Future Energy at Stanford University is an event sponsored by Shell's seed energy fund and hosted by the Stanford Energy Club.
Ultra Light Startups, a pitch event coordinator, brought together entrepreneurs and investors at the Stanford Business School. Ultra Light had already narrowed the field down to eight energy startups from 124 initial entries -- and each of the finalists had three minutes to pitch to five Silicon Valley energy experts, including Brook Porter of KPCB, Ryan Kottenstette of Khosla Ventures, Willem Rensink of Shell, and John Freer of GE Global Research.
These are very early-stage companies that have not yet raised venture capital and are just emerging from labs and research.
Here are brief summaries of each of the eight entries.
RadCool uses passive solid-state cooling to reduce building energy use from air conditioning, a fast-growing source of energy demand in the developing world. The firm claims that it will have a cost and form factor in the realm of solar panels of a product that conducts heat out of buildings. Founder Aaswath Raman said that the firm's material goes below ambient temperature if left alone and is more effective than painting one's roof white. The firm has raised $400,000 from ARPA-E and is working on its first prototype.
NGen has a process which removes nitrogen from wastewater flows, converts it to ammonia and burns the fuel in biogas engines. Yaniv Scherson, the founder of the firm, said the process also lowers the demand for the oxygen needed as an input by the waste treatment plant. The firm has two systems running at bench scale and is looking to begin work on a pilot unit. The firm has already received a small amount of funding from water giant Veolia. Panelists cautioned the entrepreneur about the "buying behaviors" of public water companies.
Drew DeWalt, the founder of Valhalla Energy, is looking to develop and fund an ocean pumped storage project in Chile, enabled by the unique geography of Chile's northern desert. The intended offtakers for the power are Chilean mining operations, which need steady and cheap electrical power. The new architecture doesn't require the use of dams and also requires less piping, according to the founder. The company has already raised $3 million and is doing preliminary development work in Chile. The startup is looking to raise an additional $10 million in working capital.
Grant Lowrance's early-stage startup looks to construct a 400-foot-high, 400-foot-diameter solar updraft tower that puts out 60 megawatts from a 512-acre site. Instead of designs which propose 2,000-foot-tall towers, Parrilla's design essentially lays the tower down. The founder projects that the LCOE of the project will be 4 cents to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour via the wind turbines in the tunnel. Lowrance cited a recent 20-megawatt project built in China with similar technology at what seemed a prohibitively high price.
Seismos takes "an underground MRI," in the words of founder Panos Adamopoulos, to determine the amount of oil, liquid, and gas hidden below ground for applications such as enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The founder looks to go after the $14B seismic services industry with a combination of hardware and a software-as-a-service model. Seismos is able to monitor underground liquid flows in real time without the necessity of shutting down the operation. There is also some potential for use in CO2 sequestration and contamination detection.
Luke Iseman's startup reuses oil drums "that held Shell oil at one point" and takes crop waste "that farmers would otherwise burn" to create biochar from a $50 kiln device. The biochar, via a not-well-understand process, acts to improve crop yield compared to chemical fertilizers. Re:char leases systems out to farmers and already has over 1,200 paying customers, according to Iseman. The firm has been funded by grants.
Aquicore installs sensors in mid-market commercial buildings to help building owners get better data and save 30 percent on utility bills, according to founder Brian Miranda. The startup's products are installed in four East Coast buildings. Miranda said he had raised $350,000 so far and was looking for $450,000 more. Investors warned of incumbent vendor domination and channel challenges.
EverCharge, led by Lyuba Wolfe, formerly of Tesla, was the audience favorite at the competition. EverCharge is looking to deploy electric vehicle charge stations in multi-unit, multi-tenant housing facilities. EV drivers are going to want to charge at home, and multi-unit housing is a challenge for EV charging, which EverCharge looks to confront. EverCharge's model doesn't cost the property owner anything -- instead, EV owners pay for the hardware installation. The startup, which has deployed a few chargers to date, is one of Tesla's "preferred providers."