Judges for the 2012 Cleantech Open have chosen the nation’s most promising cleantech startup in 2012′s final competition. The top winner’s invention may power your next washing machine.

TWENTY-FIVE startups from around the globe competed for lucrative prizes at the Cleantech Open Global Forum last week in San Jose, CA. In a ballroom packed with tense finalists on Friday evening the host organization announced that HEVT of Chicago would take home the Grand Prize worth $250,000. NY-based Rentricity Inc. is the Runner Up.

Photo: HEVT wins cleantech open 2012 grand prize
HEVT wins the 2012 Grand Prize worth $250,000.

HEVT is developing switched reluctance electric motor technologies that can be manufactured without using rare earth metals. Their first commercial motors will power electric bicycles; later products could go into HVAC systems and home appliances. The company says its motor design will reduce environmental damage from mining and refining rare earth metals, mostly in China.

The top award is a combination of in-kind services and cash, all together valued at $250,000.

“We’re so thrilled to be part of this community — thanks for giving us a shot at this,” said HEVT founder Heidi Lubin in accepting the award. She said the motor design is something she has been working on and dreaming about since 1998. “I’m not going to lie, it’s been hard. Trying to disrupt the electric motor industry is not an easy thing to do.”

Runner-up Rentricity Inc. of New York City develop in-pipe hydropower systems that provide electricity by installing pumps in pressurized water infrastructure and running the pumps backward. The company has three pilot installations and plans to develop projects using power purchase agreements. The company says its technology will generate electricity from excess pressure found in water mains.


Photo: Demo of HEVT electric motor
In a 3-minute timed demo on Thursday, HEVT explained why their switched reluctance electric motor doesn’t depend on rare earth metals. During the two-day event the team also pitched in 10-minute and 20-minute sessions in front of a panel of judges.

THREE OTHER Cleantech Open 2012 finalists also made it through two days of elimination rounds, won their categories’ top prizes, and competed for the Grand Prize:

GR Green of Burnaby, BC, won the Green Building category. GR Green invented a process to produce ecological synthetic roofing and siding products from limestone waste and recycled plastics. The products are “virtually indistinguishable from real slate and cedar” and are nearly carbon-neutral. They can be recycled at the end of their useful life, making them certifiable under the “Cradle to Cradle” standard.

Red Ox Systems of New Haven, CT, took home a trophy for the Water category. Red Ox developed technologies that create chemical products from waste streams. Their first product, based on a fuel cell, desalinates waste water and produces inorganic chemicals while it generates all the electricity it needs to operate.

SiNode, Chicago, IL, is the winner of the Energy Efficiency category. SiNode has an exclusive license for a new technology for anodes in lithium-ion batteries. Their anodes could double the talk time of a typical mobile phone, and enable the phones to recharge in a small fraction of the time required for today’s batteries.

A Sustainability Award goes to Sustainable Systems International of Gaithersburg, MD. The company’s first product will be solar-powered milk chillers for off-grid applications in India, Pakistan and Africa. Using solar power reduces the need to run diesel generators. Ridescout just missed this award with their GoingMyWay app and was named Runner-up.


BILLED AS THE world’s largest cleantech business competition, the Cleantech Open is designed to find, fund and foster entrepreneurs with big ideas that address today’s energy, environmental and economic challenges. Local Cleantech Open accelerator programs and competitions took place in seven regions of the United States starting last spring. Nationwide 150 teams were accepted into the program. The 25 winners of those regional contests advanced to the finals.

Eleven other countries are represented by startups in a parallel Global Ideas Competition program (not associated with the Global Ideas Forum). The 2012 winner of the Global Ideas Competition is Biosyntia of Denmark. Biosyntia offers “cell factories” for fermentation of chemicals for manufacturers. Honorable mentions went to SP3H of France and BRD Motorcycles based in the US.

Both competitions culminate at the Global Forum in Silicon Valley in November. “Alumni” of past years’ programs are encouraged to stay involved to lend help and encouragement to competing teams. The 2012 Alumnus of the Year is Dragonfly Solutions of Sandy, UT.

Congratulations to all teams who completed this year’s incubator and competition!

This article has been edited to correct the number of U.S. finalists (25) and to add the number of Global Ideas teams (11).

Denis Du Bois is a volunteer Mentor for cleantech startups in the Cleantech Open accelerator program.