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Energy Competitors Bringing Cleaner Engines, Off-Grid Power Solutions and More to Challenge Festival

When it comes to sustainability, the energy industry is relatively young—with plenty of room for growth. Our Challenge Cup winners prove that there is a lot of potential for unique innovation in the field, but we noticed a few major trends during our Challenge Cup tour.

Here are the trends you’ll see among the energy and sustainability competitors at Challenge Festival:

  1. They’re changing the way we work with liquids. These startups are cleaning up the act when it comes to using liquids for energy—from cooking oil to wastewater.

In Amman, we met Tagaddod, a company that gets its name from the Arabic word for “renewable energy.” This Cairo-based startup is tackling a major problem their neighbors have with pouring oil down their sinks’ drains by using waste cooking oil for the production and export of biodiesel. Aquanos of Tel Aviv also deals with waste—wastewater, in this case. The startup uses microalgae to produce the oxygen required for aerobic wastewater treatment. The unique wastewater technology uses a fraction of the energy required by conventional wastewater treatment plants.

In Washington, D.C., BaseTrace pitched an idea for DNA-based tracers that show where industrial fluids are going in large, complex environments. The North Carolina-based startup creates a safer environment by making it easy to track leaks.

Meanwhile, another startup has developed solar boilers that displace industrial fossil fuel. Energy Guru SharperSun’s pitch for their technology that reduces industrial operating costs for more efficient heat energy took home the energy prize in Bangalore.


  1. They’re making commercial energy use more efficient. These startups have a passion for reducing energy waste and costs for consumers in residential buildings with simplified products and analytics.

In Beijing, we met Seeder—a marketplace that connects building managers with green contractors. These services enable buildings to save energy and access the incentives to help pay for improvements. Similarly, MODEBO uses analytics to offer efficiency and savings to buildings in a simple and affordable way. The Mexico City startup tracks trends in energy by studying data to improve international consumption.

San Francisco’s energy winner reduces heat waste in apartment buildings that use steam boilers. Radiator Labs developed a solution that regulates temperatures and reduces the amount of energy wasted while focusing on the comfort and control of inhabitants. WattBlock of Sydney, Australia, also offers a way for apartment buildings to save energy. WattBlock provides a roadmap that incorporates details about multi-tenant residential areas to make calculations about the buildings’ energy consumption. Then, they analyze the data to create reports that show users how to reduce spending by up to 70 percent.

For utility companies that struggle to make sense of data, Toronto’s GridCure provides a smart-grid analysis solution. The system is able to collect consumer utility data from smart meters, combine it with utility external data and return utilities insights.

  1. They’re providing power to off-grid people all over the world. These startups are putting an end to energy poverty by installing systems in low-income areas and making different forms of renewable energy more affordable.

Austin’s Lucelo Technologies uses low-cost printable solar cells to bring electrical power to places that couldn’t afford it otherwise. They turn everyday materials like plastic and paper into readily accessible micro power grid.

Startups also are supplying people with renewable energy for the first time ever. In Nairobi, we met PowerGen Renewable Energy, which installs kW-scale wind and solar power systems, solar water pumping systems, inverter/battery backup systems, LED lighting and solar water heating in countries like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Somalia. Yet another company is solving clean energy issues in rural Pakistan. EcoEnergy Finance provides relevant products in the off-grid villages through its deep distribution network.

  1. They’re powering cleaner machines. These innovations are making efforts to reduce pollution by focusing on efficiency in the way that engines work.

Based in Bogota, Colombia, Mexico City energy winner Orco Power created an additive that modifies crude oil to make it a practical replacement for diesel fuel in high RPM engines. This process that reduces energy costs by up to 75 percent won the energy prize in Boston. Meanwhile, in Dublin, we met Exergyn. This technology converts low-grade waste heat to power through an industrial engine that runs on hot water.


  1. They’re creating cleaner energy that we can all enjoy. Unlike other solutions that are tailored for niche customers, these are solutions that everyday customers can use to up their sustainability game.

Need caffeine? Who doesn’t? Miito of Berlin wants you to have your coffee and heat it efficiently, too: This startup has developed an electric kettle that only heats up as much liquid as needed. Through efficient design, the technology saves time and energy for those who have a habit of overfilling kettles.

In Chicago, we met a startup whose goal is make smart glass simple and affordable. SmarterShade allows users block out unwanted solar heat by controlling the shading on any average window. Finally, for homeowners who may be skeptical that there is any opportunity to save money through energy efficiency, Sealed guarantees savings. The New York startup’s partnering contractors install and maintain energy-saving home improvements.

Danica Smithwick

As a member of 1776’s editorial team, Danica Smithwick spends her time telling stories and communicating with others. She is a Union University and Washington Journalism Center student who loves…