It started back in 2005, when two EEs who wanted to somehow advance green technology but didn’t have money to invest or a big company behind them decided to hold a contest. They called it the CleanTech Open, and rounded up $500,000 in prizes. It was mostly a local thing, with teams of California entrepreneurs entering business plans.
But in five years it has turned into the Academy Awards of green technology, complete with sealed envelopes and acceptance speeches. (See video, below).
This year 271 teams entered regional competitions; the regions sent 18 teams to the national finals. And though the competition continues to be held in California, the home field no longer seems to have any advantage.
The winner, Puralytics is from Beaverton, Oregon—the first time a company won from outside of California. Puralytics developed a technology that removes contaminants like petroleum byproducts, pesticides, or microorganisms from water using multiple wavelengths of light generated by LEDs.
Puralytics may have captured the judges’ hearts (and $250,000 in prizes), but the audience at the awards, made up of other competitors and industry notables, was enamored with Silicon Solar Solutions. Silicon Solar, from Fayetteville, Ariz., developed a process for crystallizing amorphous silicon into large-grain polysilicon almost instantly. Solar cells built from the large grain material, the company says, are much more efficient than traditional cells.
A complete list of winners in all categories and regional finalists is available here.
The 2011 competition kicks off on 3 March 2011.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.