Team Algal Scientific wins inaugural Clean Energy Prize

March 30, 2009
A plan to use algae to simultaneously treat wastewater and produce the raw materials for biofuels won the inaugural Clean Energy Prize on Friday. The competition was established by DTE Energy and the University of Michigan along with sponsors, Masco Corporation Foundation and The Kresge Foundation, to encourage entrepreneurship in Michigan and the development of clean energy technology...

• DTE Energy and University of Michigan clean energy business competition designed to move new energy technology from the laboratory to the marketplace

ANN ARBOR, MI, Mar. 23, 2009 -- A plan to use algae to simultaneously treat wastewater and produce the raw materials for biofuels won the inaugural Clean Energy Prize on Friday.

The competition was established by DTE Energy and the University of Michigan along with sponsors, Masco Corporation Foundation and The Kresge Foundation, to encourage entrepreneurship in Michigan and the development of clean energy technology.

Team Algal Scientific Corp., comprised of business and engineering students from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, earned the top prize of $65,000.

"We put a lot of effort in, and we had tough competition," said team member Bobby Levine, who is a doctoral student in the U-M Department of Chemical Engineering. "I think we still have a lot of work to do, but we're excited to plan the next phase."

Gerard Anderson, DTE Energy president and COO, presented the awards and told team members and other attendees that the development of new energy technologies holds promise for a cleaner environment and a more robust economy. "With this in mind, we developed the Clean Energy Prize to serve as a catalyst for students and faculty to bring clean energy technologies from university labs to the market," he said. "We also see this prize as one of many steps toward recapturing Michigan's past spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship."

In Algal Scientific Corp.'s wastewater treatment system, algae would take up nutrients at wastewater treatment plants in a more economical and environmentally friendly way than the current state of the art. This method uses no chemicals. Then, the nutrient-packed algae would be harvested and sent to a plant to be converted directly to biofuels.

"We're trying to address two major global concerns: clean water and clean energy," said Geoff Horst, an ecology doctoral student at MSU who developed the technology, "and we can do that with one process."

Other members of the Algal Scientific team are Jeff Lebrun, M.B.A./M.S., a 2008 U-M graduate; Robert Levine, a U-M PhD candidate; and John Rice, a U-M M.B.A./M.S. student.

The U-M Ross School of Business' Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, College of Engineering's Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, along with student organizations MPowered Entrepreneurship and the Ross Energy Club, organized the competition.

"This competition helps to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit of the next generation," said professor Stephen Forrest, vice president for research at the University of Michigan. "One of the real characteristics of an entrepreneur is that one way or another you get it done. You don't wait for someone to say yes. You don't listen to people who say no. If you believe in your ideas, you just go. The young people in this competition are exemplifying that fortitude."

Forrest, an entrepreneur himself, is the William Gould Dow Collegiate Professor of Electrical Engineering and a professor in the departments of Physics and Materials Science and Engineering.

Open to students at all Michigan colleges and universities, the competition required teams to develop business proposals that focused on renewable energy, energy efficiency, smart grid technologies, environmental control technologies, plug-in electric vehicles or energy storage. The competition began with a field of 23 teams, which was narrowed to the three finalists through three rounds of increasingly rigorous competitions.

On Friday, the finalists presented revised business plans and investor pitches to a panel of judges including Ananth Ananthasubramaniam of DTE Energy Ventures; Larry Laseter of Masco Corporation; Mark Huang of Novus Energy Partners; Michael Gross of Beringea; and Dipender Saluja of Capricorn Investment Group.

The judges awarded second place to Husk and third place to Ikanos Power. Husk received a $21,000 prize for its proposal to use rice husk ash to make insulation for refrigerators that's at least six times more efficient than dominant technology. Ikanos Power received a $3,400 prize for its proposal to produce fuel-flexible power generators for use first in military tanks and tractor-trailers. The prize money will help the winning teams start new businesses that can contribute to Michigan's emerging role as a leader in clean energy.

Earlier, the SITumbra team, which proposed a rigid solar shading window system configured to respond to seasonal variations with optimal energy efficiency, was awarded Fourth Place and a $3,400 prize.

Melonie Colaianne, President of Masco Corporation Foundation, said the opportunity to help spur innovative and collaborative solutions to clean energy challenges attracted the foundation's support. "Masco Corporation Foundation is delighted to participate as a Founding member in the public/private partnership with the Clean Energy Prize competition," Colaianne said. "The University of Michigan is a proven incubator for creativity and collaboration. We appreciate the opportunity to help accelerate support for its innovative, entrepreneurial approach to creating sustainable business models and solutions while challenging Michigan's higher education community and supporting our State's emerging role as a leader in clean energy."

The Foundation is funded by Masco, one of the world's largest manufacturers of brand name products and a leader in energy-efficient solutions for builders and consumers.

The Kresge Foundation also saw value in the competition's focus on innovation and new business development. "The Kresge Foundation is deeply concerned about both climate change and the economic strength of the Midwest," says Lois R. DeBacker, senior program director for the Environment Program. "Our grantmaking strives to advance renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, with a particular emphasis on the Midwest. We see the Clean Energy Prize as a tool to drive innovation and new business development in Michigan and reduce greenhouse gases. We're pleased to be a sponsor of a prize that encourages new entrepreneurs in this state."

The Kresge Foundation is a $3.1 billion private, national foundation that supports communities by building the capacity of nonprofit organizations in six fields of interest: health, the environment, arts and culture, education, human services and community development.

In partnership with grantees, Kresge seeks to influence the quality of life for future generations by creating access and opportunity in underserved communities, improving the health of low-income people, supporting artistic expression, assisting in the revitalization of Detroit and advancing methods for dealing with global climate change. In 2008, the foundation approved 342 grants totaling $181 million.

DTE Energy is a Detroit-based diversified energy company involved in the development and management of energy-related businesses and services nationwide.

The globally recognized Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies provides the curriculum, program initiatives, community involvement and alumni outreach activities that deliver exclusive resources for future entrepreneurs of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

The Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute develops, coordinates and promotes multidisciplinary energy research and education at the U-M. Some 75 faculty in disciplines ranging from engineering to policy to environmental science to urban planning are a part of the Institute.

The University of Michigan College of Engineering is ranked among the top engineering schools in the country. At more than $130 million annually, its engineering research budget is one of largest of any public university. Michigan Engineering is home to 11 academic departments and a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center. The college plays a leading role in the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute and hosts the world class Lurie Nanofabrication Facility.