FLOW in Review: 2011 to 2018
FLOW was a DOE Cleantech UP business plan competition and mentorship program for university students and recent graduates focused on cleantech and sustainability. In addition to cleantech and clean energy, FLOW supported a broad spectrum of sustainability-related innovations, including those related to natural resource management and agricultural technologies. The program is currently on hiatus,
Caltech's ETC Solar LLC won the US Department of Energy sponsored $50,000 Cleantech UP Prize at the FLOW 2018 Cleantech Up competition, with a novel solar cell architecture and printing tool for manufacture. ETC's Effectively Transparent Contacts, a major innovation in solar cell design, increase solar panel efficiency by 5 percent - a historic leap forward in improving panel performance. The team is also designing a drop-in replacement printing tool that lays the ground for product manufacture at scale. By making solar panels 5 percent more efficient, the manufacturing cost ($/W) will be significantly reduced. Adopted by all solar panels installed in 2017 alone would have saved 5.3 GW of electricity -the equivalent of eliminating 30 million tons of CO2 a year or taking 6 million cars off the road!
The inaugural FLOW LACI Energy Innovation Prize of $20,000 was awarded to Antora Energy for developing an inexpensive thermal energy storage system that will take excess electricity from wind and solar power plants, store it for hours or days, and deliver it back to consumers when needed. By storing energy as heat in extremely inexpensive raw materials and converting that heat back to electricity with a high-efficiency thermophotovoltaic heat engine, Antora anticipates that its system costs are low enough to make intermittent renewable energy plus storage cost-competitive with energy from traditional fossil fuels.
Ammonia-by-Wire, building on Stanford technology, took home the $5,000 Transformational Idea Award with an energy efficient process for transforming nitrogen in the air to ammonia for fertilizer production. Operating at atmospheric pressures, this process could replace current large, centralized factories with smaller, less capital intensive plants located closer to fertilizer consumers like farmers.
The University of Houston's Vescence won the US Department of Energy sponsored $50,000 Cleantech UP prize at the 2017 First Look West (FLOW) competition. Vescence's patented water repellant coating minimizes contaminant buildup on solar panels, significantly improving electrical output while reducing maintenance costs. Dirty solar panels can lose up to 40% electrical output, necessitating laborious cleaning. Planned field tests on 40 solar panels at the University this summer are expected to confirm lab results showing a significant increase in energy output per panel and a reduction in the number of panel washes from four times a year to two. Pending successful results, Vescence could start beta site installation on a large-scale solar farm in Aqaba, Jordan with partner Power Energy USA.
FLOW's second prize of $25,000 was awarded to South 8 Technologies, Inc., a University of California San Diego startup. The company is exploiting a novel electrolyte chemistry for lithium batteries which could help eliminate a major bottle-neck to the next generation of these critical energy storage devices. The electrolyte doesn't freeze at low temperatures, and is also highly chemically stable, allowing for higher voltages and increased energy density of batteries – as much as 65% improvement. The team will first tackle the aerospace and high-atmosphere (drone) industries as well as start-stop vehicles, all markets with growing low-temperature requirements. The team anticipates having a prototype line ready for testing with customers as early as 2019.
The $5,000 Transformational Idea Award went to Teratonix, a Carnegie Mellon spin-out with innovative technology capturing radio waves in the atmosphere as potential energy sources for powering a variety of devices. Harvesting "ambient energy", readily available in an urban environment offers the prospect of eliminating battery waste, and reducing lifetime maintenance expenses for wireless devices by a factor of ten. Teratonix's patented technology could replace coin-sized batteries and AAA batteries in RFID applications, smart meters, sensors and beacons. The team anticipates having a demonstration prototype completed by summer 2017 for demonstration with IOT partners such as Walmart, Phillips Lighting and SigFox.
Stanford University's XStream Trucking won the US Department of Energy sponsored $50,000 first prize at the 2016 First Look West (FLOW) competition. XStream's patented GapGorilla technology deploys at highway speeds to close the gap between a truck's cab and trailer, reducing drag and improving fuel economy by up to four percent. GapGorilla has been tested using computer models, wind tunnels, track tests and highway trials. Ultimately this technology could save the $700 billion long-haul trucking industry up to $2 billion a year on fuel.
