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Green Energy | March 15, 2012

My great experience with the Clean Energy Challenge Competition

By John Domagalski
Vice President, Market & Product Development, Constellation Energy

I had the pleasure of attending the Clean Energy Challenge in Chicago, IL earlier this month. In the moments when I first arrived it was clear that the day would be filled with high quality, thoughtful, and diverse presentations covering the clean energy landscape.  It was obvious that each team spent a lot of time thinking about their projects and how their ideas could be integrated into real scenarios. 

Over 100 early-stage and student-led companies submitted applications for this event, which included businesses from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.  This year’s competition also included a new Student Challenge, designed to increase the creation of student-run start-ups and accelerate the commercialization of clean energy technologies from Midwest universities.

The day consisted of 10 presentations from companies and eight presentations from students.  Hyrax Energy from Madison, Wisconsin, was announced as the early-stage business winner and NuMat Technologies, a student-led company from Northwestern University in Illinois, captured top honors in the Student Challenge. Each company received a $100,000 grand prize sponsored by the Department of Energy.

Hyrax Energy develops bio-refineries that utilize ionic liquids to break down corn stover and waste plant materials into fermentable sugars, which are sold to renewable plastics, chemical and fuel manufacturers.

NuMat Technologies, a materials-based startup, has developed a proprietary computational screening tool for rapidly identifying and testing metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). NuMat also developed a complimentary, low-cost approach to synthesize, purify, stabilize and experimentally evaluate MOFs.

In addition to the two grand prize winners, five $10,000 state prizes were awarded to Student Challenge competitors. These winners were:

–Saturnis from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri
–Regenerate USA from University of Michigan
–Design Flux Technologies from the University of Akron in Ohio
–Convolutus from Purdue University in Indiana
–NuMat Technologies from Northwestern University in Illinois

All of the Challenge finalists received coaching and business planning assistance from dozens of volunteer mentors coordinated by the Clean Energy Trust, a nonprofit technology accelerator that connects entrepreneurs, researchers and early-stage companies with the expertise and capital to become sustainable businesses.

All and all, it was great to see such thoughtful dedication to the future of clean energy by all the teams involved. I believe that this competition helps to establish the energy leaders for the future generations and helps foster innovation in the market place.

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