The question often is “Where do cleantech ideas come from?” The answer, simply put, is from universities. Today, many universities offer different initiatives to assist those looking to get into the clean technologies field. A university has the resources necessary for research, development, and innovation. Many of the top venture capital firms around the country keep their eyes on many universities to see what cleantech ideas they come up with in fields including renewable energy and energy efficiency.
1) MIT Clean Energy Prize. According to its mission statement, “The MIT Clean Energy Prize will catalyze a new generation of clean energy solutions to meet the world’s energy challenge through innovation and entrepreneurship.” The objective of this competition, organized by students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and sponsored by NSTAR and the Department of Energy, is to provide opportunities for learning and rewards to those student ventures demonstrating an exceptional potential of effectively making clean energy cost-effective and provide a positive environmental impact. This venture creation and innovation competition has assisted in launching numerous energy ventures since its inception in 2008, including Levant Power and Covalent Solar.
2) Imperial College London Energy Futures Lab. The Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College London is one of the top cleantech institutes in the world. They have top research and development credentials, including a ten-year collaboration project with Shell International and Qatar Petroleum to develop carbon storage technologies. They also are collaborating on a joint venture agreement with automobile company Rolls-Royce to create lower carbon aero engines. The lab focuses on energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear power, electrical networks, transport, and policy development. The aim of the lab is to work with government, industries, and funding agencies to create research opportunities for these sectors and assist in the development of energy research, and encourage cleantech entrepreneurship.
3) Green University of Tokyo Project. Situated at the University of Tokyo on the Hongo Campus is the Green University of Tokyo Project. Established in 2006, this project is comprised of several nonprofit organizations and private businesses that use the campus to test its renewable energy and energy efficient technologies. The project combines the businesses and organizations with academia to provide fruitful results in the contribution of research and development to cleantech industrial fields.
4) Energy Biosciences Institute at University of California at Berkeley. The Energy Biosciences Institute at UC Berkeley is an organization dedicated to research and development in areas of advanced knowledge in physical sciences, biology, engineering, as well as social and environmental sciences to create viable global energy challenge solutions and decrease the overall impact of fossil fuels on global warming. It is the first research institution in the world that is dedicated fully to energy bioscience and the development of biofuels. There are more than 60 research groups and more than 200 undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral researchers at the institute. Research programs include feedstock development, biomass depolymerization, and fossil fuel bioprocessing.
5) Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore. The Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore is housed at the National University of Singapore and focuses on organic solar cells, silicon solar cells, solar energy systems, PV module performance analysis, and solar and energy efficient buildings. For example, under solar and energy efficient buildings, the institute focuses their research and development on façade technologies, building integrated photovoltaics and energy simulation, and solar assisted air-conditioning. The institute provides a number of services for solar energy as well as technical consulting.
6) University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment. Due to the increased number of environmental problems the world currently faces, the Institute on the Environment, housed by the University of Minnesota, a top-ranked research institution, looks to discover viable solutions to current environmental problems via leadership development, research, and partnerships. Their state-of-the-art research center provides the opportunity to look at a myriad of environmental challenges, such as providing clean energy, and provides a sustainable solution. Current programs include Plant Data Synthesis, Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, and the Global Landscapes Initiative
7) Tel Aviv University Supercenter for Renewable Energy. At Tel Aviv University in Israel, due to the rapidly decreasing natural resources for energy, the university created a “Supercenter” that will be involved in the development of renewable energies, including wind energy, solar energy, and biofuel applications. This Supercenter is the response of Tel Aviv University and the severe environmental issues the globe is facing when it comes to utilizing natural resources. According to President of the university, Professor Zvi Galil, “Our challenge is to develop technologies for higher yield, more cost-efficient production or energy from renewable sources.” Some of the projects taking place are providing renewable fuel from desert plants or the creation of “artificial leaves” – cost-effective solar cells based on the process of photosynthesis. The Supercenter will be run by sociologists, economists, scientists, engineers and others within academia.
8 ) Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell University. The Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell University in Upstate New York is a multidisciplinary center focused on creating a sustainable future. They offer numerous programs to assist with creating sustainable futures including seed funding, an academic venture fund, rapid response programs, topical launches, and sustainability-proposal support. Research is focused on three core topics – energy, environment, and economic development, which are all interrelated. The goal of this center is to “connect diverse as well as related disciplines through problem-oriented research and external partnerships to achieve important discoveries that have tangible, real-world impact.”
9) Australian National University Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems. The Center for Sustainable Energy System, housed by the Australian National University College of Engineering and Computer Science, has done much of their research on solar energy technologies. The goal of the research is to increase “the uptake of environmentally benign solutions by making solar energy cheaper and the conversion process more efficient.” Much of the research focuses on photovoltaic fundamentals, solar cells and modules, solar concentrators, low temperature solar systems, as well as energy and the environment.
10) University of Melbourne Energy Research Institute. Housed at the University of Melbourne in Australia, is the Energy Research Institute. Poised with a sense of urgency to deal with concerns of climate change, rising demands for energy, and increasingly diminishing resources, the institute looks to meet the challenge with advanced research that will assist in securing an affordable and sustainable supply of energy. The institute is seen as “an access point for industry, government and community groups seeking to work with leading researchers on innovative solutions in the following areas: new energy resources; developing new ways to harness renewable energy; more efficient ways to use energy; secure energy waste and frame optimal laws and regulation to achieve energy outcomes.” They focus on bioenergy, wind, solar and geothermal power, and carbon storage and capture.
Article by Shawn Lesser, president and founder of Atlanta-based Sustainable World Capital, which is focused on fund-raising for private equity cleantech/sustainable funds, as well as private cleantech companies and M&A. He is also a co- founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org