Balancing science and business: Competition highlights clean energy commercialization
This week, the University of Minnesota will be represented in the national EnergyTech UP competition by a student team who created a business and technology proposal for improving the sustainability of the lithium-ion battery industry. Six student teams enrolled in the Pathways to Renewable Energy class created project proposals that leverage U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory-developed and other high-potential energy technologies. These business plans were submitted to a regional EnergyTech UP competition, where they were assessed on identification of an energy technology, assessment of market potential, and proposal strategy for commercialization. We reached out to Gavin Fuchs, a sophomore majoring in Neuroscience and Spanish Studies and minoring in Political Science and the spokesperson for the project heading to nationals, to find out more about student experiences leading up to the competition.
When asked about the project proposal, Fuchs explained that their project is “focused on commercializing a new way to recycle lithium ion batteries,” and that it “will aid in the transition to clean energy by increasing sustainability in the lithium ion battery recycling industry.”
Because this project was included as a part of the curriculum in Pathways to Renewable Energy, students had the opportunity to access resources that the University of Minnesota offers through Carlson School of Management, as well as advice and support from Beth Mercer-Taylor, Uwe Kortshagen, and Sarah Komoroski, the class instructors. Fuchs expressed how much the project enabled them to think differently that they normally would as STEM students. “It [was] tempting to focus on the science… it was challenging to find the right balance between science and business,” Fuchs told IonE, “It gave me a better understanding on what it actually means to commercialize a project, and provided me with new perspectives.”
Fuchs said that it is “important for students to get involved in work like this, because work like this is the future. Students like us have the opportunity to create a more sustainable and more equitable future.”
In an effort to support the students in the EnergyTech UP competition, Grid Catalyst hosted the northern plains regional competition on February 16th, 2022. Grid Catalyst connects startup clean energy businesses to a network of partners and enables them to achieve market deployment. Nina Axelson, the founder of Grid Catalyst, said it is “important that we create more access points for students in both STEM and other disciplines to develop solutions that are technical, financially viable, and solve problems for people and communities.”
Axelson said that their mission “to create equitable pathways for innovators and entrepreneurs in energy and our network of partners in higher education and the energy industry” was the reason they were selected to host, and that they were excited to be involved, as the program “shares our interest in developing innovation potential for more students in a wider set of disciplines.”
The project was a collaborative opportunity between academia, business, non-profits, and governments, something that students do not always have the chance to practice in class. When asked about the importance of these collaborative opportunities to advancing the transition to renewable energy, Axelson told IonE that it is important to “work outside of our own industry to solve these bigger infrastructure and system problems” and that without this cross-sector work, “we will have ideas and solutions that never leave the lab.” She hopes that there are more programs like EnergyTech UP where students are exposed to the role of being an inventor or a founder. “If we embed this thinking within students, they are much more likely to be creative and nimble thinkers once they enter their careers.”
To find out more about the EnergyTech UP competition, visit www.herox.com/EnergyTechUP.
To watch the student pitches on March 24 from 10AM to 4PM CT, register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/energytech-up-national-pitch-finals-tickets-266352757267.
Rupsa Raychaudhuri is a junior at the University of Minnesota, majoring in Political Science and Economics, with a minor in Psychology.