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NEXUS-NY Grads Receive Competitive DOE Grants

American Fuel Cell and Avatar Sustainable Technologies Awarded DOE Grants in Round 2 of Small Business Voucher Program

The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has started a new innovative Small Business Vouchers (SBV) program to accelerate the transformation toward a clean energy economy.

As part of the program, several small businesses work directly with experts at DOE national laboratories to help commercialize the next generation of clean energy technologies. This national effort provides millions in funding for U.S. companies, and access to the resources available within the national laboratory system.

“Small businesses will get access to NREL’s expertise and facilities to overcome research and commercialization challenges while NREL staff gain better insight into industry needs,” stated NREL Commercialization Program Manager Matt Ringer is a press release.

SBV vouchers range from $50,000 – 300,000. Industries include Wind, Bioenergy, Solar and Fuel Cells and Advanced Manufacturing.

NEXUS-NY graduating companies, American Fuel Cell (AFC) and Avatar Sustainable Technologies are among two of the businesses selected for Round 2 of this prestigious collaboration. Out of hundreds of applications, only 43 vouchers were awarded in this round. AFC and Avatar were also the only winners from New York state.

“American Fuel Cell applied for a grant under the voucher program in partnership with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to work on high-speed, thin film coating manufacturing quality control,” says AFC CEO and Co-Founder Daniel O’Connell. “The program through the DOE is significant at $200,000 with additional cost share from AFC.”

While O’Connell says that winning the award was a long shot, his team is very excited about the potential. “We’re looking at completing this program with Kodak and Oak Ridge Labs to ensure we get a quality product out of the process,” he added.  

American Fuel Cell is the premier supplier of individually tailored Membrane Electrode Assemblies (MEA) for multiple fuel cell applications. In a recent interview with NEXUS-NY, O’Connell shared with us how AFC is powering the future, and bringing high tech fuel cell jobs to the Rochester area by creating high performance, low cost MEAs.

Across the nation, small businesses provide a tremendous opportunity to accelerate America’s clean energy economy. Small businesses develop innovative technology and produce more than 15 times as many patents per employee as larger patenting firms, according to the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy.

American Fuel Cell will begin the new project with the Department of Energy this October. Work will continue throughout 2017. The first step is to execute a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), which O’Connell says was recently signed.

“Initially AFC will provide samples to Oak Ridge for defect analysis. Oak Ridge personnel will then visit our facility in Rochester to see the equipment we have and determine how best to error proof our production process and reduce waste, thereby lowering our cost,” explains O’Connell. “We expect to be in volume production over the duration of the project starting in early 2017.”

A second company that graduated from Cohort 1 of the NEXUS-NY accelerator was also awarded a DOE Small Business Voucher. Avatar Sustainable Technologies produces cellulosic sugars from solid waste. The papermill waste is processed into fermentable sugars that can be converted into environmental-friendly commercial products, including several biofuels and bioplastics applications.

“We couldn’t be more pleased,” said Avatar Founder Bhavin Bhayani. “I’d like to thank NEXUS-NY, Syracuse COE, ESF, SUNY ESF, CenterState CEO and several others who have helped us lay the foundation.”

Avatar is based in Syracuse, NY. The clean energy startup will collaborate with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) as part of the DOE SBV program.

“It’s amazing that two companies from the NEXUS-NY program received this funding. It really speaks highly of NEXUS, HTR and the innovative clean energy startups in Upstate NY,” says O’Connell.

More details on the application process for Round 3 of the Small Business Vouchers program will be release this Fall. You can find Process & Timeline information, as well as Eligibility requirements at https://www.sbv.org.