FLoW's Second Prize of $10,000 was shared by two winners Akabotics and SkyCool Systems. University of Hawaii's Akabotics is developing the Microdredger™ robot for removing sediments that clog waterways, smothering marine life and impeding normal water commerce in many coastal areas. Microdredger uses electricity instead of diesel fuel, lowering diesel fuel consumption by 90 percent while clearing water turbidity by 20 percent.
Stanford's SkyCool Systems core product is a rooftop, water cooling panel system that can improve the efficiency of refrigeration and air conditioning systems by up to 40 percent using an untapped renewable resource: the cold of the sky. This could save customers such as supermarket owners a significant amount of money in operating costs, and allow them to meet new regulatory standards and internal sustainability goals.
The Transformational Idea Award went to Element16 Technologies, a UCLA spin-out developing novel "heat batteries" with inexpensive sulfur liquids as the storage fluid. Such cost-effective heat storage systems can help "levelize" the grid's power peaks and valleys and ensure the Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants deliver the on demand power needed by their customers.
Axiom Exergy, led by a Stanford University team, won the $75,000 First Place prize at the Fourth Annual First Look West (FLOW) Regional competition, with technology that could save the food industry millions of dollars in energy costs. Refrigerating food accounts for a substantial 55 per cent of the energy use in supermarkets. Axiom's Refrigeration Battery™ "charges" by freezing tanks of salt water at night, when electricity is cheaper, and then it uses those frozen tanks to provide refrigeration throughout the day. The technology reduces energy costs and lowers the risk of food spoiling during power outages, potentially yielding cheaper and safer food for consumers.
The Bay Area company NexTint placed second for developing a dimmable, retrofittable window film that can tune the amount of light and heat that is transferred through a building's windows to keep occupants comfortable, reduce glare, and save energy and money. Using cost-effective, scalable technology NexTint can retrofit existing buildings to keep not only employees productive, but also meet government regulations.
Third Prize went to Reebeez. This Austin, Texas startup is commercializing a lightweight, solid-state microengine that can revolutionize power propulsion systems in small, unmanned aerial vehicles such as drones. The Transformational Idea Award went to Obtainium for their pilot-scale reactor for converting CO2 into ethanol using unique copper catalysts--that works at room temperatures and air pressures.
Turning waste from hard drives into critical resources used in the most efficient wind turbines and electric motors is REEcycle's passion, the Texas team that won the $100,000 First Place prize at the Third Annual First Look West (FLOW) Regional competition. REEcycle's process extracts Neodymium and Dysprosium, two precious rare earth elements, essential in manufacturing clean energy technologies, from discarded hard drive magnets. Rare Earth elements are critical to the most efficient wind turbines and electric motors – two technologies that drive the energy efficient future. Retrieving these elements makes the US less dependent on unpredictable foreign sources such as China, the world's largest exporter of rare earth elements.
REEcycle's advance was celebrated at an awards event held at the California Institute of Technology on May 7. Along with Second and Third Place winners graphene processor GrollTex and CinderBio, an industrial enzyme innovator, REEcycle shared $160,000+ in prize money and start-up packages that include boot camp scholarships and legal support.
In addition MuTherm took home the $5,000 Transformational Idea Award with an innovation that will boost the safety of the nation's thousands of miles of gas pipelines. Sponsored by Caltech's Resnick Sustainability Institute and Draper University (the entrepreneurial educational program founded by venture capitalist Tim Draper) the TIA rewards ground-breaking pre-commercial research.
Young entrepreneurs tackling hard problems and billion dollar markets took top prizes at the First Look West (FLOW regional finals competition held at the University of Southern California on May 7, 2013. UC Berkeley's Pyro-E won the $100,000 DOE prize and start up packages including face time with top investors and legal support.
Caltech's Chai Energy and Stanford's Dragonfly Systems claimed the $40,000 second place and $20,000 third place prize money.
Rare Earth Separation took home the inaugural $5,000 Transformational Idea Award. Sponsored by Draper University, the entrepreneurial educational program founded by venture capitalist Tim Draper, the TIA rewards ground-breaking, pre-commercial research.
Young entrepreneurs developing energy from waste water treatment, robots for cleaning solar panels and solar cell films with 20% more efficiency took the top prizes at the First Look West (FLOW) regional finals competition. At an awards celebration held at the California Institute of Technology on May 1, Stanford Nitrogen Group, Greenbotics and Xite Solar shared $200,000 in prize money.
The FLOW competition is one of six awarded regionally as part of a three-year, $2 million DOE program. The winning teams from six regions went on to compete at a competition held at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. June 12 & 13, 2012.