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Small Businesses Urge Congress, DOE to Support Energy Innovation

This item is part of the Special Issue - 2020-03 - Innovation in Power, click here for more

Business leaders traverse Capitol Hill to highlight the impact of DOE funding back home.  

Nearly thirty small business leaders from the Clean Energy Business Network (CEBN)—a group of 3,500 business leaders in all 50 states working in every part of the clean energy economy—visited Washington in early March 2020 to highlight their energy innovations. All of these companies have developed innovative energy technologies with support from the Department of Energy. This was the second successive year CEBN has organized a fly-in during the federal appropriations cycle, and this year’s event included double the number of participants compared to last year’s.

In meetings with federal lawmakers and their staffs, the business leaders discussed the need to protect and grow federal funding for the U.S. Department of Energy and clean energy innovation heading into fiscal year 2021. The President’s budget request for fiscal year 2021 proposes an 8 percent cut to the Department of Energy and elimination of ARPA-E. Congress rejected these proposed cuts in fiscal year 2020 and instead provided increases for many programs. The business leaders in Washington this month urged lawmakers to continue on this progress.

Many staff on Capitol Hill expressed deep appreciation for learning about their constituents’ technologies, the local impacts of DOE funding in their states and districts, and hearing from new voices not often represented on Capitol Hill.

Participants also met with DOE officials to learn more about current and upcoming programs. The business leaders provided insights on their experiences partnering with the DOE to develop innovative technologies, and shared recommendations with agency staff on ways to further enhance valuable initiatives such as the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and loan programs.

Lisa Jacobson (President, Business Council for Sustainable Energy), Nancy Min (President, Ecolong), Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY-20), and Lynn Abramson (President, Clean Energy Business Network) gather at a reception on Capitol Hill showcasing American energy innovation. Photo: Anthony Poff PhotographyClick to launch reception photo gallery.

Congressional attention is now shifting to providing emergency federal aid to help states respond to the public health and economic impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19). As lawmakers resume regular order on fiscal year 2021 appropriations and energy legislation, the CEBN is hopeful that our message of support for energy research and development was heard by key lawmakers on the appropriate committees in Congress.

March 9-11, 2020 Fly-in Participant Bios:

George Atanasoff, President
AccuStrata, Inc | Rockville, MD

AccuStrata is a small business in Rockville, MD with an advanced technology platform for advanced manufacturing. It comprises real-time process monitoring optical sensors, data collection and processing module and software for predictive process control based on machine learning and process modeling. AccuStrata has received multiple DOE SBIR Phase I, II and IIB awards and has seminal patents and other IP in the area of predictive process control. The firm’s flagship product – AtOMS is a process monitoring system used in Aerospace manufacturing and in Extreme UV Lithography optics. AccuStrata systems are deployed in two DOE national laboratories – Argonne and Brookhaven.

Kirk Shaffer, Chief Marketing Officer
Air Squared Group | Broomfield, CO

Air Squared scroll technology solutions have been at the forefront of the clean energy sector for over a decade. Scroll innovations have provided key components in several clean energy applications ranging from fuel cells, waste heat recovery organic Rankine Cycles, and tokamak nuclear fusion vacuum trains. Air Squared has received four Phase I and three Phase II SBIR awards from the DOE, ARPA-e, and the NSF for advanced manufacturing clean energy projects.

Michael Bergey, President & CEO
Bergey Windpower Co. | Norman, OK

Bergey Windpower is a 40-year-old family-owned small wind manufacturing company. Department of Energy cost-shared research funding allowed the firm to take an aggressive approach to redesigning its residential/farm turbine and streamlining its installation. Together this research reduced the firm’s LCOE by 60%. Bergey’s new 15 kW turbine, with 90% domestic content, can now compete with imported solar and provide consumers with more choice in clean energy technologies. DOE is now helping the firm develop a home microgrid system and a new distributed energy resource focused business model for rural electric cooperatives. Bergey Windpower has also received one SBIR contract from DOE.

