Three New England Teams Move on to Cleantech Open Finals in California

Plastic, oil, natural gas, paper, solar panels, analytics, semiconductors, blimps, mobile phones, wind turbines, smart grid. These were some of the words tossed around by the six teams presenting at last night’s Cleantech Open Northeast Regional Finals. Three companies were selected to go on and compete in the Cleantech Open Global Forum in California next month. Interestingly, a few of the semifinalists are also part of the local startup program MassChallenge, which like the Cleantech Open, models itself as a startup accelerator and mentoring program with a business plan competition tucked into it.

Can you guess which of the words above apply to the three winning teams below? Take a look and see if you were right.

PK Clean (a MassChallenge 2011 finalist) is “converting mountains of trash into barrels of oil.” The company has developed and tested a process that converts plastic waste into oil, using a proprietary catalyst. PK’s CEO Priyanka Bakaya, an MIT Sloan MBA, says the 45 million tons of plastic occupying landfills per year can be turned into about 9 billion gallons of oil (representing 25 percent of annual U.S. auto consumption). The company has already tested the tech at a pilot facility in India and is targeting the metal recycling industry as its first customers. After taking apart old cars, metal recyclers are left with plastic remnants that they have to pay to get landfilled. PK will take that away for free to turn into oil. There’s other competition in the field, namely from Portland, OR-based Agilyx (which recently raised $22 million in venture funding), but Bakaya says PK’s catalyst and cheaper process give it an edge.

Qado Energy, a smart grid analytics startup, was the big IT play in the bunch. While maybe not as sexy as turning plastic to oil or printing invisible solar panels on paper (seriously), it’s aiming to solve a big problem for utilities and energy developers: accurately predicting the distribution and effect of new cleantech sources plugging into the grid. As co-founder Lorraine Wheeler explained, when wind or solar developers want to add their technology to the energy distribution grid, utilities have to perform studies analyzing the impact of the new tech on the grid, and produce a list of needed upgrades that the developer must pay for. Qado’s technology is designed to make this planning process more accurate and efficient, with software that pulls in utilities’ data from different sources and converts it to a standard format. From there, the potential effect on the grid can be modeled and analyzed in displays for utilities, regulators, and energy developers.

—Last up was fabless semiconductor developer Arctic Sand. The company is making smaller, more efficient power converter chips designed to cut down on the electricity needed to run traditional data centers. The company, whose team comes from MIT and Harvard, aims to design the chips for other applications like powering mobile phones and hopes to get its tech to the market through licensing deals with existing computing players, says CEO Nadia Shalaby. Arctic Sand was also a participant in MassChallenge earlier this year.

There were some familiar faces among the other three semifinalists. OsComp Systems—developers of a more efficient natural gas compressor—took home a check from MassChallenge last year and presented at our XSITE Xpo this year. Altaeros Energies also talked about its blimp-hoisted wind turbines at our Xpo. The last Cleantech Open Northeast semifinalist, Ubiquitous Energy, is working on the aforementioned printable solar photovoltaic cells for paper and fabric. The cells are designed to power mobile phones for owners in areas that aren’t even plugged into the power grid, and even further down the line, could enable dynamic displays on surfaces like cereal boxes (think digital display expiration dates). We’ll still have to keep an eye out for those teams.

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