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Vote Online for America’s Next Top Energy Innovator

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will name America’s Next Top Energy Innovator in February and wants Americans to vote online for their favorites among 14 technologies that could make huge differences in the near future.

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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will name America’s Next Top Energy Innovator in February and wants Americans to vote online for their favorites among 14 technologies that could make huge differences in the near future.

Technologies from the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are being used by three of the nominees, helping move the laboratory’s research and development to the private sector. Two of the three start-ups working with NREL are based in Colorado.

Among the three innovators working with NREL are a radical new way of delivering air conditioning, a “smart window” that saves energy, and a breakthrough coating that signals that there is a hydrogen or hazardous gas leak.

“NREL has a robust technology transfer program that helps our innovations get to market across a broad spectrum of renewable energy and energy efficiency domains,” Bill Farris, NREL’s Vice President for Commercialization and Technology Transfer, said. “NREL conducts the research necessary to create new innovations but we rely on partners to commercialize those innovations. We are excited to see three of our partners make into the America’s Next Top Energy Innovator competition.”

Voting runs through 6:59 a.m. Mountain Standard Time (8:59 a.m. EST) on Feb. 6. Each of the technologies represents a partnership between a start-up company and a DOE national laboratory. The winner – selected based on the public vote and expert review – will be featured at the premier gathering of clean energy investors and innovators around the country, the 2012 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, at the end of February.

Americans can view profiles of the competing start-ups and vote on which ones could make the greatest contributions to the country’s economic and energy future by visiting

"Through the America’s Next Top Energy Innovator Challenge, we are unleashing start-up companies to do what they do best: create new products, new industries, and new jobs,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “We’ve challenged America's entrepreneurs and innovators to create new businesses based on discoveries made by our world-leading national laboratories.”

The three NREL collaborators in the challenge:

A radical new air-conditioning system that uses 40% to 85% less energy and improves air comfort and quality, which has been likened to a car design that gets hundreds of miles per gallon.

7AC Technologies, based in Woburn, Mass., is developing NREL’s technology, using liquid desiccant HVAC systems for commercial and industrial buildings. The system consists of a membrane conditioner responsible for drying and cooling the air and a heat-driven regenerator. The liquid desiccant design allows for the use of solar or waste heat sources, paving the way for net-zero energy retrofits to existing buildings with costs comparable to conventional HVAC.

Windows that can dynamically change color or reflectivity based on changes in the sun’s intensity or temperature potentially could save 2% to 4% of the nation’s entire energy budget.

US e-Chromic LLC, based in Boulder, Colo., will use electrochromic technology developed by NREL to retrofit inefficient windows with thin films so they deflect sunlight in the summer, sharply reducing the need for air conditioning.

"We have a CRADA with NREL which enables us to receive the benefit of deep scientific expertise and lab equipment that would not otherwise be available to a start-up company such as US e-Chromic. This is tremendously important and valuable to us," company CEO and founder Loren Barnett said.

A breakthrough coating changes color to signal a hydrogen or hazardous gas leak.

Element One of Boulder, Colo., developed with NREL a low-cost hydrogen indicating system based on a simple chemo-chromic hydrogen detector that visually indicates the presence – or absence – of hydrogen. Potential uses include decals, paint, protective gear, equipment or piping, and these sensors can be produced at a fraction of the cost of conventional electronic detection systems.

“Element One’s collaboration with NREL has given us access to world class scientific talent and facilities,” Element One President Bill Hoagland said. “NREL has been an important part of our success. After our core patent was awarded, we entered into a collaboration agreement with NREL on the development of several prototypical sensor designs. Licensing three NREL patents to complement our own will improve our technical portfolio to create new products and applications.”

Video of these three companies is available on NREL’s YouTube channel.

The challenge is part of the Obama administration’s Startup America initiative, which aims to create the best possible climate for high-growth entrepreneurs across the country. The companies participating in the challenge have signed option agreements allowing them to license valuable, cutting-edge technologies developed and patented by one of DOE’s 17 national laboratories and the Y-12 National Security Complex. Thirty-six companies have signed these option agreements.

To learn more about the administration’s “Startup America” initiative, visit

To learn more about the 2012 ARPA-E Energy Summit, visit