Technology Entrepreneurship: UConn Students Participate in DOE Contest

These teams are working to develop attainable, equitable, scalable energy technologies and business opportunities.

Green building with a view of the treetops.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Technology Transitions (OTT) announced 225 teams from 117 schools competed in the EnergyTech University Prize (EnergyTech UP) 2024 Student Track.

Four UConn teams were among top competitors across the nation in the Department of Energy virtual EnergyTech University Prize (UP) 2024.

One group of students presented their project titled “PowerPulse: Resilience Revolution for U.S. Grid” as part of their recognition as Explore Phase competitors.

The students, including Rany Kamel, Alaa Selim, Soroush Vahedi, Essam Boraey, Mostafa Karami, and Mohamadamin Rajabinezhad, made their pitch late last month.

“It was a great experience pitching our tech solution and competing with amazing teams in the New England area,” said Selim. “Although we didn’t make it to the next stage we learned a lot during this competition and it was an honor to present UConn and be shortlisted to this stage.”

The students’ business model was designed to escalate the adoption of Grid Enhancing Technologies, also called GETS, in the United States, focusing on two

key areas: quantifying grid resiliency and optimizing emergency restoration.

The team has developed a comprehensive metric system to quantify the resilience improvements brought by GETs.

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This system assesses how technologies like advanced conductors, dynamic line rating, and power flow control contribute to the grid’s robustness against disruptions. By providing a clear, quantifiable value of resilience, their model allows investors and stakeholders to see the tangible benefits and return on investment from deploying these technologies. This data-driven approach helps in making a compelling business case for investing in grid enhancing technologies.

To optimize emergency restoration, the team leveraged artificial intelligence algorithms to integrate GETs into grid restoration plans. The model demonstrates how the implementation of these technologies can significantly expedite power restoration, reduce operational costs during outages, and enhance overall service reliability. This not only appeals to grid operators but also to end consumers, who are increasingly concerned about energy reliability and efficiency. The business model positions GETs as not just an enhancement to the current grid but as a necessary evolution to meet growing energy demands and environmental challenges.

By emphasizing the ROI and improved operational efficiencies, the team aims to attract significant investments and partnerships, driving forward the adoption of these critical technologies for a more robust, efficient, and future-ready power infrastructure.

Another student group presented in late February: Al Kasani, Reiner Reichenberger, and Michael Dunn. The team created Particle-N, a scalable core-shell fabrication technology to help the industry achieve the Department of Energy’s target of improving the efficiency of precious metal catalysts used in Proton Exchange Electrolysis electrolyzers.

“We have a good group of young entrepreneurs at UConn,” says Kasani, a serial entrepreneur whose project was titled “Revolutionizing precious metal catalysts.” “It’s fortunate we all met in Professor Daneshmandi’s courses.”

Particle-N addresses the shortage of iridium which is used in the clean hydrogen industry. Experts believe burning hydrogen is the future of clean energy, as the only byproducts created are water.

Kasani is part of UConn President Radenka Maric’s lab at the Center for Clean Energy Engineering.

“These students are adopting an entrepreneurial spirit and running with it,” said Professor Leila Daneshmandi, an assistant professor-in-residence of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “By working with private and public supporters, they can push forward with their innovative designs and create new green technologies.”

The UConn College of Engineering offers entrepreneurship training to all students in all schools. More information about these courses can be found online.

The competition brought 225 student teams from 117 schools throughout the nation.

“We see immense value in supporting the next generation of clean energy leaders through EnergyTech UP,” says DOE Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of OTT, Dr. Vanessa Z. Chan in a DOE release. “These teams are working to develop attainable, equitable, scalable energy technologies and business opportunities. They have the potential to profoundly impact the cleantech industry, and we’re proud to provide resources that can help bolster their ideas.”

Students Brian Peng, Shivam Patel, and John Toribio also participated with their project titled “Electrochromic Windows for Agriculture and Energy.”

The three are the co-founders of Shadesnap, and are using a new class of electrochromic polymers to enable more sustainable and affordable electrochromic technologies. Unlike typical electrochromic polymers, the team’s modular electrochromic polymers are highly tunable.

“We can use that unique characteristic to enable several technologies including windows with selective tuning/filtering of light for optimizing plant growth and maintaining comfortable indoor environments, as well as wearable technologies like dynamic and adaptive eyewear,” Toribio says.

One other UConn team competed with a project titled: “An Energy Tool Scaling Renewable Technologies.”

The EnergyTech UP Student Track asks collegiate teams to develop actionable plans for business and commercialization opportunities around high-potential energy technologies. Competitors also get free, exclusive access to OTT’s Energy I-Corps curriculum, and finalists receive mentorship from industry leaders to help them hone their proposals.

Teams will compete for more than $400,000 in cash prizes through three phases––Explore, Refine, and Pitch––with bonus prize winners also being selected along the way.