A Stanford student-run startup, C3Nano, last week took home a $200,000 cash grant at M.I.T.’s annual Clean Energy Entrepreneurship Competition for its development of a new proprietary transparent electrode material.
Ajay Virkar, a doctoral student in chemical engineering, is one of the students who founded C3Nano earlier this year. The team was also led by Melbs LeMieux, another chemical engineering doctoral student.
Virkar was pleased with both the results of the competition and the exposure the start-up gained to potential investors in Boston and the Bay Area.
The thin-film technology developed by C3Nano has the potential to be used in a variety of applications, including touch-screens and photovoltaic solar cells. There are numerous other companies already competing in this technology space, which Virkar estimated has a $5 billion value.
The Stanford team is confident, however, that its product will be a viable competitor. C3Nano’s material is cheaper to produce than what is currently on the market because it can be created at relatively low temperatures. At the same time, the material is more malleable and less breakable than what is currently used for touch-screens in products like the iPhone.
The technology introduced by C3Nano is also considered to be “green.” Virkar said that the “materials are about 10 percent more transparent, allowing increased efficiency of solar cells.” The film allows more light to enter the photovoltaic cell, lowering the predicted cost of generating energy anywhere from five cents to ten cents per watt.
Chemical engineering Prof. Zhenan Bao, another founder of the company, pointed out additional ways in which the technology can be used.
“One can also use this kind of coding for antistatic coding or antifogging coding for windows in cars,” Bao said.
Antistatic coding is used to make bags for electronic products that remove any electrostatic charges built up in the shipping process.
Virkar is set to finish his thesis in the coming week, after which he and the other cofounders “can focus on looking into [their] options more thoroughly and carefully,” Bao said.
The group submitted its business plan for developing the technology to the M.I.T. competition. Thus far the team has created a prototype, which is about the size of an iPhone touch-screen, and has successfully integrated the technology into working solar cells. Moving forward, they will be looking to scale up production and use their material in commercial products.
The annual, student-run contest at M.I.T. is designed to fund and provide networking resources for clean technology initiatives and entrepreneurs across the country. It attracted more than 60 teams competing in three different rounds this year.
The competition was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy; the Boston utility company NStar awarded the cash prize. The competition also provided opportunities to network with interested venture capitalists, several of whom served on the judging panels.
C3Nano’s fellow finalists included companies that make nano-engineered and environmentally friendly concrete, devices used to adjust electrical supply for large buildings based on need, compression technology for producing natural gas more cost-effectively and a digital lock system for community bicycles.