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Are Energy Commercialization Institute's investments approaching critical mass?

Sometimes it's the small things that make a big difference in energy efficiency. The Energy Commercialization Institute awards grants to cleantech startups with a proven track record.  Bird droppings on solar panels are a literal barrier to efficiency. Not something you think about, but it makes sense. Shu Yang, PhD., a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and one of five recent ECI grant recipients, earned  to develop a nonstick coating for photovoltaic cells.

ECI also funded Drexel profs Emin Caglan Kumbur, Ph.D and Yury Gogotsi, Ph.D for energy storage technology; Alexander Fridman, Ph.D, leading a Drexel University/Temple University team to create clean energy from biomass, coal and organic wastes; a new electrospinning/electrospraying process for energy fuel cells from Drexel's Yossef Elabd, Ph.D; and a Drexel/Penn initiative to create thin-film solar cells from Andrew Rappe, PhD. Total for the recent round was $500,000.
 
The ECI is funded by the State of Pennsylvania and created by a consortium that includes Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Drexel, Penn and Penn State. 
 
It's a new focus on commercialization, says Tony Green, PhD., Director of the ECI as well as its forbear, the Nanotechnology Institute. "The NTI model led to the ECI model which led to EEB Hub," explains Green. "The difference is that NTI is based on a platform, while the ECI is an application." Rather than focus on nanotech, the ECI mission is not about any specific technology. "The buzz phrase is alternative and clean energy."
 
For the first time, says Green, the ECI is now getting metrics on commercialization, licenses and jobs created through ECI grants. While the state-funded NTI has a 10-year track record, Green and company are about to release a semiannual report that credits ECI with the creation of over 50 jobs in the last two years.
 
"We have already accrued almost 150 intellectual property assets, applications and issued patents," says Green. "We've executed 18 licenses and options. With only 700K project funding, we've created three startups in the last year, and that number is going to grow. Universities are doing a lot better at commercializing technology. ECI projects are not technologies that are basic research. The intellectual property already exists."
 
Green looks to MIT and UCSD as big names in higher ed tech commercialization. "We can do the same thing, but not through a single institution. It's a consortium." The cumulative capabilities are much greater, says Green. The ECI also works with small institutions like Fox Chase Cancer Research Center and Philadelphia University, where there might be one researcher doing groundbreaking work. "We want all boats to rise," adds Green.

Source: Anthony Green, ECI
Writer: Sue Spolan
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