FLOW's 2018 Winners

Congratulations to our winners! Nicolas Pinkowski (Ammonia-by-Wire); Thomas Russell (ETC Solar); Andrew Ponec and Justin Briggs (Antora Energy) pictured with FLOW's Stephanie Yanchinski.

First Place ($50,000): ETC Solar

Caltech's ETC Solar LLC won top prize at FLOW's 2018 Cleantech UP with a major innovation in solar cell architecture and a novel tool for manufacturing.

ETC’s Effectively Transparent Contacts (ETCs) increase solar panel efficiency by 5 percent - a historic leap forward in improving the panel performance. By making solar panels more efficient, the manufacturing cost ($/W) will be significantly reduced. Adopted by all solar panels installed in 2017 alone would have saved 5.3 GW of electricity - the equivalent of eliminating 30 million tons of CO2 a year or taking 6 million cars off the road!

Solar cells require metal contacts for charge extraction that are currently fabricated using screen-printing techniques. These flat, screen-printed metal contacts shadow 5 percent of the active area of the cell, reflecting sunlight that could be converted into useful electrical energy. ETC's triangular shape, high aspect ratio metal contacts redirect more of the incoming sunlight to the cell surface. As a result, the power output of the solar cell increases by 5 percent.

The team also invented a drop-in replacement printing tool that lays the ground for product manufacture at scale, that will capitalize on this innovation. By making solar panels more efficient, the manufacturing cost of solar cell manufacturers ($/W) will be significantly reduced.

The prototype beta version is expected to be completed in September 2019, when testing with industry partners will begin.

Alice Wang from the Department of Energy with ETC Solar's Thomas Russell

FLOW LACI Energy Innovation Prize ($20,000): Antora Energy

Antora Energy is combining inexpensive thermal storage media at high temperatures with high-efficiency thermophotovoltaic energy conversion to create a low-cost thermal battery for grid-scale energy storage.

Wind and solar are poised to meet the global need for clean, safe, inexpensive energy, but the intermittency of these resources poses a critical challenge: Excess electricity is curtailed when wind and solar production exceeds demand, while electricity reliability is threatened when production falls short of demand. Energy storage systems can address this challenge by smoothing out the power supply from renewables.

Today, grid-scale energy storage is dominated by pumped hydroelectric installations, which provide storage at low cost but are geographically limited. Antora Energy is developing an inexpensive thermal energy storage system that will take excess electricity from wind and solar power plants, store it for hours or days, and deliver it back to consumers when needed.

By storing energy as heat in extremely inexpensive raw materials and converting that heat back to electricity with a high-efficiency thermophotovoltaic heat engine, Antora anticipates that its system costs are low enough to make intermittent renewable energy plus storage cost-competitive with energy from traditional fossil fuels.

Inexpensive energy storage will enable the widespread deployment of wind and solar energy, thus ensuring cheap, sustainable, and reliable electricity on a global scale while dramatically reducing carbon emissions.

Grace Broyles of Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator and Kelly Schmandt-Ferguson of Energize California with Andrew Ponec and Justin Briggs of Antora Energy

Transformational Idea Award ($5,000): Ammonia-by-Wire

Ammonia-by-Wire won FLOW’s inaugural eClub GUST Transformational Idea Award by building on an electrochemical innovation developed at Stanford to produce ammonia that takes advantage of the co-location of low-cost renewable electricity supply and agricultural fertilizer demand around the world.

This startup’s technology produces ammonia, the essential ingredient of crop growing fertilizers, using just water, air and electricity. The key innovation is a reaction that occurs at atmospheric pressure, significantly reducing capital costs over the traditional high-pressure Haber-Bosch ammonia process. In addition, the technology has demonstrated an 88% Faradaic efficiency, significantly higher than other electrochemical strategies.

Currently ammonia is mostly produced in large factories that emit dangerous pollutants and are located thousands of miles away from the customer. Ammonia-by-Wire aims to capitalize on the abundance of wind-generated electricity to produce ammonia where it is consumed – on Mid-West farms, at much less cost to the food producer and to the environment. Connect with Ammonia-by-Wire on Facebook and Twitter.

Tina Glickman from GUST with Nicolas Pinkowski of Ammonia-by-Wire

Rocket Fund