BERC Innovation Expo Showcases Clean Tech Startups and Breakthrough Technologies

BERC Symposium 2012 got off to an informative start last Thursday evening with the Innovation Expo, featuring 30 presenters, 64 posters, and a great deal of food, beer and wine. The posters and associated video pitches were eligible for prizes – awarded at the end of the evening – totaling $10,000 from Mohr Davidow.

While many of the presenters at the booths were from local clean tech startups looking for greater exposure – not to mention funding opportunities – players from the nonprofit sector were also amply represented. As might be expected for an event held on the Berkeley campus, the tech transfer offices of UC Berkeley and LBNL were major draws, as was the Cleantech to Market program of the Haas School of Business, which has pioneered the strategy of partnering scientists and engineers from UC Berkeley and LBNL with graduate students in various fields to translate clean tech research into market opportunities.

New technologies and approaches were on display by the many startups in attendance, several of which have a connection to the Berkeley ecosystem. Among these: Polyplus lithium/air and lithium/water batteries capable, respectively, of energy densities of 1000 Wh/L and 1500 Wh/L, which should allow such batteries to begin to approach the effective energy density of liquid fuels, including gasoline; Sun Synchrony, a solar-concentrator technology that claims 35% efficiency by reducing the number of optical transitions involved, at least when compared to more “traditional” concentrator technologies; and Solar Mosaic, an innovative crowd-funding model that claims to “democratize” project funding by allowing anyone with $25 to invest – and earn a healthy four to eight percent return – in large-scale solar projects.

Now onto the poster side of things (this is more than metaphor: the posters were all arrayed on one side of the hall!). Here, too, innovative technologies were showcased in the areas of energy production – with posters on solar, wind, hydro, nuclear and biofuels (including, notably, fecal sludge) – energy storage and distribution – represented by several posters on batteries and grids – energy efficiency and contaminant containment. But in line with the theme of BERC Symposium 2012 (“Tensions in Energy: Aligning Innovation, Investment and Policy“), several of the posters focused also on energy economics and policy, especially in the developing world, e.g. “Poverty, Growth and the Demand for Energy” and “Do the Poor Respond to Environmental Messages: Experimental Evidence from Brazilian Favelas.”

Many of the poster participants chose to pitch their research projects in front of the camera, which can be viewed here: http://berc.berkeley.edu/innovation-expo/video-competition. In fine democratic form, they were judged by people voting online or on mobile. Lewis Bichkoff’s analysis of the Solar PV energy market in the US and Lakshana Hudder’s pitch for her poster on Fluoride-salt-cooled high-temperature reactors tied for the top honor. BERC Blog’s very own John Romankiewicz was one of the second-prize winners (major props for innovation and style through his “eco-rap” narrative strategy), along with Kyle Tom.

The prizes for the posters themselves were judged by a team of 41 (yes, you read that right) judges. The grand prize for best poster overall was taken away by Kathleen Lask and Jennifer L. Jones, both PhD candidates at UC Berkeley, who work in the LBNL lab led by Dr. Ashok Gadgil of Darfur-stove fame, for “Comparison Testing of Haitian Cookstoves.” Lask explained that the poster showcases an assessment performed by the lab as part of an effort to decide which of six fuel-efficient charcoal stoves should be deployed in Haiti after the earthquake, by comparing each to the model traditionally used in the country in terms of both thermal efficiency and carbon emissions. Two posters – Mike He’s “Stirling Engine for Solar Thermal Generation and Storage” and Zach Bailey’s “Hybrid Tandem Photovoltaics with the Potential for Efficiencies exceeding 20%” – won second prizes.