Public to vote for best cutting-edge energy tech from 36 start-ups

Lithium air battery, smart cargo and better gas mileage technologies just part of latest government challenge

The US Department of Energy today said it formally set the collection of 36  start-ups that will compete for its "America's Next Top Energy Innovator" challenge in 2012.

The DOE said that by mid-January, Americans will be able to view profiles of the companies and vote on which ones could make the greatest energy contributions for the country's future. An expert panel will also evaluate the companies, the DOE stated.  The idea is to get the companies public attention and ultimately funded.

More on energy: 10 hot energy projects that could electrify the world  

The DOE said that the 36 start-ups have signed 43 option agreements letting them license cutting-edge technologies developed and patented by one of the agency's 17 National Laboratories and the National Security Complex. The agreements were done under what the DOE said was a streamlined, simplified application process and a greatly reduced upfront fee of just $1,000 to get the technology ball rolling.  The winner will be featured at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in February.

From the DOE, a few of the competing companies and their technologies:

  • Vorbeck Materials via the DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory-developed method for building tiny chemical structures to greatly improve the performance of lithium-ion batteries. Vorbeck will use PNNL's method to develop better lithium air and lithium sulfur batteries. The new material in Vorbeck's batteries stores twice as much electricity at high charge and discharge rates as current lithium-ion batteries, and creates increased battery capacity and a longer cycle life.
  • TrakLok intends to use an Oak Ridge National Laboratory -developed, technology for tagging, tracking, locating and communicating with cargo containers and trailers in transit. TrakLok uses GPS technology and satellite communications as part of its tracking and warning capability and international container locking technology to protect against container tampering, theft, vandalism and smuggling. Shipments can be tracked through a web-accessible, information technology-based global tracking system to provide real time visibility of cargo.
  • IPAT is using gas atomization technology developed at Ames Laboratory to make titanium powder with processes that are ten times more efficient than traditional powder-making methods - significantly lowering the cost of the powder to manufacturers. The powder form of titanium is easier to work with than having to cast the metal - where manufacturers melt and pour liquid metal into molds - particularly given titanium's tendency to react with the materials used to form molds. Titanium's strength, light weight, biocompatibility and resistance to corrosion make it ideal for use in a variety of parts from military vehicle components, biomedical implants, aerospace fasteners to chemical plant valves.
  • e-Chromic LLC will use electrochromic technology developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to create a new thin film window material that reflects sunlight on demand, making windows more energy efficient while reducing cooling costs.
  • Umpqua Energy will use Argonne National Laboratory technology to develop a system that lets a gasoline engine operate in an extreme lean burn mode in order to increase gasoline mileage. One negative side effect of a lean burn engine, whether powered by gasoline or diesel fuel, is an increase in the amount of harmful gases released to the environment. The company expects to both increase fuel economy and simultaneously reduce emissions with its system.

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