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Clean Tech Accelerator Funds New Ideas for Global Renewable Energy Applications

Scores of clean tech company CEOs pitched their leading-edge ideas to seed capital angels and venture capitalists at this year's Clean Tech Open 2012 Global Forum, in San Jose, California. Held at the Hayes Mansion on November 8 and 9, the meeting is the culmination of numerous regional competitions by the organization, which has helped over 600 companies raise over $660 million in financing since 2006. After a 10-minute business plan pitch heard by over a thousand attendees, company finalists were quizzed by a panel of judges to compete for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in start up capital.

The business areas of the competing companies encompass renewable energy, the environment and the economy in general. Among renewable energy finalists this year were companies offering to improve solar cell efficiency, offering to marry residential wind and solar systems, and offering to tap excess pressure in water distribution systems to generate energy. The 2012 Clean Tech Global Forum winner was HVET, of Chicago, which won $250,000 in funding and services. Its patented switched reluctance motors provide high-performance alternatives to induction and permanent magnet motor/generators with increased reliability and disruptive cost benefits, the company says. The product is being rolled out to provide an electrical assist to bicycles but other versions disrupt current motor technology from approximately 150 watts to one megawatt and beyond, from applications like air conditioners to oil and gas pumps, they add.

Runner up to the 2012 title was Rentricity, of New York, which offered a system of converting excess water pressure in water distribution systems into electricity, by-passing existing pressure relief valves with new reverse-pump generators. Company CEO Frank Zammataro said the in-pipe micro-hydro system has already been demonstrated in four commercial projects within what it estimates is a $2.4 billion U.S. market, with 23,000 potential sites for the technology implantation. The company has partnered with Xylem to produce the reverse pump, and is initially targeting the 5 to 30 kilowatt segment of the market. Rentricity claims it can install its system at a cost of U.S. $0.04 per kWh. The company is seeking funds to expand its sales operations and partner with leading water industry companies to develop the latest generation of water system retrofitting.

Finalist Malachite Technologies Inc., of San Francisco, pitched the idea of using sputtering deposition technology to place a one-micron thick layer of gallium arsenide over a traditional silicon chip to raise the efficiency of the resulting tandem array to 33 percent. CEO Robert Weiss reckoned that once the chip manufacturing industry goes through its current wave of consolidation, surviving competitors would need an efficiency edge, which his company could provide within two or three years time. The company is seeking funds for proof of concept data.

Another finalist, Pika Energy, of Gorham, Maine, unveiled a new design wind turbine for residential applications at a price of $8,000, about a third of the current market leader's cost, suggested Ben Polito, CEO of the start up. Pika cut the cost by designing an injection molded fan blade, which can be mass-produced in contrast to the layered composite design that is standard in the industry now. The company also has developed a mechanical safety brake for its turbine, and a power inverter system that can combine a Pika wind turbine with a generic rooftop solar photovoltaic system. The company is seeking funds to begin mass-producing the blades.

Apart from the finalist companies seeking funding from the judging committee, dozens of other clean tech start ups showed off their technology under a big tent, pitched in the courtyard of the mansion. Targeted markets ranged from solar systems to tidal power to highway motion generation systems.

Sun Edge LLC, of Wilmington, presented a water-filled solar concentrator system housed in an enclosed polycarbonate tube, which can yield four times normal sun power with the addition of only 25 percent more PV material. Company President David Argentar said the cost of the patent-pending system is one-third of comparable yield technologies. With a 10-MW demonstration plant scheduled for completion this year in Dover, Delaware, SunEdge is seeking funding for commercial-scale production.

Elemental Energy Technologies, of Sydney, touted its Sea Urchin tidal energy unit, which captures the flow of water through a turbine to produce energy. While initial installations are targeting barge and catamaran applications, a 1-MW pilot array will be installed near Darwin by the end of 2013, said company Finance Director Douglas Hunt. When mounted in arrays with shared cabling, the turbines can produce energy at a cost of between AU $0.10 and 0.12 per kWh (U.S. $0.10-0.12), he said.

Finally, Energy Intelligence LLC, of Waban, Massachusetts, presented its sub-grade highway motion generation system, which captures the weight of a moving tire through an activation plate to generate energy. The location of the system would likely be where vehicles are already forced to slow down and grid connections are present, like the approach to a toll station. With one patent awarded and two pending, the system is projected to provide a levelized cost of energy between US $.055 and $0.07 per kWh, according to Daniel Shani, CEO of the company. Clean Tech Open awarded the company $20,000 in the New England regional competition in October.

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Charles W. Thurston is a journalist who specializes in renewable energy, from finance to technological processes. He has been active in the industry for over 25 years, living and working in locations ranging from Brazil to Papua New Guinea.

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