Guy Longobardo, COO
Bettergy | Peekskill, NY | 16 Employees & Consultants

Bettergy is a privately-owned corporation, founded to conceive, develop and commercialize innovative energy and environmental technologies. The company has two areas of focus: advanced battery and fuel cell technologies for energy storage and nanopore engineered membranes technologies, including separation membranes and ionic conductive membranes. Bettergy has received two ARPA-E awards and has also received DOE Phase I and Phase II grants for eight other projects.  Current DOE projects are the development of an ammonia cracker for on-site hydrogen production (ARPA-E REFUEL Program Phase IIS), an integrated multichannel membrane reactor for precombustion carbon capture (DOE Phase II),  a membrane system for desalination and the recovery of lithium from produced water and oilfield brines (DOE Phase I) and an anion exchange membrane for solar fuel cell generators (DOE Phase I).

Joseph Anderson, CEO & Director of R&D
Combined Technology Solutions | Ridgely, MD

Combined Technology Solutions technologies dramatically improve fuel consumption of internal combustion engines while reducing air pollution and enabling use of a variety of fuels for stationary and mobile applications. Through the DOE Advanced Automotive Technologies program, the firm has received a Phase 1 SBIR award. Combined Technology Solutions’ plasma ignition technology has been demonstrated on natural gas pipeline engines with several national customers, and an automotive demonstration achieved 72 MPGe in the XPrizes 100 MPGe Challenge. Most recently testing has demonstrated fuel efficiency of 84 MPGe in a Cadillac CTS.

Nancy Min, Founder & CEO
ecoLong | Albany, NY

ecoLong develops solutions that uses blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, and IoTs to enable peer-to-peer transactive energy. This technology will fundamentally reduce the levelized cost of solar power and improve the economics of distributed energy generation for prosumers, consumers, and utilities. This solution empowers prosumers through personalized energy management optimization and trading. ecoLong’s technology facilitates integration of DER into the grid to enhance grid benefits of improved system reliability and flexibility through demand response/grid ancillary services. The technology also enables more efficient utilization of existing grid infrastructure and reduced GHG emissions.

Mitrajit Mukherjee, President
Exelus Inc. | Fairfield, NJ | 18 Employees

Although Exelus is a small business, it has successfully developed technologies that have eluded global giants such as ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Phillips 66. These successes in the area of clean fuels and chemical production result from Exelus’ unique approach to chemical process design with its extensive knowledge of reaction engineering and catalyst design to produce “step-out” technologies. For the last 40 years, solid acids have been investigated as potential catalysts for producing alkylate – an ultra-clean gasoline blendstock. After more than 6 years of research and development funded mainly by SBIR grants, Exelus developed the first commercially viable solid acid catalyst for paraffin alkylation – ExSact.   The first plant was built in 2017 in China and is currently producing alkylate with an octane rating above 98. In 2019, Exelus signed a second license for a plant in the US and three new licenses are pending for 2020.

Colin Dunn, CEO
Fend Incorporated | Arlington, VA 
 | 7 Employees
Fend protects energy infrastructure and industrial control systems from cyberattack using hardware that provides real-time information to operators while providing no physical way for hackers to breach a system. Using its low-cost data diode hardware, Fend uses light to send data in only one direction, physically isolating the protected network as safely as an “air gap.” Fend is currently working with the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office on its Phase II SBIR project to transition its technology into the energy market.

Gary Cola, President
Flash Steelworks/Flash Bainite | Washington, MI | 3 Full-time & 2 Part-time Employees

Flash Bainite is the innovator of technology to make steel lighter and stronger, with dramatic potential benefits for fuel efficiency (i.e., vehicle lightness), military applications, and a range of other beneficial uses. The company is based in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and has worked with Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to help develop the technology, with support from (5) DOE SBIR I, II, and III awards. The firm is now at the commercial stage, and currently in discussions about building its first processing facility in Kentucky, making use of the infrastructure and railroads that have historically supported the coal industry. In 2017, the company was recognized as DOE’s SBIR Small Business of the Year.

