NEXUS-NY Blog


Cornell Research Team Competes for $20M Carbon XPRIZE

NEXUS-NY’s Cornell Team, Dimensional Energy, Moves to Round 2 of Carbon XPRIZE Competition

We’re energized to share Dimensional Energy’s latest milestone – a feature in Engineering.com for their participation in the Carbon XPRIZE competition! The Cornell research team as now been selected as a semi-finalist in the competition with judges saying they are more confident than ever that real breakthroughs are about to happen!

The XPRIZE Foundation is running the competition, which awards $20 million to the team that designs the best solution for converting carbon into something that can be sold to offset the cost to capture it.

Dimensional Energy GraphicDimensional Energy has developed a photoreactor that converts sunlight, CO2 and water into usable energy, such as methanol and other fuels.

Watch -> Dimensional Energy’s Promotional Video

Entrepreneurial lead Jason Salfi says the team has created an efficient solution to convert the sun’s energy without electricity. Through the development of a novel fiber optic waveguide, the process allows the photoreactor to direct sunlight to a specific location.

When the sunlight reaches a surface that’s coated with a nanofluid catalyst, also developed by Dimension Energy, the covalent bonds of the CO2 and H2O molecules break. As the component elements form new bonds, hydrocarbon fuels are created.

New this year, NEXUS-NY connected two scientific researchers, Dr. David Erickson and Dr. Tobias Hanrath of Cornell University, to test the commercial potential of using their joint technologies to convert CO2 into methanol. Salfi and partner entrepreneurial lead, Clayton Poppe, have been assisting with the testing and commercialization of this method.

Dimensional Energy has now been selected into Round 2 of the $20MM Carbon XPrize Competition. Dr. Paul Bunje and Dr. Marcius Extavour’s latest blog post announces the competition’s Round 2 Semi-finalists, as well as provides more information about the NRG Cosia Team Summit, which will be held in New Orleans on December 7-9.

We’ll keep you posted on the latest details as they unfold!

Learn more -> NEXUS-NY Pilots New University Research Opportunity

 

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.

HTR Pre-Seed Workshop, Clean Energy Ideas Wanted!

Thinking about applying to NEXUS-NY? Get a head start by joining HTR’s Pre-Seed Workshop

Are you ready for innovation? NEXUS-NY isn’t holding back the “energy” this Fall, with Demo Day 2016 scheduled for October 5, Cohort 4 applications opening on October 18 and the next High Tech Rochester Pre-Seed Workshop kicking off on October 27!

Apply to HTR Pre-Seed WorkshopLimited to ten teams, the HTR Pre-Seed Workshop is your chance to collaborate with top inventors, entrepreneurs and tech pros from across New York State, giving you the resources needed to turn your idea into a business.

“As a result of our Pre-Seed Workshops, over 100 new companies in NYS have been formed, and they’ve secured over $50 million in the past five years,” says HTR Technology Commercialization Manager Mike Riedlinger. “What I believe has made the program so successful is the team of people we assemble around each idea champion.”

Designed as a structured two-day program, each inventor (or “idea champion” as Mike likes to say) is paired with industry experts, including IP attorneys and financial specialists. Students from the University of Rochester round out the team by assisting with research, conducting background on the technology and gathering industry information. Teams also receive over $10,000 in support services and market research reports to help make their ideas take flight.

“The workshop is ideal for people who have a clean energy concept or who have worked in the lab to build an early prototype that might be commercialized,” Riedlinger says. “By running through important business model canvas elements, and surrounding inventors with a core team of experts, we’ve seen ideas turn into products, licensed someplace else or created into a service that makes a product, he added.

Riedlinger says companies that have participated in the Pre-Seed Workshop come from across New York State, referencing Ecolectro in Ithaca, NY as a great success story.

EcolectroHTR Pre-Seed Workshop is a clean energy startup spun from Cornell University. The company is researching ways to revolutionize how we power the nation by developing structurally robust and highly conductive polymer membranes for a range of applications, including fuel cells and electrolyzers. Before graduating from the NEXUS-NY Clean Energy Seed Accelerator, Ecolectro Cofounder and CEO Dr. Gabriel Rodríguez-Calero began his path to commercialization as a participant of the HTR Pre-Seed Workshop.

“I heard about the HTR Pre-Seed Workshop through Susi Varvayanis of the Cornell BEST program. I was looking for some help from people who had started a business before. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to achieve, but I needed guidance to turn my idea into something more concrete,” says Rodríguez-Calero.

