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Chicago’s Clean Energy Challenge Revs Startups With $1 Million

The Clean Energy Trust held its Clean Energy Challenge yesterday at Venue SIX10 on South Michigan in Chicago. The meeting and awards culminated six months of intense work. The trust, widely known as a launchpad for cutting-edge clean energy projects, funds innovation by helping to launch, fund, and grow excellent clean tech startups in the Midwest. Today the organization gave away $1 million. NRG Energy, Hyatt, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern University were among the sponsors.

Rahtmobile sets up the Raht Racer, a human-hybrid vehicle with amplified pedal power that can reach highway speeds, at the Clean Energy Challenge in Chicago (twitter/Clean Energy Trust)

Rahtmobile, a human-hybrid vehicle with amplified pedal power that can reach highway speeds, includes an integrated roll cage, composite shell, seat belts, air bag, headlights, and other automotive safety features. Seen at at the Clean Energy Challenge in Chicago (twitter/Clean Energy Trust).

Morning keynoter Nancy Pfund, founder and managing partner of DBL Investors, kicked off the meeting with a lively presentation that busted huge myths about clean energy “as we move into the mainstream.” She spoke about facing many policy challenges, but with the endpoint “we’re winning.” Pfund’s San Francisco double-bottom-line venture capital firm stresses high-power investments with positive social, environmental, and regional benefits.

AMPY (Stryde Technologies) wins $200,000 in an Emerging Growth Award from the Illinois Clean Energy Fund (twitter/@getampy)

AMPY (Stryde Technologies) wins $200,000 in an Emerging Growth Award from the Illinois Clean Energy Fund (twitter/@getampy)

Contestants from the student track each had the chance to present their projects in the morning after Pfund spoke. Mark Little of GE Capital and Jigar Shah keynoted the afternoon session. After Little and Shah, the startups vied for prizes. NuMat Technologies (a nanotech company for gas storage, separation, and transport) and AMPY (from Stryde Technologies, Inc., of Evanston, Illinois) won a total of $500,000 in Emerging Growth Awards from the Illinois Clean Energy Fund, an innovative program by Clean Energy Trust and the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

NuMat metal-organic framework material (

NuMat metal-organic framework material (

NuMat ($300,000) fundamentally challenges the need to compress gases with a proprietary computational screening tool for metal-organic frameworks. Its huge internal surface area enables the material to soak up gases like a bath sponge and makes high compression obsolete. NuMat allows superior design flexibility and production economics in healthcare, industrial and automotive technology, and energy uses. It opens the door for using natural gas to fuel passenger vehicles.

AMPY, world's smallest wearable, rechargeable motion battery (

AMPY, world’s smallest wearable, rechargeable motion battery (

AMPY ($200,000), the world’s smallest wearable, rechargeable motion battery, transfers a person’s kinetic energy into usable power for small electronic devices like cell phones. The one-motion charger can be pocketed or worn with a velcro strap and charges through USB 2.0 or USB 3.0. Initial funds for the device came from a Kickstarter grant proposal that more than tripled the requested amount.

Other winners:

  • Igor, a Power-Over-Ethernet lighting, sensor, and data platform—Wells Fargo Prize ($100,000) and McCaffery Lakeside Building Efficiency Prize ($25,000)
  • NETenergy, a thermal energy storage and management service provider from the University of Chicago—Pritzker Foundation Prize ($100,000)
  • Design Flux Technologies, for the world’s first software-defined power management system—ComEd Female Founder Prize and Clean Energy Prize ($75,000)
  • FGC Plasma Solutions, a novel process from Case Western Reserve University of injecting fuel into jet engines using plasma to modify the combustion reaction—U.S. Department of Energy Student Prize ($50,000) and Aviation Clean Energy Award, sponsored by Boeing, United, and UOP Honeywell ($50,000)
  • Sun Number, rooftop and shade analysis for photovoltaic solar—Hanley Foundation Prize and Clean Energy Prize ($50,000) and
  • Glucan Biorenewables, a cost-disruptive solvent-based biomass conversion platform—Clean Energy Prize Fund ($50,000).
Atlas Energy nuclear waste power cell from Purdue (twitter/Purdue Research Park)

Atlas Energy nuclear waste power cell from Purdue (twitter/Purdue Research Park)

Featured technologies also included Light Sentry (wireless hub-based smart lighting that includes natural light sources, only 60 days from manufacturing), and Atlas Energy, a nuclear waste power cell from Purdue.

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Written By

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."


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