Ranbir Singh, President
GeneSiC Semiconductor Inc. | Sterling, VA | 19 Employees

GeneSiC has emerged as a major supplier of Silicon Carbide based power semiconductor devices to the global market. The firm’s technology has saved millions of kWh of energy through its energy efficient devices in vehicles, energy storage and industrial systems. GeneSiC’s first prime contract/grant was through a Department of Energy SBIR Phase I Award.

Dave Stenson, Founder & CEO
Inventev | Detroit, MI

Inventev started with a core driveline (EV) and power generating technology for plug-in hybrid commercial work trucks. ARPA-E contacted Inventev for a prospective IDEAS grant to advance the technology toward commercialization including simulation modeling and as far into hardware as the funds would enable. Ultimately awarded the grant, Inventev was highlighted through a 1-hour presentation in Detroit to then Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, in 2016.  Dave Stenson continues as a volunteer DOE grant annual merit reviewer in DC through the DOE Vehicle Technologies Office.   Inventev now has one issued U.S. patent and a second patent award just confirmed while pursuing follow-on funding for further technology demonstration and commercialization. Inventev has also expanded a core consulting activity to include over 20 members of an extended expert network.

Mitch Odinak, Chief Commercial Officer
Molecule Works Incorporated | Richland, WA | 8 Employees

Molecule Works is the innovator of ultra-thin, porous metal membranes used for molecular separations and electro-chemical reactions.  Applications being commercialized include high efficiency refrigerant free air dehumidification/air conditioning, low cost energy efficient ethanol dewatering, and low cost algae harvesting.  The company was originally founded based on technology licensed from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and has since received $2.5M+ in DOE (ARPA-E, EERE, SBIR) awards to support further R&D.

Randy Hiebert, President
Montana Emergent Tech | Butte, MT | 5 Employees

Montana Emergent Technologies, Inc. is a small business located in Butte, Montana. MET leveraged funding from Department of Energy SBIR and STTR Awards to perform research that successfully commercialized biomineralization technology.  The firm has recently been able to market this novel technology to the petroleum industry to seal leaking oil and gas wells and prevent the emission of greenhouse gases. MET has also attracted outside investment to accelerate its go to market strategy.

Cary Hayner, Co-Founder & CTO
NanoGraf Corporation | Chicago, IL | 23 Employees

NanoGraf Corporation (formerly known as SiNode Systems) is an advanced battery materials company from Chicago, Illinois. The firm is developing new materials to enable high energy and high-power batteries for a variety of industries including electric vehicles and renewable energy storage solutions.  NanoGraf Corporation received its initial company funding from the DOE SBIR Phase 1 in 2012 and successfully transitioned to a DOE SBIR Phase II grant in 2014. After completion of the DOE SBIR Phase II, NanoGraf has remained engaged with the DOE through grant contracts with the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium, whose members include the Department of Energy, Ford, Chrysler, and GM.

Kyle Shen, CEO
Nexceris | Lewis Center, OH | 50 Employees

Nexceris has developed a technology to detect and prevent failures in Li-ion battery cells. An SBIR contract with the U.S. Navy in 2010 was pivotal in the development of the Li-ion Tamer technology. Through extensive testing, Nexceris developed an understanding of how lithium-ion batteries fail and identified a way to detect the gases which are emitted when the cells vent. This successful technology development led to several follow-on development efforts including a Rapid Innovation Fund project to accelerate the transition of the technology into an acquisition program. Nexceris was also awarded an ARPA-E project with DNV GL to further explore the value of off-gas monitoring to improve lithium-ion battery systems. The technology received recognition through a highlight at ARPA-E’s Energy Innovation Summit and was selected by the Navy’s SBIR office to highlight as a success story for Congress. In February 2020, Nexceris announced the formation of a strategic alliance with Honeywell to accelerate Li-ion Tamer’s commercialization efforts.  Nexceris has also worked with ARPA-E on solid oxide fuel cell technology.

