Innovative Startups Address Pressing Energy and Environmental Challenges

We live our everyday lives with energy: turning on light switches, warming our homes, or riding the elevator up to the office at work. The threat of climate change has altered our ability to remain ignorant of the source of our energy, as it has become pivotal in the determination of our planet’s health. 

Cleantech Open supports startups in their mission to innovate sustainably and disrupt the energy industry. Our mission is to find, fund, and foster entrepreneurs who are solving today’s biggest environmental and energy challenges, including energy generation, efficiency, distribution and storage. While energy generation is often considered the most pressing issue, sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar often have different capabilities to respond to demand, due to time sensitive sources of power. Several Cleantech Open alumni from the 2018 Northeast cohort are bringing exciting energy innovations from lab to market to address the need for energy efficiency, storage, and distribution.  

Aestus is taking on a new way of generating power through harnessing waste heat. Heat Inverse is solving a problem of energy inefficiency, by providing passive cooling in a thin film. Gridspan is confronting issues of energy distribution and storage, by making renewable energy more accessible to communities unconnected to the grid, through storage solutions. All of these innovations can work to move us toward renewable energy being available everywhere, in an efficient, on-demand, accessible way.

Aestus is transforming waste into power. Currently, half of all energy we use is lost as waste heat in the form of steam, hot gas or radiant energy. 

Aestus is developing a revolutionary technology that uses waste heat to generate electricity. The devices they are constructing are known as Thermomagnetic Generators and can successfully capture and convert waste heat from any industrial, solar or geothermal heat source. No additional fuels are required and no carbon emissions are produced. The company’s goal is to produce Thermomagnetic systems for large industrial sites such as power plants, steel mills, refineries, or cement factories. Using Aestus technology, large sites could save $10 Million and cut thousands of tons of CO2 emissions per year. Founder and CEO Franz Bronnimann participated in the 2018 program, and noted that “Cleantech Open was very helpful for us to learn what we needed to know to start a business and how to navigate as an early stage cleantech startup. The mentors are very committed to helping Aestus pave the way for success.” 

With this groundbreaking technology, energy would no longer be lost, but rather harnessed and reused. Aestus has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry, and set a new standard for efficiently producing clean and reliable electricity. 

The Aestus team is currently working on building a full scale prototype. They have joined the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator in Binghamton, NY and are pursuing further research and funding opportunities with VCs and NYSERDA. Learn more about Aestus here.

Heat Inverse has figured out a way to passively reduce heat-related inefficiencies. Many processes inevitably produce heat as a byproduct, and therefore require constant cooling to maintain functionality and efficiency. Heat Inverse has a photonics-based metamaterial that passively cools with no energy input and no generation of waste heat. They make thin-films that emit in the wavelengths where the atmosphere is transparent, and in this way, can access the cold sink of space from the surface of the planet. For PV manufacturers, it provides more than a 2.5 percent efficiency increase. For refrigerated trucking, it provides a 25-80% decrease in fuel consumption for refrigeration in transit. The Heat Inverse technology enables companies to increase efficiency and save energy without any extra input, thus reducing their carbon emissions overall. Looking forward, the company’s technology has huge potential to impact current practices in the energy industry with their thin- films, but also with their patent-pending designs for much higher capacity systems that will compete with conventional cooling systems. They are expected to reduce global emissions by more than 1 GT at full deployment.

Heat Inverse is currently scaling up to large format materials to test with customers in refrigerated trucking this summer, thanks to partnerships with LaunchNY, the Southern Tier Cleantech Incubator, Rev Ithaca, Eastman Kodak, National Science Foundation, Cornell Nanoscale Science and Technology Facility, and Cornell Center for Materials Research. Learn more about Heat Inverse here.

Gridspan Energy is working towards providing flex energy storage for island utilities. With the advent of utility scale solar and wind, island communities can benefit from sustainable energy generation, but are lacking the necessary connection or storage for that energy. Using their mobile energy storage technology, Gridspan aims to increase access to affordable and secure electricity for all island communities. Their utility scale LiFP (lithium iron phosphate) battery systems are mobile, and enable storage for up to 24 hours. The storage solutions can be dispatched as needed, so communities can prepare for natural disasters, the ebb and flow of tourist season, or other fluctuations in electricity needs.

On the island of Anguilla this alternative electricity storage will allow Anguilla to sell clean energy to neighboring islands at the most competitive price in the region. Anguilla will be able to use this flex storage to satisfy periods of high-demand while storing or selling energy during times of low-demand, resulting in energy availability increasing overall for the region. Communities can thus respond to each other’s complementary periods of high and low demand. 

Founder and CEO Alec Macklis noted that “Cleantech Open prepared us for the Schneider Electric Bold Ideas Challenge, so we could get the funding, validation, and support we needed to get off the ground.” Right now the company is preparing to launch a pilot project in Anguilla, and hopes to expand to impact many more island communities in the future.

Gridspan Energy was one of the Schneider Electric Launch Program recipients in August 2018, and is now based at Greentown Labs. Learn more about Gridspan here.

While moving away from entrenched technological systems is challenging, the innovations of these dedicated startups are poking holes in the barriers to progress. Their ingenuity and hard work is paving the way for superior systems that will lay the foundation for a more sustainable and reliable clean energy economy.

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Annie Patyk and Lauren Skirball

Annie and Lauren are Cleantech Open Northeast's Innovation Fellows.