When he entered the Pre-Seed Workshop, Gabriel and his cofounders were surrounded by subject matter experts including Doug Buerkle, Executive Director of the NEXUS-NY and David Wetter, Cofounder of American Fuel Cells, while Susi participated as the team coach.

“It was a varied and diverse group of individuals with a lot of expertise. I was able to float my ideas by them, and with their help refine the ideas. This is exactly what I needed – a channel of communications,” explains Rodríguez-Calero. “It was an excellent way to get familiar with the business model canvas, Ecolectro’s potential customer base and define the business, all within a very concise two-day program.”

Gabriel says that after coming out of the HTR Pre-Seed Workshop he had a refined idea and understood better the problem he was trying to solve with his solution, which were much different than when he started. “Even if you find out your idea isn’t worth pursuing in a commercial enterprise, the networking and the learning experience is completely valuable. I highly recommend it.”

After completing the HTR Pre-Seed Workshop, Ecolectro took their refined solution and applied for the NEXUS-NY accelerator.

“During the Pre-Seed Workshop we were able to see how Gabriel engaged with his team members, and it was exciting to witness his interest in moving the technology ahead,” says Doug Buerkle, NEXUS-NY Executive Director. “So when he applied for NEXUS-NY, we already had a clear understanding of the technology and his commitment to commercializing it, which are two main factors in our competitive application process.”

Rodríguez-Calero says that becoming familiar with the terminology of the lean startup principles and business model canvas helped him advance in the NEXUS-NY accelerator because it wasn’t his first time hearing and practicing the concepts.

And it’s not only NEXUS-NY who will be keeping an eye out for innovations being launched out of the Pre-Seed Workshop. Each cohort ends with the investor delivering a 10-minute presentation to a panel of successful entrepreneurs, angel investors and early-stage venture funds.

“Many inventors move on to successfully receive SBIR grants or seed stage funding to form businesses based on their efforts from the Pre-Seed Workshop,” says Riedlinger. “Others realize their idea isn’t a fit and pivot to create something new, moving onto great success like Ecolectro.”

Now working out of Cornell’s Kevin M. McGovern Family Center for Venture Development in the Life Sciences, Rodríguez-Calero says he’s in position to raise his first round of investment, and the startup is actively seeking investors. Ecolectro was also chosen as a semifinalist for the 76West Clean Energy Competition, and was recently awarded a competitive NSF SBIR phase 1 grant. Through the grant’s funding, Ecolectro was able to increase the scale of polymer manufacturing by 15 times. The team finished this project on July 31, and have already applied for phase two of the grant. If they receive this additional support, Ecolectro will continue to develop their manufacturing process to make their materials at scale.

“Also exciting is that we’re in active conversations with potential customers to do joint work together. The partnership will entail testing our materials in their products, providing further market validation,” says Rodríguez-Calero.

Now’s your chance to get in on the action! If you have a clean energy idea to test and evolve, apply for the HTR Pre-Seed Workshop. Application deadline is October 14.

NEXUS-NY 2016 Teams Ready for Demo Day

NEXUS-NY is a clean energy seed accelerator. Each year the program provides financial, business and education support to entrepreneurial teams selected through a competitive application process.

Participants primarily come from NY research universities and share several common traits:

  1. They’re passionate about their research and want to start a great company
  2. They want to solve big problems for real customers
  3. They recognize the need to demonstrate their technology and business model through meaningful proof-of-concept prototype and customer interactions

Innovation Together - Proof of Concept CentersVIDEO: Innovating Together – Proof of Concept Centers

Mae-ling Lokko, founder of AMBIS Technologies and NEXUS-NY graduate featured by NY American Science and NYSERDA on the power mentorship through the NEXUS-NY’s proof-of-concept center.

“Our program strives to determine if someone should start a company, see if the technology actually works, and gain 3rd party validation of the technology and business model,” explained NEXUS-NY Executive Director Doug Buerkle. “In prior cohorts, many companies fell short of validation until well after the program ended. But for the 2016 teams, validation is a strong theme. Four of our graduating companies are, or will shortly be, conducting some type of customer demonstration study. This process validates the technology in a relevant environment and sends a strong signal to the rest of the market.”

Excited to showcase the 2016 participants in the NEXUS-NY program on Demo Day, here’s a racap of where the seven teams stand to date, and “Doug’s Take” on each team pitching on October 5 at the Rochester Public Market. Join us in celebrating their groundbreaking achievements! 

