"Clean-Tech" Companies Gain Traction
Volatile weather, summer smog alerts, soaring fuel prices and rising greenhouse-gas levels have focused increased attention on cleaner, more-sustainable technologies.
That concern can be clearly seen among the startup companies formed in Georgia Tech's VentureLab program, which is assisting more than a half-dozen early-stage companies that are pursuing clean-technology products and services. These new technologies range from renewable fuels and high-efficiency solar cells to hurricane forecasting and tiny jet-like devices that could reduce aircraft-fuel consumption.
Georgia Tech is well positioned to pursue clean technology and renewable energy. Among its many interdisciplinary research centers are the University Center of Excellence for Photovoltaics Research and Education, the Center for Innovative Fuel Cell and Battery Technology, the Strategic Energy Initiative, the Institute for Sustainable Technology and Development, and the Center for Organic Photonics and Electronics.
"Our clean-tech companies have one aim in common - to use Georgia Tech discoveries to make a number of things happen in a more environmentally sensitive and economically viable way," said Stephen Fleming, Georgia Tech's chief commercialization officer.
Commercialization Services, a unit of Georgia Tech's Enterprise Innovation Institute, identifies, evaluates and promotes Georgia Tech innovations with potential commercial value. Most such discoveries fall into two categories: the majority are licensed to established corporations, while a few - about one in 10 -- have the right stuff to form the basis for new companies.
These new-company candidates typically come under the wing of VentureLab, a Commercialization Services unit that assists fledgling businesses through the critical feasibility and first-funding phases. Ben Hill and Jon Goldman, business advisers with VentureLab, work with clean tech and renewable energy companies and projects.
"Mounting concern has made clean tech and renewable energy an important business area," said Hill. "We think that a lot of Georgia Tech research can be developed into companies that will help Georgia's economy as well as the environment."
VentureLab is currently advising a number of "clean-tech" startups, including:
C2 Biofuels is an outgrowth of a Georgia Tech Strategic Energy Initiative (SEI) project that seeks to develop fuel-ethanol production from biomass material available in large quantities in the Southeast, including Southern yellow pine. This business is supported by Sam Shelton of SEI and the Georgia Tech School of Mechanical Engineering and Bill Bulpitt of SEI. In addition, a team at the Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the University of Georgia is helping to evaluate and develop processes and technologies. The startup is led by Roger Reisert, a Georgia Tech alumnus who has designed, built and operated refineries.
Climate Forecast Applications develops tools to forecast cyclones and hurricanes 10 to 30 days ahead, a service that would be valuable to utility, energy and risk-management companies, and to agriculture. The work is based on research by Judith Curry of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Peter Webster of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
WiSPI focuses on methanol-based fuel cells that can be integrated onto silicon chips, enabling self-powered, wireless sensors that could monitor everything from soil moisture content to weather patterns and secure areas. Such technology, which could have extensive business, military and consumer uses, is based on the work of Paul Kohl of the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Kohl is teamed with David Kelly, a seasoned executive.
LumoFlex is developing organic photovoltaic materials that could result in substantial power savings in a number of products. The company derives from research by Seth Marder of the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Bernard Kippelen of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Ajeetco is a solar-energy company that is using high-efficiency polycrystalline silicon films to produce large-scale photovoltaic solar panels. It is based on research by Ajeet Rohatgi of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and University Center of Excellence for Photovoltaics Research and Education.
Other projects in the pipeline include:
Plum Combustion, which uses stagnation point reverse flow combustion to enable efficient burning, thus obtaining low-NOx emissions without catalysts. Potential applications include aircraft and other turbines, microturbines, hot-water heaters and industrial burners and dryers. The technology is based on the work of Ben Zinn in the School of Aerospace Engineering.
Virtual Aerosurface develops tiny devices that, installed in aircraft wings or wind turbines, emit 'microjets' of air that adjust lift and drag to improve control and save fuel. Such devices could aid other Georgia Tech projects -- such the SEI / InfinitEnergy plan for a demonstration wind farm offshore from Savannah that could generate 10 megawatts of power. Microjet devices derive from the work of Ari Glezer of the School of Mechanical Engineering.
Vehicle Monitoring Technology monitors vehicle activity and vehicle emissions in conjunction with driver behavior to promote safety, air quality and energy efficiency. The technologies are based on research by Randall Guensler and Jennifer Ogle of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Waitless Algorithms is a ride- and vehicle-sharing technology that could result in fewer vehicles on the road in smog-plagued urban areas. The technology is based on work by Steve Dickerson of the School of Mechanical Engineering.
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Writer: Rick Robinson