At the last minute, I decided to attend Tuesday night’s Cleantech Open Awards Gala, and was pleasantly surprised at just how many companies with game-changing technologies were participating in the event. From the finalists to the runners-up to last year’s winners, the promise of what was on display was truly astounding, and gives me quite a bit of hope that we have a strong chance of beating some of the enormous challenges that are facing our environment.
EcoFactor, the competition’s overall winner, humorously presented an amazingly simple concept: a web-enabled thermostat that automatically and continuously adjusts the temperature of your home based on local environmental conditions. According to the company, more than half of households with programmable thermostats do not program them. The company’s technology avoids that problem, providing 25 percent or more energy savings with a hands-free solution.
While EcoFactor certainly has a very innovative product, I was simply shocked that they managed to beat out fellow finalist New Sky Energy, whose carbon-negative C02-to-building materials process appears to be an almost magical solution to excess carbon emissions. New Sky’s revolutionary chemical technology takes carbon dioxide from the air, combines it with polluted water, salts and renewable energy and ends up with carbonate-based building materials, in the form of bricks, tiles, laminated wood composites and others.
Essentially, the company has figured out an environmentally-friendly way to scrub C02 out of the air, sequester it in building materials, and clean up polluted water, all at the same time! I’m sure that we will be hearing much more about New Sky in the very near future.
But perhaps chemistry just didn’t capture the imagination of the judges. Amongst the finalists were several more companies with chemistry based solutions. RiverTop Renewables is creating ecologically-friendly chemicals and bio-products from renewable plant sugars. LivingGreen Materials showed off a small vial containing Dye-Sensitive Solar (DSC) powder, which is essentially the stuff that will allow for solar panels that can be “painted” onto surfaces, and will be more efficient than photovoltaics. LivingGreen also mentioned that DSC has just recently passed the test for durability that will allow it to be used in similar situations to PV.
Somewhat more conventional technologies were also included in the finalists. National Sustainability Award Winner HydroVolts displayed a very small and efficient micro-hydroelectric generator that can be set up in a small river or channel in about 15 minutes. Curiously-named Armageddon Energy is taking a novel approach to solar panels, by focusing on ease of installation. Its lightweight, inexpensive, and quick-to set up system uses hexagonal panels mounted on triangle-shaped aluminum brackets, and was demonstrated live as several Armageddon employees effortlessly set up three panels live, during the 3-minute presentation.
I also found a number of interesting companies amongst the runners-up. My favorite was EVIN, the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Network (a company that I will be writing more about in the near future). EVIN has a novel approach for deploying swappable battery packs for electric cars, so that they can be deployed in advance of the purchase of vehicles.
The company plans on selling the battery packs to multiple-unit housing complexes, allowing them to save money by charging the batteries at night, when electricity is cheap, and then using that electricity during the day, when it is expensive. Once enough of these installations are in place, it becomes very easy to add the battery-swapping service to them, allowing them to be used by EV owners and providing additional revenue for the owner of the apartment complex.
Keep an eye on TriplePundit for more in-depth coverage of these and other Cleantech Open startups, by following our Startup Friday series.
Other notable CleanTech Open finalists and semifinalists not mentioned in the article:
SunTrac Solar (solar thermal)
Tru2Earth (sustainable rooftop tiles)
Powerzoa (mesh-networked appliance modules)
Alphabet Energy (waste heat recovery)
HydroCoal (clean coal process)
DotUI (universal user interfaces)
Steve Puma is a sustainability and technology consultant. He currently writes for 3p as well as on his personal blog, ThePumaBlog, about the intersection of sustainability, technology, innovation, and the future. Steve holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School and a BA in Computer Science from Rutgers University. You can contact Steve through email or LinkedIn, or follow him on twitter.