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Who says we can’t innovate and create clean energy jobs?
March 6, 2012
The Clean Energy Trust, which is a Chicago-based trust created to accelerate clean tech start-ups in the Midwest, hosted their 2nd annual Clean Energy Challenge at Venue 610 on Thursday, March 1st. For those watching the clean tech and energy sector closely it was a daylong reprieve from the depressing national energy debate. There was no talk of Solyndra, fading tax credits, pipelines, or who’s responsible for high gas prices. Instead it was a direct rebuttal of what too many believe is the reality of clean energy technologies - they’re too expensive and not worth the investment in these tough economic times.
Thankfully people like those at Wells Fargo, Ernst & Young, United Airlines, and the Department of Energy, who sponsored the event, are not listening to the critics. I hope like me, they walked away from the event knowing that the companies who presented represent a growing, national community of entrepreneurs who don’t believe in the “false choice” between protecting the environment and boosting the economy. In fact, they’re on a mission to prove otherwise.
The presentations were split between “Early Stage” companies, which in many cases are vibrant companies up and running with existing customers, and “Student Companies”, comprised of entrepreneurs whom are current or recent graduates of Midwest universities.
The eight “Student Companies”, which included some of the most poised and exciting presenters of the day, offered glimpses into the future of energy, waste, and biomass technologies. Here’s just a sample:
- Regenerate USA, out of the University of Michigan, has developed a compact organic waste system that could someday seamlessly fit in the back of grocery stores, hotels, and other large venues with excessive food waste along side their dumpsters and other mechanicals;
- SiNode, out of Northerwestern University, is commercializing high capacity lithium-ion batteries with huge market potential, and;
- NuMat Technolgies, that developed a screening tool for testing metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) that could be a game-changing technology in hydrogen storage and gas purification and won the $100,000 prize.
What struck me about the “Early Stage” companies was their high degree of professionalism, their quality presentations, and sound business plans. These were not pie-in-the-sky ideas. Their technologies are real, plans are solid, and they’re all moving forward (regardless of whether they walked away with the $100,000 prize). Of these, I found the following companies particularly impressive:
- HEVT, that is breaking new ground in motor technology;
- SheerWind and Freiezo, both offering pioneering technology in the wind industry;
- WholeTrees, which assembles and sells modular building systems from un-milled round timber, and;
- Thermal Conservation Technologies, makers of half-inch think vacuum panels equivalent to more than 10 inches of insulation.
But it was bio-refinery developer, Hyrax Energy, out of Wisconsin who walked away with the Early Stage $100,000 prize. Pioneering a system to break down corn and waste plant into fermentable sugars, Hyrax undoubtedly has a promising future with plastics, and chemical and fuel manufactures.
It was no wonder that Mayor Emanuel stopped by during the closing awards ceremony to thank the participants and offer his vision of Chicago becoming a clean tech “cluster.” Thank you to the CET and sponsors for showcasing these pioneering companies that will not only create jobs in the clean tech sector, but keep us optimistic about American innovation.
About Jeff Riley: Jeff Riley, founder of Riley Public Affairs, has been actively involved in the clean energy sector in Illinois as a policy advocate, consultant, and organizer. Having worked for The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to build support for the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), and currently on behalf Pew Charitable Trusts’ Clean Energy Program, Riley keeps pace with the evolving clean energy sector and helps to advance sustainable policies and programs. Jeff Riley can be found on Twitter, usually discussing energy issues, @Riley_PA.