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Caltech’s FLoW Showcases the Best in Student Cleantech Startups

By Stephanie Yanchinski — May 31, 2016

The 5th annual First Look West (FLoW) Business Challenge and Awards Celebration on May 18th was attended by inventors, entrepreneurs and investors who saw inventions and companies that impressed judges who had thought that they’d already seen it all. After six months in the FLoW entrepreneurial program, 18 companies, started and run by science students and new engineering graduates, met at Caltech to contend for over $100,000 in prize money and the chance to challenge again at the Department of Energy’s Cleantech UP competition in June.

FLoW forms one of eight nodes across the country, anchoring the DOE’s National Cleantech UP business plan competition, and is part of Caltech’s Resnick Sustainability Institute. FLoW has helped start over 20 companies that together raised close to $40 million in follow on funding. FLoW’s educational program and annual competition drew student teams from 17 universities and 9 states across the country.

This year, XStream Trucking, led by a Stanford University team, won the $50,000 first prize sponsored by the Department of Energy with technology that could save the $700 billion long-haul trucking industry up to $2 billion a year on fuel. XStream’s patented GapGorilla deploys at highway speeds to close the gap between cab and trailer, reducing drag and improving fuel economy by up to four per cent. At highway speeds, two thirds of fuel is spent overcoming aerodynamic drag, so streamlining this gap improves fuel economy significantly. Since fuel is the largest non-labor cost in running a fleet, a small reduction in fuel usage could have a large impact on bottom line returns.

FLoW’s shared second place prize winners also showcased proven technologies on the way to commercialization. University of Hawaii’s Akabotics’ MicrodredgerTM, is a robotic system that removes sediment buildups in waterways that increase flooding vulnerabilities, smother marine life, and impede water commerce. Akabotics is targeting the $4.3 billion global power plant dredging market where turbines, pumps, inlet canals, and reservoirs need to be free from sediment buildups in order to operate at peak efficiency.

For Stanford’s SkyCool Systems (the other second place winner), their core product is a rooftop, water cooling panel installation that can improve the efficiency of refrigeration and air conditioning systems by up to 40% using an untapped renewable resource: the cold of the sky. By exploiting a phenomenon known as the ‘sky cooling’ effect, the panel surfaces can remain 18 to 27°F cooler than the ambient air temperature even under direct sunlight. Integration with a building’s chiller and refrigeration system saves customers such as supermarket owners a significant operating costs, and helps meet new regulatory standards and internal sustainability goals.

FLoW also spotlights promising undercover projects, with its Transformational Idea Award, won this year by Element16 Technologies. Developed at UCLA, this company’s new type of “heat battery” incorporates inexpensive sulfur liquids as the core element that can economically store heat energy produced by combined heat and power (CHP) plants – the source of 12 per cent of electricity in the United States. The invention, funded by $5 million in federal, state, and private financing, including support from Southern California Gas, can help “levelize” the grid’s power peaks and valleys, and ensure CHP plants will be able to operate at top efficiency and meet their customer’s needs.

To find out more about these companies and FLoW, you can get in touch with the FLoW Office at Caltech 626-395-1968 or by emailing

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