From hydrogen fuel cell storage systems to next-generation solar windows and more efficient computing to marine power tech, a whole lot of significant green breakthroughs have occurred in the the country’s national laboratories. But for the rubber to meet the road, innovative companies have to capitalize on those technologies and scale them up to meet the needs of the commercial marketplace—which is what the “America’s Next Top Energy Innovator” challenge is all about.
Hot on the heels of President Obama’s State of Union Address, which highlighted support for American innovation, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced the three winning startups out of the 14 finalists in the challenge. Winners were chosen through a combination of public voting and an expert review; each of the winning teams uses breakthrough research from one of the nation’s national laboratories.
The three teams taking top honors (each sharing the top spot) are Iowa Powder Atomization Technologies (IPAT), a startup based in Nevada, Iowa; Umpqua Energy, based in Medford, Ore.; and Vorbeck Materials, based in Jessup, Md.
IPAT is putting gas atomization technology to work that was first developed at Ames Laboratory in Iowa to make the process of developing titanium powder 10 times more efficient than the current industry standard, significantly lowering the cost of this power to manufacturers. Titanium is strong, lightweight, biocompatible and resistant to corrosion, which makes it ideal for use in everything from artificial limbs to military vehicles, biomedical implants, aerospace fasteners and chemical plant valves. (The powder form of titanium is easier to work with than having to cast the metal with molds, and more predictable as well, since titanium has a bad habit of bonding with whatever metal is used to make the mold.)