Clean Technology Development Boosted by the 2008 Clean Tech Innovation Challenge

San Diego professors who are developing technologies that will fuel the continued growth of the region's "clean tech cluster" recently received a financial boost through the 2008 Clean Tech Innovation Challenge.

The Clean Tech Innovation Challenge is a partnership between the City of San Diego, UC San Diego's William J. von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism and San Diego State University (SDSU). The program is designed to accelerate the commercialization of clean technologies out of university labs as part of the city's goal to promote the growth of the local clean tech industry. Program participants include faculty from UC San Diego, SDSU, University of San Diego and Alliant International University. Qualcomm, Inc. co-sponsored the first grant awards.

"This Clean Tech initiative is an example of how the San Diego community, its universities, local government and the private sector can join forces to create economic growth in the region around technology sectors," said Rosibel Ochoa, the von Liebig Center's acting executive director.

Researchers from UC San Diego and SDSU will receive funding and additional assistance to develop and commercialize new solar technologies, unique ways to convert waste heat to electricity, and novel methods of extracting biodiesel from algae.

The following is a brief description of the Clean Tech Innovation Challenge winners and their projects:

Paul Yu, Electrical and Computer Engineering professor, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering
Multiple Quantum Wells for Solar Spectral Concentrator and Optical Energy Transport Technology: In this project, Paul Yu is working on developing new solar-power technologies. In particular, Yu is developing an efficient solar spectral concentrator that will serve as the key component of a technology for transforming a broad-spectral width solar beam into optical energy that can be massively transported via optical fibers to user locations. The solar spectral concentrator can potentially advance the current generation of solar energy collection. Today's photovoltaic (PV) systems are often based upon directly converting solar energy directly into electrical energy. Yu's technology, in contrast, would enable efficient transport and distribution of energy in optical form before final conversion and usage. This will allow for flexible yet direct use of solar energy, and will take advantage of any advances in PV systems. Once established as an alternate way to power up the utilities using solar energy, this proposed technology could be employed broadly world wide.

Yu Qiao, Structural Engineering professor, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering
Developing Ultrahigh-Efficiency Thermal-Energy Harvesting Materials: In this proposed project Qiao and his team are developing unique ways to convert waste heat to electricity by using a nanoporous system. A nanoporous material is a solid that contains nanometer sized pores. This technique re-investigates a mechanism that has long been over-looked and uses it to convert wasted heat to electricity with high efficiency and high power density. The specific goals of this project are to perform comprehensive characterization experiments on nanoporous systems under various conditions; to develop a prototype that can harvest useful electricity from ambient temperature; and to develop a presentation and demonstration set for potential partners, investors, customers, and/or licensees.

John J. Love, Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, San Diego State University
Bio-diesel from Cell Membranes: Utilizing Protein Design to Re-Engineer Natural Enzymes for the Extraction of Biodiesel from Cell Membranes: The goal of this project is to process biodiesel from algae. Biodiesel production entails the use of significant amounts of energy for heating, as well as the use of harsh chemicals such as strong bases and/or lye. Love and his team propose to eliminate these costly needs by re-engineering natural protein enzymes such that they efficiently extract fatty acids from membranes and chemically convert them to fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs), the primary molecules in biodiesel. Examples of membrane sources include bacteria or yeast grown on sugar (glucose) as an energy source or micro-algae grown by way of photosynthesis.

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