BioEnergySP – Saving Energy for Wastewater Treatment

BioEnergySP is a newly incorporated clean energy company that has invented novel 4th generation compartment free Microbial Fuel Cells. This patent pending industrial equipment Electroactive Attached Growth (EAG) technology saves energy for municipal and industrial customers, allowing facilities to significantly reduce operating expenses or to expand with minimal capital outlays.  Since the start of Phase 2 of the NEXUS-NY program, the leaders of BioEnergySP are excited to have built their first Pilot Scale prototype, which will be deployed in October in a New York State Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“This is an exciting milestone for our company that could not have been achieved without the mentorship and help of the NEXUS-NY program,” said Entrepreneurial Lead Adrian Cosma. “The pilot this fall will allow us to validate our technology and will get us one step closer to commercializing our technology. Recently we validated our technology in the lab, and there is the opportunity to offer tremendous value for our customers while having a positive effect on the environment.”

Doug’s Take: “Another great success story. In addition to being a 76West semifinalist, BioEnergySP has established a partnership with a leading engineering and construction firm that is going to build their pilot.  Their first system will be deployed at a New York wastewater treatment facility in the very near future.”

Cellec Technologies (RIT) – High-end Lithium Ion Batteries

Cellec Technologies is using patented technologies to improve the performance of high-end lithium ion batteries for small satellites, remote sensing and UAV applications in the defense and intelligence communities. The team is primarily composed of researchers from Rochester Institute of Technology. The Cellec team successfully exited phase 1 of the NEXUS-NY program in April, 2016 and has since been working on phase 2 deliverables. The team is working with several potential customers and expects to have its first orders shortly.

“Our efforts have primarily focused on improving our battery cell prototypes to meet customer deliverables. We have developed initial pouch cell batteries that show a 40% performance improvement over commercially available alternatives; while searching for ways to reduce the total cost of the battery cells without sacrificing performance,” explained Entrepreneurial Lead Brad Sparks. “Our multiple patents provide intellectual property protection and we have worked with the NYS Science + Technology Law Center to map the patent landscape.”

Doug’s Take: “RIT has built a functional prototype and could be in position to announce their first customer at Demo Day. This customer will deploy Cellec’s technology in a very unique and exciting application.  While many advanced battery companies are promising high energy density, these guys have demonstrated performance in prototypes which have been cycled hundreds of times.”

Dimensional Energy (Cornell) – Transformative CO2 Conversion Technologies

Growing concerns about rising CO2 emissions and related climate change have added urgency to the endeavor of carbon capture and conversion. To do so, Dimensional Energy focuses on creating artificial photosynthetic systems for hydrocarbon production. The technology at the heart of this clean energy startup integrates advanced light harvesting technology with novel nanostructured photocatalysts. While the prospect of mimicking natural photosynthesis to convert sunlight and CO2 to fuels has intrigued scientists and engineers for years, Dimensional Energy is exploring recent breakthroughs in catalyst development as an opportunity to develop CO2 conversion technologies based on materials that nature has not yet had the opportunity to work with.

“We embrace the high-risk, high-reward nature of this challenge as an opportunity to develop potentially transformative CO2 conversion technologies,” said Entrepreneurial Lead Jason Salfi. “The ambitious strategy outlined in our presentation builds on a solid platform of prior engineering and entrepreneurial experience within our team and access to state-of-the-art experimental facilities at Cornell University.”

Doug’s Take: “While it’s still early, the Cornell team has recently started generating promising data in their lab.  During their tenure in NEXUS, they’ve entered the $20MM Carbon XPRIZE competition and have won an Atkinson Venture Award from Cornell.  They are close to marrying their bioreactor and catalyst technologies into a single prototype. I believe they’ll have a very interesting story to tell come demo day.”

Ducted Turbines International (Clarkson University) – Twice the Energy Capture of Conventional Turbines

The Clarkson University team has been busy this summer turning their research into a company called Ducted Turbines International, as well as ordering parts, designing geometry and building the prototype that will soon be tested at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

“Waterloo has the size we need to place our turbine test rig right inside the wind tunnel,” said DTI product commercialization consultant Paul Pavone. Pavone and Visser describe how the turbine test rig will provide the data needed to validate the Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) modeling. The design was first generated on a computer, with the help of two Clarkson Ph.D. students to optimize the duct efficiency and performance of the rotor blades. “We’re looking forward to meeting this milestone soon and revealing preliminary data at NEXUS-NY Demo Day in October,” added Pavone.

