University teams square off for national clean energy finals

Northwestern University's team also won Rice competition.
The best and brightest minds at U.S. colleges squared off recently, gathering their collective intelligence, imagination and ideas in a competition to come up with the most formidable and commercially promising clean energy innovations.

The preliminary results have just been unveiled. Regional winners of the U.S. Department of Energy's National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition have been named. Northwestern University, University of Utah, University of Central Florida, MIT, Stanford University and Columbia University will go on to compete in the first national competition in Washington, D.C. in June.

"The winning teams have developed effective strategies for bringing innovative technologies into the market that will help keep America competitive in the global race for clean energy technologies," Energy Secretary Steven Chu says in a statement.

Each regional winner receives $100,000 in prizes.

Officials explain the competition this way: "Each team of students identified a promising clean energy technology from a university or national lab and created a business plan around the technology that detailed how they could help bring it to market. This includes financing, product design, scaling up production and marketing."

Final projects include:

Northwestern University — NuMat Technologies: NuMat Technologies invented a nanomaterial that stores gases at lower pressure, reducing infrastructure costs and increasing design flexibility. One potential application for this innovation is in designing tanks to store natural gas more efficiently in motor vehicles.

In a preliminary showdown for the DOE competition, NuMat won the 2012 Rice Business Plan Competition in April, taking home $874,300 of the more than $1.55 million in cash and prizes presented at the awards banquet. Rice officials say NuMat Technologies is in discussions with some major chemical and technology and transportation companies to commercialize its nanomaterials.

University of Utah — Navillum Nanotechnologies: Navillum Nanotechnologies proposed expanding the commercial use of quantum dots. Quantum dots can emit a wider range of light using less energy than existing materials and could be used in future generations of solar panels, televisions, cell phones and related products.

University of Central Florida — Medsi Systems: Mesdi Systems developed precise manufacturing modules that increase production capacities and reduce costs of lithium ion batteries used in vehicles, consumer electronics, and medical devices.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology — SolidEnergy: SolidEnergy's battery technology innovation, which improves the safety and energy density of rechargeable lithium batteries, is intended to accelerate the deployment of electric vehicles.

Stanford University — Stanford Nitrogen Group: Stanford Nitrogen Group developed a biological wastewater treatment process that removes and recovers energy from waste nitrogen and recovers phosphorus.

Columbia University — Radiator Labs: Radiator Labs developed a low-cost, easily installed radiator retrofit that converts radiator heating systems into a highly controllable zoned system to significantly reduce the energy waste while increasing the heat distribution and consistency of building interiors.

The regional winners will pitch their business plans before a panel of expert judges. The pitching, which is open to the public, is scheduled for Wednesday, June 13th in Washington, D.C. Organizations providing assistance include the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, law firm Mintz Levin, the Clean Energy Alliance, Battelle Ventures and the Cleantech Open.