May 3, 2012 at 4:05 PM ET
From retrofitted radiators that update old-school heating systems for the 21st century to a turbo-charged sewage treatment process that converts excess nitrogen into energy, business students with plans to get rich while they make the world a better place have earned the government's help — and may get even more.
Six winners of regional Department of Energy-sponsored green-tech business plan competitions already took $100,000 checks to the bank to help get their ideas off the ground. The teams will convene June 12-13 in Washington, D.C., to pitch their plans to a panel of public and private green-tech business leaders and investors, hoping to get even more help.
Winners will receive technical, design and legal assistance, according to the Energy Department. In addition, the overall winner will receive an additional cash prize, though the amount of the award has yet to be announced.
Here’s a roundup of this year’s regional winners:
Northeast: Columbia University’s Radiator Labs won the MIT Clean Energy Prize for a low-cost, easily installed radiator retrofit that converts inefficient radiator heating systems into controllable zoned systems where each radiator represents a single zone with temperature control feedback.
Southeast: Mesdi Systems Inc., a company founded by University of Central Florida students, won the Atlantic Coast Conference Clean Energy Challenge with a plan to develop precision electrospray technology to accelerate and improve the production of lithium ion battery components.
Eastern Midwest: Northwestern University’s NuMat Technologies won the Clean Energy Trust’s Clean Energy Student Challenge with a proprietary computational screening tool that rapidly identifies and tests metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs, which are a new class of nanostructures for clean fuel storage.
According to NuMat’s pitch video, above, MOFs could lead to cheaper and longer-range natural gas vehicles, safer hazardous gas storage and energy-efficient chemical separations.
Western Midwest: University of Utah spinoff Navillium Nanotechnologies won the University of Colorado CU Cleantech New Venture Challenge with a technology to lower the cost of producing quantum dots, which can increase the amount of energy captured by solar panels and decrease the amount of energy needed for displays on cellphones and televisions.
Traditional quantum dot manufacturing processes are expensive, require high temperatures and produce low yields, the team explains. Their process, which is under development, is said to use lower temperature and produces less waste.
Western Southwest: MIT’s SolidEnergy won Rice University’s Rice Business Plan Competition – DOE Clean Energy Prize with a technology to improve the safety and energy density of rechargeable lithium batteries, a tech lauded for its potential to accelerate deployment of electric vehicles and be a game changer in the oil-drilling industry since it can be recharged while drilling deep in the hole.
Western: The Stanford Nitrogen Group took top honors at the First Look West (FLOW) Clean Energy Challenge with a new wastewater treatment process for the removal and recovery of energy from waste nitrogen (i.e. ammonia). The process is said to improve the efficiency and lower the cost of nitrogen treatment and be the first wastewater treatment process to recover energy from nitrogen.
“Excess nitrogen pollution in wastewater and water in general costs the U.S. economy $2.2 billion a year – and it kills fish,” the team notes in its pitch video for the Rice University competition, adding that their technology is “turbocharging sewage treatment.”
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.