power.com ) and the Dearman engine as being developped by The Dearman Engine Company ( http://www.dearmanengine.com ).
Personally, I’m not involved in any energy storage technology development business (I’m actually working for the Belgian nuclear safety authorities as expert on severe accidents in PWR’s and before that I was in fusion research, in case you might wonder) but I recently became interested (as an engineer) in current state-of-the-art technologies for energy storage and started googling around…
Of course, I would fully understand if you could not find time to answer this question, but I thought that I might at least try to ask your opinion.
Thibaut Van Rompuy
[…] US-Magazin Forbes nennt sie bereits ein Wunderkind – und tatsächlich: Danielle Fong hat einen beeindruckenden Lebenslauf. Heute 25 Jahre alt, schmiss sie vor Jahren die Schule, um […]
[…] be held on Thursday evening, October 16th. In addition to a keynote from LightSail Energy’s Danielle Fong, there will be an Energy Innovation Case Competition and a Poster Exposition and Contest. See below […]
& Brave and Beautiful Lady!
Thank you for solving one of the biggest challenges on earth that is ‘Energy Storage’. Hope we will see the result soon.
Also with your impressive work, you woke a hidden investor in me .Thank you and will save every penny to invest in this project.
[…] to be held on Thursday evening, October 16th. In addition to a keynote from LightSail Energy’s Danielle Fong, there will be an Energy Innovation Case Competition and a Poster Exposition and Contest. See below […]
I think you’re very beautiful :)
Dear Mrs Fong.,
i am an artist that is exploring the cross-section Architecture, Technology and Plants.
Plant-In City is inspired by urban design and city systems that support plant-life and sustainability.
I was wondering if you have a simple prototype that we could integrate into our system. Like any city, we have electrical power needs, irrigation systems, water pumps, fans etc., and would love to go off the grid with your idea.
for more info:
Please send me an email with your needs. We might have something — but it’s a serious prototype! At significant scale!
I just discovered you and your company. You are truly a fascinating person and what you are doing is very inspiring. I wish I was just as smart and successful as you and doing something noble and worthwhile too!
How are things going now? Hope to hear from you!
Sounds like you are! Thanks!