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Clean Power FLOW winners. (Photo by Bob Paz)

Published on May 8th, 2012 | by Zachary Shahan


FLOW Energy Winners

Last week, I posted on the Department of Energy (DOE) and Caltech’s FLOW energy business plan competition. The winners of the competition have been announced.

As the DOE noted in its press release on the matter: “The Energy Department’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition (NCEBPC) for university students is part of Startup America, the White House campaign to inspire and promote entrepreneurship. In mid-June 2012, the six DOE-sponsored regional student competition winners will compete in Washington, D.C. This national initiative enables student participants to gain the skills required to build new businesses and transform promising innovative energy technologies from U.S. universities and National Laboratories into innovative new energy products that will to solve our nation’s energy challenges, spur business creation, create American jobs, and boost American competitiveness.”

Here’s a little info on the three FLOW winners (via an email from the folks at Caltech), certainly some top cleantech startups to keep an eye on:

FLOW winners. (Photo by Bob Paz)

1st Place – “Stanford Nitrogen”   ($100,000 Prize)

A start-up company committed to recovering energy from waste products. The Stanford Nitrogen Group has developed a new wastewater treatment process for the removal and recovery of energy from waste nitrogen (i.e. ammonia). This process improves the efficiency and lowers the cost of N-treatment and to our knowledge is the first wastewater treatment process to recover energy from nitrogen. The process is termed the Coupled Aerobic-anoxic Nitrous Decomposition Operation (CANDO) and consists of 2 principal steps: (1) biological conversion of ammonia to N2O gas, and (2) combustion of a fuel (i.e. biogas) with N2O to recover energy.

Currently, wastewater treatment facilities are experiencing dual financial pressures, rising energy costs and meeting increasingly stringent nitrogen discharge regulation. Wastewater treatment imposes a 3% load on U.S. energy supply and is often the highest energy expenditure of municipalities. The discharge of ammonia to water bodies causes dead zones; as a result, increasingly stringent regulation has imposed low N-discharge limits for which many wastewater treatment facilities do not have the current capability to meet economically. As a result, wastewater treatment facilities have a strong interest in energy efficient and low-cost N-treatment processes. CANDO has the potential to meet these needs.

For the treatment of wastewater, CANDO reduces the cost of treating nitrogen by at least 50%, improves energy efficiency by recovering energy from waste nitrogen and enabling increased methane recovery from organic matter, decreases the production of biosolids, mitigates the release of the greenhouse gas N2O, and improves water quality.

And in areas around the globe where there is nitrogen pollution or dead zones — which depletes oxygen, causing the fish and wildlife to perish — Stanford Nitrogen’s new processes can be utilized.

2nd Place – “Greenbotics”    ($60,000 Prize)

This new company plans to manufacture automated robotic cleaners to clean dirty solar panels, increasing their output and efficiency by 15%.  They project that this new economical technology will yield a 5% increase in solar energy production in the future.

3rd Place – “Xite Solar”   ($40,000 Prize)

This start-up proposes development of new high efficiency, low-cost solar cells and to boost performance of current solar cells by using earth-abundant nontoxic materials for semiconductors. Their new heterojunction process has already received two patents.

Other competition finalist clean energy ideas included:

  • Producing fuels and oil with accessible, low-cost algae — for a virtually unlimited, renewable fuel supply;
  • Synergistic Energy Harvesting – Producing a new film material, utilizing nanotechnology, to be installed under highways to thermodynamically capture the wasted heat from passing vehicles, and selling the energy to utilities;
  • Automated green building and infrastructure robotics utilizing new IT software, phone apps, and web pages to instantaneously control the building’s operating systems, to increase efficiency and save energy in buildings, and to provide occupant comfort.

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he's the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to and click on the relevant buttons.

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