Rick Meeker, President
Nhu Energy | Tallahassee, FL

Through support from a DOE STTR Phase I Award, Nhu Energy is working to demonstrate and commercialize an innovative model predictive controls technology for energy optimization and prediction. This work advanced to a Phase II STTR Award. The Developing Optimal Controls Technology for Distributed Energy Resources (DOCTdER) project has resulted in a joint patent with the university partner, Florida State University. Formed in 2015, Nhu Energy is a spinoff of the Center for Advanced Power Systems, a world-class power and energy research and development program and MW scale testing facility affiliated with FSU. The firm is focused on the development of more resilient and flexible power systems and is looking at growing solar and other distributed energy resources across Florida in partnership with utilities and energy owners and operators.

Balky Nair, President
Oscilla Power Inc. | Seattle, WA

Oscilla Power, with vital support from the SBIR program, has developed wave energy conversion technology. Early SBIR awards from the NSF, NOAA and DOE helped the firm advance its technology to become a market leader, as evidenced by Oscilla’s selection as a finalist in DOE’s Wave Energy Prize competition. This has led to Oscilla Power being awarded multiple, competitive non-SBIR awards that will enable demonstration of its wave energy conversion system at commercial scale in Hawaii. Oscilla Power continues to use the SBIR program selectively to advance specific aspects of its technology and to develop technology for derivative products.

Webb Johnson, Sr. Director Business Development
Pajarito Powder | Albuquerque, NM | 10 Employees

Pajarito Powder enables the next generation of electric propulsion for heavy duty applications, cars, buses, trucks, trains, and ships – with advanced electrochemical catalyst materials for hydrogen fuel cells developed and manufactured in the United States and exported internationally. The company’s customers include almost every major automaker in the world with a fuel cell program; these partners understand scaling and how to drive down costs, enabling other broader applications of fuel cells.

Hamed Soroush, CEO
Petrolern | Brookhaven, GA | 3 Employees, 12 Consultants

Petrolern is a research and consulting company in subsurface engineering and geosciences company focusing mainly on developing advanced technologies for geothermal energy extraction and carbon capture and storage. Petrolern’s mission is to apply the knowledge and learnings from oil and gas industry to facilitate movement toward cleaner energy sources. The company’s expertise includes geomechanics, reservoir stimulation, drilling optimization, CO2 injection, enhanced geothermal systems, reservoir engineering, subsurface monitoring and data analytics. The firm is currently conducting three projects for the Department of Energy to develop new technologies for CO2 storage.

Drew Bond, CEO
PowerField Energy, Inc. | Falls Church, VA | 3 Employees

Powerfield provides easy-to-install solar energy systems, which use their patented ballasted bin or “rack” filled with sand to hold the solar panels in place. Traditional ground-mount systems usually rely on cement and steel anchors in the ground and require metal fasteners, braces and nuts and bolts, whereas Powerfield’s system is lightweight, durable, simple to install, and requires no permanent fixtures in the ground. The company worked under technical services agreement with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to test the system in high winds.

Dominik Ziegler, CEO
Scuba Probe Technologies | Berkeley, CA

Scuba Probe Technologies aims to help solve the energy challenge by producing the tools that enable scientists and engineers to investigate and design photovoltaic and battery materials at the nanoscale. The firm is a scanned probe microscopy (SPM) manufacturer that specializes in sensors that are optimized for liquid based in-situ experiments. Scuba Probe Technologies has received SBIR Phase I and II Awards from DOE.

