Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster Announces Winning Teams from South Atlantic Region in 2023 EnergyTech University Prize

The University of Virginia’s team ReLi was selected as the regional winner from twelve student teams for their business plan on sustainable lithium-ion battery recycling, and Biocharm was selected as the national winner for Fossil Energy & Carbon Management with a process to reduce CO2 emissions from concrete using biochar. Five other student teams from regional universities were chosen as bonus prize finalists for their ideas to commercialize innovative energy technologies.

RALEIGH, N.C. (March 16, 2023) – The Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC), a not-for-profit organization leveraging the unique concentration of industry, academic, and government leaders in the Research Triangle to accelerate growth and leadership of the cleantech economy across North Carolina and beyond, announced the winners in the South Atlantic Region of the EnergyTech University Prize (EnergyTech UP) competition. An initiative of the Office of Technology Transitions at the U.S. Department of Energy, the competition awards total cash prizes of $370,000 at regional and national levels. Twelve student teams from universities across the South Atlantic region were evaluated for their efforts to identify an innovative energy technology, assess its market potential, and propose a strategy for commercialization.

The overall winner of the regional competition was a team from The University of Virginia, team ReLi, for developing a business plan for the sustainable recycling of lithium-ion batteries. ReLi developed a commercialization strategy for a low-energy, low chemical consumption process to recover critical materials, including lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese, from lithium-ion batteries using sustainable, electrochemically-assisted separation methods. The students of team ReLi were awarded a $3,000 cash prize and will go on to compete at the EnergyTech University Prize National Pitch Event at the 2023 Energy Thought Summit in Austin, TX on April 2, 2023. The finalists will compete for a share of $100,000 in prizes funded by OTT.

“As the demand for lithium-ion batteries increases, so does the need to recycle all components of the battery, including the lithium, aluminum, manganese, and other organic compounds in addition to the most lucrative components of cobalt, copper, and nickel. The ability to recycle these metals will reduce the need for mining, dependence on foreign sources, and the impact on the environment,” explained Caroline Morin, UVA’s team ReLi Team Captain.

“Participating in the EnergyTech UP competition introduced us to the DOE’s strong emphasis on technology transfer and many of the tools and resources invested in translating both their own technologies and high impact energy research across the board. Speaking for our team, it has also motivated collaboration between graduate engineering students and business students, combining our respective inspirations and expertise. We are incredibly excited to learn about lithium-ion battery recycling specifically, an industry on the precipice of rapid growth in the next decade.”

In addition, a team from Appalachian State University was awarded the national Bonus Prize in the Fossil Energy & Carbon Management category, earning a $25,000 cash awardTeam Biocharm presented their business plan for “Pursuit of Carbon Negative Concrete,” in which they advance a process that uses biochar from wood and food waste as a supplementary material to replace the use of cement in concrete. Leasing land from landfills to manufacture biochar from onsite wood and food waste enables users to gain carbon credits.

“The concrete industry is responsible for 8% of global emissions, primarily due to cement. But when biochar is used as a supplement for cement, it has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions from concrete by 44.5%,” said Daniel Rose, App State’s Team Biocharm Team Captain. “Manufacturing biochar at landfills, while leveraging on-site wood and food, can reduce tons of CO2 in both the waste and construction industries.”

In addition to the overall Regional Winner and the national Bonus Prize winner in the Fossil Energy & Carbon Management category, five other South Atlantic university teams were selected as Bonus Prize finalists and evaluated by several DOE Technology. The following teams were selected:

• Buildings – Efficient Solar Hybrid PV/Thermal Panel & System, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, for their innovative cooling system for solar photovoltaic and thermal panels that increases their efficiency. Their system integrates a heat pumping function into the solar / thermal panels to make them more efficient, with lower surface area, and advances the attainment of net zero performance.

• Electricity/Grid Enhancing Technologies: Edenic Energy, DeVry University, The University of Texas, and Northern Virginia Community College, for their predictive analytic software focused on helping outdated buildings and commercial spaces decarbonize and maximize their energy and operational efficiency through IoT devices to identify, design, and manage energy efficient projects in underserved communities, providing these communities with access to cleaner, cheaper, and more efficient electricity.

• National Lab Technology IP LicensingReLi – Sustainable Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling, The University of Virginia, for their low-energy, low chemical consumption process to recover critical materials, including lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese, from lithium-ion batteries using sustainable, electrochemically assisted separation methods.

• SolarReCon: Circuit Reconfiguration BIPV Technology, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, for their innovative building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) technology that increases electricity generation by 90% under partial shading conditions. They are working with BIPV and building material manufacturers to develop a commercially adaptable ReCon BIPV system that can be easily integrated with traditional building assembly techniques.

• Water PowerWater Ram Pump, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, for their innovative water ram pumping technology that employs a proven “water hammer” effect to pump water uphill without using electricity, providing an environmentally friendly, efficient solution to help pumped water storage facilities reduce energy consumption and minimize environmental impacts.

A link to the virtual presentation is here:

“The EnergyTech UP competition is an outstanding opportunity for RTCC to meet two of our core strategic goals—facilitating the development, commercialization, and deployment of innovative clean technologies and business models and helping to build the talent pipeline that we need for our clean energy transition,” said Dr. Deb Wojcik, Executive Director of RTCC. “The EnergyTech University Prize competition presents an outstanding opportunity to connect industry with the next generation of cleantech leaders and support creative ideas for commercialization of technologies critical to the clean energy transition. RTCC congratulates all the participants for presenting innovative business models for energy solutions that have the potential to make a real impact on our sustainable energy future.”

About Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC)
The mission of the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC) is to accelerate growth and leadership of the cleantech economy, leveraging the unique concentration of industry, academic, and government leaders in the Research Triangle to create benefits through innovation, deployment, and talent in the region, North Carolina, and beyond.

About the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Technology Transitions
The mission of the Office of Technology Transitions (OTT) is to expand the public impact of the department’s research and development (R&D) portfolio to advance the economic, energy, and national security interests of the nation. As the front door to DOE’s products, facilities, and expertise, OTT integrates “market pull” into its planning to ensure the greatest return on investment from DOE’s R&D activities to the taxpayer.

For more information, contact:
Dr. Deb Wojcik
Executive Director
Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster

Media contact:
Chris Burke
BtB Marketing Communications

Press Releases