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Honors and Awards

Northwestern Student Start-up Wins National Award in Cleantech Open

SiNode, a start-up spun out of Northwestern’s NUvention: Energy course, commercializes energy storage solutions for batteries

Members of SiNode, a start-up founded by students in Northwestern's NUvention: Energy course

SiNode LLC, a clean tech start-up created by students at Northwestern University, won a national award November 9 at the national 2012 Cleantech Open Global Forum, the world’s largest clean tech business accelerator program.

Held this year in San Jose, California, the Cleantech Open fosters entrepreneurs who are addressing urgent energy, sustainability, and environmental problems; its annual Global Forum showcase is billed as the “Academy Awards” of clean tech. Approximately 25 teams competed at the forum for $250,000 in investments and in-kind services.

At the Global Forum, SiNode won the top prize in the Energy Efficiency category, allowing them to compete for a $250,000 grand prize at the same event. The grand prize went to electric motor company HEVT.

SiNode has commercialized an anode for lithium-ion batteries that allows the battery to charge more quickly and hold a charge 10 times longer than current technology. The anode — which was developed in the laboratory of Harold Kung, professor of chemical and biological engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering — could find applications in smart phones and electric vehicles.

“The lithium-ion battery is a marvel of science and technology but also has a number of shortcomings,” said SiNode team member Joshua Lau. “With the proliferation of portable devices and electric vehicles, we've seen some less-than-elegant ways of addressing these problems. There is plenty of room for innovation in this space.”

Kung and the SiNode team began working together through an energy entrepreneurship course offered by the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN). In NUvention: Energy, interdisciplinary teams of student from numerous Northwestern undergraduate and graduate programs work on commercialization plans for early-stage energy products, technologies, or services. Kung’s battery technology has been assigned to a NUvention: Energy project team for the past three years.  

This year, team SiNode — including graduate students Lau and Thomas Yu of McCormick’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Guy Peterson, Samir Mayekar, and Nishit Mehta of the Kellogg School of Management — took the technology from the bench to the pitch circuit. As a result, SiNode has been a finalist of the Midwest Clean Energy Challenge, the First Look West (FLOW) Clean Energy Challenge, and won a $20,000 National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators (NCIAA) award.

The team began its successful run at the Cleantech Open on October 19, when it was one of three Midwest finalists selected at the North Central regional competition in Minneapolis. That win came with $20,000 in cash and services.

SiNode is currently pursuing funding from government and private institutions and “navigating the treacherous waters of intellectual property protection,” Lau said. With stringent safety and performance requirements for battery manufacturers, much research must be conducted before commercial production can begin.

Another Northwestern cleantech start-up, NuMat Technologies, won the first-ever U.S. Department of Energy National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition in June. The company, which designs high-performance materials to separate and store gases for cleantech applications, has won more than $1 million in cash and in-kind services from business plan competitions this year, and is currently part of a $1.5 million Department of Energy grant to develop new adsorbents for low-pressure natural gas vehicles.