At the Cleantech Forum this morning, startups seeking funding engaged in a bake-off. Here's what they pitched:

Varentec: The Urban Contemporary Transformer
Varentec makes a transformer that weighs 50 percent to 75 percent less than a typical transformer and is much smaller so that it can be placed inside urban environments easier than traditional ones.

"The conventional transformer is a 100-year-old piece of equipment," said CEO Andrew Dillon. One utility customer, in fact, said it has 600 70-year-old transformers in one city.

Transformers, which raise and lower voltage and essentially help deliver power from the plant to your house, are also inefficient, he said. Transformers cause one third of grid losses. That costs U.S. utilities $8 billion a year. The company's Smart Transformer can also handle AC ($12 billion of AC transformers get sold a year) or DC (an $8 billion market). Interesting idea.

"We can reclaim half of the [electrical] losses," Dillon said.

LifeCrete EcoMasonry. Wattle and dung architecture meets the Great Wall of China. LifeCrete has a building block that combines hemp-brick making techniques from France, a 1,200-year-old tradition, with masonry ideas used on the Great Wall of China.

The result is an 11-inch thick, 30- to 45-pound masonry building block. It insulates houses and comes in a beige color so homeowners don't need additional insulation or paint. Homes don't need sheetrock either. "The hemp is grown without pesticides," said CEO Ron Bessette.

The company has already produced 18,000 bricks and built six homes. The homes, however, all look like those bland cinderblock homes you see in small towns in Germany. In the U.S. the best market might be for urban apartment buildings.

Prism Solar Technologies: Hologram Meets Solar Module 
Prism Solar Technologies'solarpanel isn't a monolith of silicon. It consists of silicon strips spaced out by holographic film. The film concentrates sunlight onto the cells to produce a module that will be 18.7 percent efficient by 2015. Stephen Filler, director of business development, also managed to avoid using the somewhat newly toxic word "concentrator" until the end of his speech. Job well done!

Prism will sell both complete modules as well as holographic film that other manufacturers will be able to insert into their products.

GreenRoad Technologies: Software as a Service Becomes a Backseat Driver
GreenRoad Technologies puts a piece of hardware in your car that studies your driving habits. The data is then downloaded to a software application that tells you on ways that you can save gas and reduce accidents by changing your driving habits. Don't accelerate so much, it might say, or why don't you clean your floor mats. They're gross.

In the first year of sales, accidents for GreenRoad customers are down 50 percent and gas mileage has gone up 10 percent, said CEO Dan Steele. One third of all fuel costs, he added, can be attributed to driver behavior. It is teaming up with insurance companies to sell it.

Commercial companies pay $400 a year for a subscription but can save $1,828 a year in lower insurance premiums, saved gas, etc. A consumer pays $302 a year, but can save $310 for the year. By the end of 2009, the company will have 20,000 customers. By 2011, it hopes to have 200,000. (Hence, the 10 times growth figure so common to these conferences only comes two years, rather than three or five, from the present.) Once you get past the creepy Big Brother factor, it's pretty cool.

Oberon: Growing Fish With Waste
Oberon harvests bacteria from waste water streams at food processing plants and turn it into feed for fish farms. Shakespearean references in the name can't disguise that one. Bacteria convert the waste in these streams into carbon. Oberon is effectively inserting itself into that process and harvesting the carbon. 

"We transform waste products in food and beverage manufacturing into high quality feed grade," said CEO Randy Swenson.

Yes, it sounds vile, but think about wild fish. What do catfish eat? Look at your home aquarium. They aren't sniffing each other. The aquaculture industry, he added, is also shifting from wild to farmed fish and farm fisheries are facing escalating feed costs. (Fish farms now mostly feed fish meal -- i.e., ground up bait fish -- to their charges.)

In a test with growing tilapia, tilapia grew 43 percent larger after eight weeks with Oberon's feed than with regular feed, he said. Similar results occurred with shrimp. The company further added that the feed is pathogen free although, admittedly, it comes from bacteria.

It says it can go from revenue of near zero to $25 million by 2012. The company is trying to raise $8 million. Great idea but don't expect to see "Oberon-raised fish" mentioned on menus in fancy restaurants in the same breath as Niman Ranch beef.

Nexterra: Biomass to Syngas (That's My Rhyme)
Nexterra specializes in small gasification plants that can be put inside industrial sites to provide heat and power. For the past five years, it has mostly worked with woody biomass, but is now looking at ways to burn other biological materials from landfills.

The plants cost around $5 to $15 million. Nexterra sells the systems to customers rather than erecting them on their own and selling power. Revenue jumped from below a million in 2007 to $6.5 million in 2008. Revenue this year will come to $22 million and Nexterra will likely become profitable this year as well. It wants, though, to raise $10 million this year. 

Those are great financial results, but where's the fish food?