Unofficial Awards Ceremony for California Clean Tech Open

By all accounts the California Cleantech Open was a huge success. (Read Rob Day’s blog at Cleantech Investing.) Attached is the Offical Awards list (and according to Renewable Energy Access for those who missed it, the winners are also presenting their technologies at the upcoming Solar Power 2006 Conference in San Jose). Kudos to everyone who worked so hard to put it on. While I was unable to make it, we are lucky enough to present a guest blog column by Paul Fox, a tech entrepreneur whom I have known since his days as a VP at Flextronics.

The real Awards ceremony for the California CleanTech Open (CCTO) was held at San Francisco City Hall on 26 September 2006. There were so many interesting companies, and not just among the winners. So I have decided to award the unofficial 2nd runner up prizes, sponsored by my firm, Foley Fox & Associates, and Jane Capital Partners. The grand, and only, prize is a review of the business plan by Neal Dikeman and I, and maybe a cup of coffee and a biscotti.

The criteria for selection? Very straightforward – Most Interesting Story Award. Note that the judge’s decision is not final (use the comments section below to suggest your own prize winners).

Energy Efficiency Category. Drum roll . . . the prize goes to High Merit Thermoelectrics. Thermoelectric (TE) devices are solid-state devices that convert heat into electricity. The team from UC Davis/JPL smashed two decades of stagnation in high temperature TE. They have increased the base efficiency from 2.6% to 4.3% and also doubled the “Figure of Merit” (i.e. it does a fine job of making and conducting electricity rather than conducting heat). Moreover, the new material is thermally compatible with lower temperature range TE material meaning they can be “segmented” to create a device that has 7.3% efficiency (compared to 4..5% in the state of the art). If the cold side can be cooled to ~300K (a comfortable 80 Fahrenheit), further segmentation can give you 18.6% efficiency. Ok, a few percent does not sound like much, but a little efficiency goes a long way. TE has been used in niche applications like aerospace and medicine for 30-40 years. This breakthrough will lead to the use of TE in more high temperature applications: e.g. energy recovery from combustion engines or perhaps tandem generation with solar concentrators. Commercialization will be challenging, but expect to hear more about this technology and this company.

Renewables Category. I liked several of the finalists, but in the end I decided to give solar a rest and select Aerotecture International. They have a vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT) that combines helix (Savonius) and airfoil (Darreius) designs. VAWT is interesting because they can be mounted on buildings without the vibration and turbulence problems of conventional turbines. Aerotecture has taken it a step further and produced a very sexy looking machine (yes you can say that about clean tech – check the video on their website). The big issues in VAWT are of course materials and fabrication costs, particularly for the aerofoil, and proving performance/and maintenance costs. Aerotecture looks to be around the same cost per Watt as competing VAWT, despite the combined helix/airfoil design. Can they drive it down further? Stay tuned.

Smart Power Category. Please remember to keep the acceptance speech short. The winner is . . . Grid Saver (Energy Dynamix), who are promoting an appliance remote control system to provide real-time distributed demand response. Ok, I am not sure I want PG&E turning off my beer refrigerator just before the big game, but this is an intriguing idea. Would you like a rolling blackout instead? This prize is awarded for sheer audacity. We need more of it in clean tech.

Transportation Category: Sponsored by Lexus and awarded to a kite for towing ships? In a similar vein, I am not going to award this to one of the excellent bio-fuels companies. Instead, the prize goes to Compressor Control Company, who wants to replace the batteries in a hybrid car with a hydraulic energy storage system. I won’t reveal the secret sauce here; but the EPA, Ford and others are actively looking at similar technology. As much as we love the Toyota Prius, there are going to be a lot of batteries to dump in a few years time.

Water Management Category. I love this category, maybe because I started life pumping water through R.O. machines and activated charcoal. I’d like to see lots more investment in this neglected area, so I am awarding the prize to all of them (I know it is getting crowded on stage):

  • Acillix Inc. – microbial demineralization to improve R.O.
  • A-Z Comp – nano-scale activated carbon removes hydrocarbons from water.
  • Ferrate Solutions – it’s better than disinfection with chlorine
  • Filtration Dynamics – if the EPA is on your back this centrifugal filter could save you a lot of money.
  • Tim Dunn’s Team – a low-cost method for destroying organic-based water pollution.
  • WaterWise Systems – uses municipal waste water to sub-irrigate large stands of trees which sequester carbon dioxide. What’s not to like about that?

As the wild applause recedes, I’d like to say it was a great competition. The Clean Tech community is looking forward to next year. Well done to the organizers, sponsors and competitors. The CCTO’s own summary of all the finalists is attached if you want to pick your own winners.

Paul Fox is a San Jose based entrepreneur and consultant. He helps investors and technology companies accelerate their time to market, time to revenue and return on investment (www.foleyfox.com). His clean tech experience includes solar, nano-materials, fuel cells, distributed generation, and water.

2 replies
  1. jeremy_stieglitz
    jeremy_stieglitz says:

    As a developer of a competitive VAWT, I was pleased to see Aerotecture getting noticed and would congratulate them on their excellent design/urban fit.We've been batting our heads against the wall with the VC community to date. Part of the challenge is that there is a lot of wind turbine quakery out there that simply won't work, and most of these are not aerodynamically sound. Aerotecture turbines, while somewhat lower in overall output, are at least honest and forthcoming in their efficiency data.Another challenge is that most VCs want something deeply proprietary and especially in Silicon Valley, have a comfort level with examining semiconductor/silicon technologies that are somewhat transferrable to white hot solar space.Lastly, too often people pose solar as "opposed" to wind technologies. As if they are only direct competitors. If there is decent wind resource + decent solar resource, the amortization and cost benefits of doing both are dramatic and your return on investment can literally double or triple. That statement alone baffles me why the VCs chase 80 solar ventures and nearly 0 wind efforts.The frustrating irony in all of this is that when energy delivery starts to really matter, and dollars per watt start to really get added correctly (total installed cost over yearly kW/hr output), then urban solar is going to look like a weak cousin compared to the energy density/footprint available in urban wind.I'll give kudos to Aerotecture on their elegant overall design, near ergonomic installation/form factor, but I'll put in a plug that if your curious as to what else is out there in VAWTs, also check out http://www.wind-sail.com.thanks,Jeremy StieglitzFounder and VP Marketing, Wind-Sail

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