photo of Beth Hartman

April 18, 2016
Posted by Beth Hartman, Electric Power Research Institute

The sixth annual Clean Energy Trust Challenge included $1 million in prizes and showcased 14 innovative clean energy technologies, ranging from a device that detects building air leaks with sound waves, to a pod that keeps food fresh longer, to a shipping container filled with solar panels, batteries and electric motorcycles. Keynotes from Jim Rogers, former CEO of Duke Energy, and Adam Lowry of Method rounded out the event, making for a very exciting day.

The largest award of half a million dollars went to Hazel Technologies for FruitBrite, a small pod that extends the shelf life of fruits, vegetables and flowers to help prevent produce waste. According to the CEO of the company, if produce waste were a country, it would be the third largest source of CO2 emissions on the planet. Preventing so much wasteful carbon emissions is an important element of global climate change mitigation.

The company winning the next largest amount of over $300,000 was Nexmatics, which makes a more efficient pump for the many industries using compressed air pneumatics to build a wide variety of products. Next, ride-sharing platform SPLT connects employees within organizations to share their commute, and won $100,000. Finally, NovoMoto, a social enterprise that aims to empower communities in Sub-Saharan Africa by providing renewable, sustainable electricity with its MicroPlant technology, won $90,000.

During his keynote address, former Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers answered a question from NovoMoto and praised the company for their compelling solution addressing the critical need of clean distributed energy in the developing world. Another company with a similar solution for modular energy deployment is Current Motor, which presented a shipping container product that could be filled with a variety of supplies such as solar panels, batteries, electric motorcycles, and water purification equipment to be rapidly deployed in a disaster zone or remote areas of the world.

Other innovation solutions presented at the event included SonicIQ which detects building air leaks using sound waves, and Thermolift, which combines the furnace, AC and water heater into one highly efficient device. Renewance presented a solution to manage the total life cycle of a battery including recycling and secondary markets, and INjoo creates machine learning software that can predict room occupancy rates with 89% accuracy without the need to install any sensors.

Since 2011, the Clean Energy Trust has invested in 29 Midwest cleantech startups, and those companies have gone on to raise an additional $86 million in funding and have created more than 300 new jobs. The competition says it has helped jumpstart more than 80 startups in the Midwest, including Chicago's NETenergy and LuminAID. “The group of finalists participating in our accelerator program this year is testament to the advanced level of innovation happening in the cleantech space,” Erik Birkerts, CEO of Clean Energy Trust, said in a statement. “Midwestern startups are thriving, and Clean Energy Trust is proud to serve as a launch pad for companies that are leveraging science, innovation and technology to create a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.”