The latest ideas in asphalt paving and concrete reinforcement were second only to an idea that saves water on farms. Agriculture was a theme this year, with four of seven winning companies involved in some aspect of farming.

PowWow founder Olivier accepts the Grand Prize trophy from
PowWow founder Olivier Jerphagnon accepts the Grand Prize trophy from Cleantech Open founders Marc Gottschalk and Mike Santullo. EP photo

PowWow Energy left the Cleantech Open Global Forum last night with a $200,000 check and a grand prize trophy for their business idea that detects water leaks on farms. Leaks that go unnoticed can destroy entire crops or damage property. California-based PowWow senses leaks without using sensors. Instead their software-as-a-service mines data from smart power meters attached to water pumps. Using the Green Button standard interface and a few secret-sauce algorithms, it detects anomalies and sends alarm text messages to farmers.

“Running irrigation pumps without checking for leaks is like driving a car without ever getting the emissions tested,” founder Olivier Jerphagnon told me over lunch yesterday. “Something could be wrong and you would never know it.” He says when his service is commercially available starting in 2014 it will pay for itself in water and energy savings. SDG&E agricultural customers currently can sign up for the service online as part of a pilot program.

HJ3 Technologies team
HJ3 Technologies team. EP photo

HJ3 Composite Technologies took second place in the national competition. Tucson-based HJ3 has developed a carbon fiber material that can be used to reinforce aging concrete and steel structures, like freeway bridges and petroleum tanks. Their lightweight material can extend the life of critical infrastructure by 30 years, which postpones the many tons of landfill waste that result from replacing them.

Bio-Adhesive Alliance took third place. The Greensboro, NC, startup produces low-cost and durable adhesive from swine manure that can be utilized as an additive to petroleum-based asphalt. Yep, you read that right. The judges got a few chuckles from the team’s pitch, but in the end they saw planet-saving business potential. Farmers truck their hog manure to a Bio-Adhesive plant, where it is turned into construction adhesive and sold to pavers. The main byproduct is water, which the farmers truck back to their pig farms and reuse.

Bio-Adhesive Alliance team. EP photo

Five additional companies took prizes home last night. Helion Energy won best company in the Energy Generation category. Redmond, WA-based Helion is well on its way to making practical and affordable fusion energy a reality. Polymer Green was rated top of its category in Agriculture-Water-Waste with a solution to process landfill waste plastic. This year’s National Sustainability Award went to Garden Fresh Farms, which is building a nationwide network of investor-owned, inner-city indoor hydroponic farms. The runner-up in the sustainability category, Grannus, has developed a new way to produce nitrogen fertilizer.

Guy Kawasaki counted down the ten lessons he learned from Steve Jobs. EP photo
Guy Kawasaki counted down the ten lessons he learned from Steve Jobs. EP photo

The Cleantech Open Global Forum is the capstone event for a year-long business accelerator and international competition for sustainability business ideas. Keynote speakers included venture capitalists Ira Ehrenpreis and Guy Kawasaki, former Secretary of Commerce and founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council John Bryson, Google energy & sustainability director Rick Needham, and Bill Ritter Jr., former governor of Colorado now Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy. Finalists this week were previously selected as the winners of seven regional Cleantech Open competitions.

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The author has for the past five years been a volunteer Mentor for teams in the Cleantech Open business accelerator. He has no past or present consulting or investment relationship with any in the companies named in this article.