Bill and Sue Easter, Co-owners
Semplastics | Oviedo, FL | 12 Employees

Semplastics’ X-MAT division creates sustainable, customized material systems which provide market dominance for its customers. The firm has received SBIR Phase I and Phase II Awards from the DOE. Using X-MAT technology and through SBIR support, Semplastics has created coal core composite roof tiles which both sequester carbon from coal and prevent the finished roof tile from burning. Semplastics is targeting significant job creation in coal producing areas. In addition, Semplastics has invented materials using Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) to make surprisingly strong structural components and particles, using potentially billions of pounds of this waste material.

Tom Myers, Director of Business Development
Slipstream Group | Madison, WI

Slipstream (formerly Seventhwave) is a 501c3 non-profit organization focused on driving energy efficiency in buildings with the deployment of new technologies and the adoption of performance-based procurement practices.  Slipstream is a leader and innovator that is bridging the gap between research and development, and program implementation work with utilities in multiple jurisdictions. The non-profit has a team of engineers that carry out demonstration of new technologies for DOE in lighting, HVAC and frontloads for commercial buildings. Slipstream is also researching to manufacture homes more energy efficiently.

Alex Vasenkov, President
Sunergolab, Inc. | Huntsville, AL | 2 Employees

Sunergolab, Inc. is developing an innovative virtual testing tool to assist in the advancement of environmental/thermal barrier coatings for fuel-efficient and low-emission turbine engines operating at elevated temperatures.  The software development will include the hardening of peridynamics code for industry use, its integration with mainstream computer-aided engineering software, and demonstration and validation in collaboration with industrial partners.  Aircraft are the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions within the U.S. transportation sector, which is not yet subject to greenhouse gas regulations.

Ashton Vandemark, CEO
Sunfig | Oakland, CA | 3 Employees

Sunfig develops design optimization and analysis software for utility-scale solar projects. The firm’s products support utilities and developers across the country to achieve higher project margins and drive the solar industry to be more competitive against traditional energy sources. Sunfig is working with the DOE to refine and commercialize a novel algorithm developed in a national lab. This new technology will integrate with existing hardware and improve the monitoring and safety of commercial and residential solar installations.

Greg Horner, President
Tau Science Corporation | Hillsboro, OR

Tau Science develops advanced test and measurement equipment for solar cell and solar panel characterization. The company’s machines are used worldwide in both R&D labs and manufacturing lines, and the firm has received SBIR Phase I and II grants from DOE to develop new machines for the industry.

Benjamin Lepley, Architect
Tectonicus Constructs LLC | Tucson, AZ | 5 Employees

Tectonicus Constructs is building software to plan the development of solar photovoltaic systems over canals and waterway. The firm’s product could open solar to a virtually untapped marketplace in rural America. The Department of Energy’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program has supported development of the platform, which is now poised for commercialization.

David Kettner, President & General Counsel
Virent | Madison, WI

Virent develops hydrogen “drop-in” fuel and bio feedstocks. Virent’s products are ready to work in today’s chemical and fuel supply chains, including manufacturing facilities, pipelines, tanks and fueling stations. The firm’s drop-in fuels are also fully compatible with current automobile, jet and diesel engines. Virent has benefited from at least one SBIR grant and 6 DOE grants since its inception in 2002.  The DOE grants have been awarded under various programs ranging from the production of hydrogen, drop-in fuels and lignocellulosic feedstocks, and have provided approximately $20M in research funding to the company and served as a critical part of the success towards the development of the technology.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 27, 2020

Congressional attention is now shifting to providing emergency federal aid to help states respond to the public health and economic impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19). As lawmakers resume regular order on fiscal year 2021 appropriations and energy legislation, the CEBN is hopeful that our message of support for energy research and development was heard by key lawmakers on the appropriate committees in Congress.

I'd hope now, more than ever, with all that's going on that these clean energy messages were heard. Any recovery plan that doesn't take advantage of the economic stimulus clean energy can bring is shortsighted at best

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