Strategic partnerships with government agencies and NGOs can help businesses drive efficiency — and develop innovations that can improve other companies’ environmental and economic performance at the same time.
Case in point: a program that embeds innovators in a national laboratory where they will develop environmentally sustainable and energy-efficient technologies that drive manufacturing growth.
The first four innovators to participate in the Chain Reaction Innovations program were announced yesterday at an event with US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-III) at the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. These four were selected from more than 100 entrepreneurs and startups from 22 states that applied to participate in the first cohort based at the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory. The program is funded through the DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office.
By participating in the Argonne initiative, the startups benefit from reduced development costs and risk. They receive $350,000 to spend on R&D and up to $110,000 annually in salary, benefits and a travel stipend. The rest of us benefit when they bring their new clean technologies to market, and reduce companies’ wastewater treatment costs, among other things.
The first innovators and their technologies are:
Felipe Gomez del Campo – Aerospace industry: Decrease the operating cost of jet engines by designing a new fuel nozzle that uses plasma-assisted combustion to burn fuel more efficiently during flight and idling.
Ian Hamilton – Recycling and energy generation industries: Create new long-lived, lightweight weather-independent power by recycling the by-product of nuclear waste decay to create electricity. This would reduce the need for nuclear waste storage and create a new power source.
Tyler Huggins and Justin Whiteley – Recycling and energy storage industries: Reduce expensive wastewater treatment costs and create a cheaper manufacturing process for high-performance carbon products. This will be accomplished by using wastewater to grow fungus to create tunable carbon-based products, such as battery electrodes.
Chad Mason – Transportation and energy generation industries: Decrease the cost of fuel cells by eliminating the need for the electrolytes to act as electronic insulators, which will decrease water management costs. Development of a low-temperature solid-state fuel cell to open the door for new applications for electrochemical devices.
“Chain Reaction Innovators, with the support of Argonne National Lab, will help the next generation of entrepreneurs developing the technologies needed to combat climate change and advance a low-carbon economy,” Moniz said in a statement. “Our national laboratory system is a cornerstone of US science and technology and plays a key role in driving innovation by working with entrepreneurs to commercialize clean energy solutions that create new businesses and manufacturing opportunities.”
The selected innovators will begin two years of research and development at Argonne in January 2017 where they will have access to equipment, scientists, engineers and other experts, as well as advanced modeling and characterization tools that reduce trial and error development time and testing and validation tools to more accurately assess product lifespan, durability and energy efficiency claims. These will help the startups produce better products that go to market more quickly.
“Chain Reaction Innovations is pretty much the program that solves all of our needs,” said Gomez del Campo in a statement. “We need capital. We need lab space. We need technical mentoring. And we need a place to prove our technology and demonstrate it at the system level.”
Bringing these new technologies to market will have ripple effects across multiple sectors by creating cheaper, more efficient manufacturing processes.
In an earlier interview, Scott Tew, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability at Ingersoll Rand, said partnerships like this can be an invaluable tool to drive efficiencies and help companies achieve their climate goals.
“It’s one thing to set a target; it’s another to develop a roadmap to achieve the target and we’re finding the best roadmaps include partners externally,” Tew said. “NGOs bring some true perspective on what is meaningful and what is best practices, and many governments around the world are doing some of the best research related to greenhouse gas emissions reduction and carbon footprint reductions.”
This is important, Tew said, because it can result in increased profitability and success.
“Efficiency equals cost savings,” Tew said. “And no. 2, it reduces your risk. In a carbon-constrained world, we need to first understand where the risks are. You evaluate your carbon footprint and in doing so, you realize you can reduce your risk by beginning to manage your carbon profile.”