A flexible magnet that can make motors lighter and more efficient. A roofing material made from a stew of mulched cardboard that could overhaul slum housing. A direct-current energy distribution system that could promote a power-saving new paradigm for the developing world.
All are promising green technologies—but only if they can be brought to market.
Finding those commercial pathways is the mission of the Cleantech to Market (C2M) program, and it's the job of the students who worked on those emerging technologies and five others this fall. The Haas experiential learning class pairs scientists with multidisciplinary teams of graduate students who develop commercialization plans.
Now in its 6th year, the program—created to build connections between researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC Berkeley with Haas and the rest of campus—has gotten so popular that requests are coming in from other national labs and research institutions.
"Word has spread," said program Co-Director Bev Alexander. "We hadn't gone outside of the Berkeley ecosystem before, but they are coming to us. It's now a nationally competitive process to get technologies into the program."
Two of this fall's projects came from Caltech, and one from Carnegie Mellon. The program has also increased the number of projects from the developing world, as well as those from startups. Usually, the start-up rate coming out of C2M is about 20 percent, but this fall, half of the projects involve recently incorporated companies.
"The program is emblematic of what Berkeley does like no other institution in the world," said Co-Director Brian Steel. "We have a combination of business and science and engineering expertise here that is second to none."
The idea behind C2M is to prevent potentially game-changing green technologies from languishing in the lab.
"There's a tendency among tech people to assume that if we have a great technology, there must be a market," said Heather Buckley, a PhD 14 chemistry student who worked on the modular roofing team. The product was developed by India-based startup ReMaterials and the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry. "This clarified that we need to validate the market, and especially the willingness to pay."
For students, the course is no less valuable. "This was my first experience working with people from across Berkeley," said Shaila Narang, MBA 15, who served as team lead on the project. "It gave me a good understanding that we speak different languages, but we can communicate, and when we do it's very powerful."
The class culminated Dec. 5 with a symposium that attracted about 250 scientists, faculty, alumni, and clean-energy business leaders. The eight teams—made up of 32 second-year MBAs and 16 graduate students from engineering, public policy, chemistry, and other Berkeley schools—presented their results, and the audience voted on the best presentation, best technology assessment, and best overall project.
The winner of the best overall “People’s Choice” award was the NearZero Flywheel team, which researched paths to market for a compact, super-efficient flywheel battery that can operate in extreme conditions. The team included Haas evening and weekend students Alok Kolekar, Nilesh Murthy and Tamara Patterson, MBA 15; full-time student Pablo Uribe, MBA 15; and public policy students Jin Noh and Kate Ringness, MPP 15.
Steel said the team's plan to market the flywheel batteries initially to arctic lodges underscores the program's strength.
"One of our specialties is finding markets that no one has thought about before," he said. "These premium markets are where the unique attributes of the technology have exceptional value, and they can provide the pathway to bring the price down to expand to the broader marketplace."
Other fall projects included a separator to prevent battery fires in electric vehicles; algorithms to optimize the smart grid; a bioengineered film with energy generating properties; and ultra-high efficiency photovoltaics. Read the 2014 project summaries here.
Startup companies that have grown out of the program include Imprint Energy, whose founders met in C2M; Slice Energy; CinderBio; Point Source Power; and Building Robotics, whose founder is a C2M alum.
C2M was piloted by the Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative (BERC), and is now run out of the Energy Institute at Haas. Read more on the program
Photo above, from left to right: Modular roofing team members Shaila Narang, MBA 15; Caitlin Touchberry, MS Development Practice 15; Liz Lowe and Dan Wong, MBA 15; Heather Buckley, PhD Chemistry 14; and London Business School exchange student Charlotte Rhodes, MBA 15