Doug’s Take: “The Clarkson team appears to be making great technical progress, and has also developed some exciting partnerships. Paul Pavone joined this team through an introduction from a NEXUS-NY mentor, and they’ve recently started working on some manufacturing opportunities with P1 Industries, a company led by NEXUS-NY advisor, Dave Dussault.  All these little pieces came together through the NEXUS-NY program.”

MIMiC / Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (CASE) – Modular Indoor MicroClimate

The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is working on a technology for localized heating and cooling, which reduces energy consumption and increases occupants comfort. The RPI team, known as MIMiC, plans to go to market initially with a novel modular unit using thermoelectric technologies, which has low energy draw and no moving parts. The technology enables supplemental heating and cooling in a single device without the need to dump heat outside, a huge opportunity to revolutionize portable devices.  

Since the beginning of Phase 2 of the program, we have focused our efforts to strengthen the business case and push forward the functional prototype,” said Berardo Matalucci, PhD Candidate at CASE leading the RPI team. “We understood that there is a clear and compelling business case for novel heating and cooling technologies. However, we need to show a functional prototype to convince our clients that the technology works. We envision a future in which building occupants can set their own preferences without increasing energy consumptions. The NEXUS-NY program has brought us unique help and support to derisk the technology, while accelerating the commercialization process,” he added.

Doug’s Take: “Berardo and his team have made fantastic progress on their prototypes.  This business opportunity carries a lot of technical and market risk, but Berardo and Theodorian continue to make very strong inroads in both areas. They’ve identified a potential pilot customer museum in NYC. Attendees can expect RPI to display a highly refined prototype at Demo Day.”

NanoHydro (University at Buffalo) – Hydrogen Storage & Generation Technology

NanoHydro, winner of the NYSERDA Energy / Sustainability award at the NYS Business Plan Competition, has been engaged in overcoming technical and business milestones during phase 2 of the NEXUS-NY program. At this stage, the team’s biggest milestone has been investigating and validating a process for large scale production. With this research, NanoHydro is looking to move from an expensive gram scale production method, to a kilogram scale production method using an inexpensive precursor. NanoHydro founder Parham Rohani started this research in collaboration with Buffalo Manufacturing Works. NanoHydro is also investigating hydrogen generation performance of their nanomaterial in pellet form.

“We’ve learned several invaluable lessons in this process that will help us in near future,” said Rohani. “In parallel with our lab research, NanoHydro has been deeply engaged in business plan development, customer discovery and market research. We believe that the hydrogen storage market for portable/remote applications is unserved and significant, and that our hydrogen storage/generation technology has great potential to successfully accelerate electricity generation using fuel cells in wide variety of applications,” he added.

Doug’s Take: “Parham knows his hydrogen producing nanomaterials work, the real question is if he can make the material in high volume. That’s why his new partnership with Buffalo Manufacturing Works on scale up is so important. Parham’s technology is being noticed by key customers; he will be presenting at the Defense Innovation Technology Acceleration Challenges in Austin, TX this November. This is a great potential funding and collaboration opportunity for NanoHydro.”

Phase Innovations (SUNY Alfred State) – Innovative New Cooling System

The team from SUNY Alfred State has invented an advanced cooling system that uses water instead of chemical refrigerants to cool buildings. Over the last several months, the researchers have formed a company called Phase Innovations and have diligently worked to test many different materials and designs for the development of their advanced prototype.

“We have identified a new class of materials that has a lot of promise for improved performance and cost,” said Entrepreneurial Lead Steve Wood. “The 2-ton cooling module for this initial customer validation prototype is anticipated to occupy a footprint of about one cubic meter.”

Doug’s Take: “We’re really happy with the progress the Alfred State team has made over the last 8 months.  They have a functional prototype and a pilot customer lined up for when they graduate the NEXUS-NY program. You can’t ask for anything more. They are working on membrane heat pump (MHP) technology, one that has been identified as very promising by the Department of Energy..”

Interested in the NEXUS-NY Proof-of-Concept Center?

Cohort 4 applications for the NEXUS-NY Clean Energy Seed Accelerator open on October 18. Researchers and aspiring entrepreneurs will have until November 11 to submit their ideas. Get a head start on the application process!