Student-Led Startup That Transforms Waste into Energy Wins Competition

May 11, 2012
Stanford Nitrogen Group's CANDO process converts nitrogen to combustible gas

Young entrepreneurs developing energy from wastewater treatment, robots for cleaning solar panels and solar cell films with 20% more efficiency took the top prizes at the First Look West (FLoW) regional finals competition, which closed last week. At an awards celebration held at the California Institute of Technology on May 1, Stanford Nitrogen Group, Greenbotics and Xite Solar shared $200,000 in prize money.

Professor Harry Atwater, director of Caltech's Resnick Sustainability Institute, says "Successful competitions such as this show how universities, working with investors and the business community, are leaders in accelerating innovation flow to the real world, and in launching our future entrepreneurial leaders."

FLoW represents the western region of the DOE's National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition (NCEBPC). The winning teams from six regions across the country will now participate in the National Competition in Washington D.C., June 12 and 13, 2012. The awards event was the culmination of a six-month competitive process searching for the untapped clean energy innovation that lies in American university labs.

At the FLoW competition, a top panel of judges from Mohr Davidow, Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Sierra Ventures, CalCEF Clean Energy Angel Fund, the Angeleno Group and Southern California's Pasadena and Tech Coast Angels were amongst the investor groups to decide on the following awards:

First Place: Stanford Nitrogen Group's Yaniv Scherson and his team tackled a worldwide pollution problem with engineering smarts that yields a new source of energy while handling a serious waste issue. Stanford Nitrogen Group's innovative CANDO process not only removes waste nitrogen, but also converts it into a combustible gas that can "turboboost" energy recovery from wastewater treatment systems. Nitrogen runoff as ammonia accounts for a growing number of "dead zones" in coastal waters, more than 400 around the world, and billions of dollars in economic losses from damaged fisheries and lost tourism. Uncontrolled nitrogen runoff contributes to the swelling burden of wastewater treatment that imposes a 3% load on the U.S. energy supply alone. Cleaning up water discharges is often the highest energy expenditure for U.S. municipalities, accounting for 30 to 60% of city energy budgets. At its core CANDO relies on novel combinations of microbes that have the potential to reduce the cost of treating nitrogen by 50% while generating nitrous oxide, a new energy source never before considered in the management of wastewater. Limiting nitrogen discharge has become a legislative priority in the U.S. and Europe, creating a growing $1.6 billion annual market for nitrogen disposal processes such as CANDO. Scherson says the company's next steps will be to build a pilot facility and begin testing a scaled-up version with municipal partners and waste treatment corporations.

Source: USC Stevens Institute for Innovation

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