Materials Innovation in Clean Tech

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FountainBlue’s December 5 Clean Energy Entrepreneurs’ Forum was on the topic of Materials Innovations in Clean Tech. Below are notes from the conversation.
Our panelists spoke passionately about the opportunities for materials innovation, and how it can change clean energy offerings that are both practical and affordable for customers like utilities, corporations, manufacturers and homeowners.
Below are some thoughts on the opportunities ahead for materials innovation in clean tech:
• Develop materials and solutions which would help manage the peaks and valleys brought by renewable energy getting into the grid. This will become increasingly important.
• In the same token, develop materials innovations which fit within existing infrastructure and even make the infrastructure more flexible, more scalable.
• Consider automating basic, needed services which use fewer resources, like anything from window-cleaning to car and battery maintenance.
• Use plentiful, inexpensive, proven materials and scale manufacturing and development using these materials.
• Consider developing solutions which are closer to the ‘load’, where the customer demand is greatest. This may mean many micro- solutions for energy management.
• Adapt current materials which make products smaller, lighter, and more durable under extreme conditions, and its applications in the clean energy space.
Below is advice from our experienced panelists:
• Our panelists cautioned entrepreneurs about investing *too* much time and money into the development of a novel, groundbreaking material, and suggested instead to look at proven materials and adapting them to new purposes, to new markets, using new geometries, new manufacturing processes, new composites/combinations, etc. Not only would doing so decrease the likelihood of creating a product or service more quickly for a proven market and paying customer, but it would also be easier to seek funding and partnerships.
• Develop processes and solutions which would make production of your materials cost-effectively, so that you reach grid parity and customers would get the ROI.
• Make it easy for customers to select your solution, changing from their current option. People want to be earth-friendly, but the financial commitment up-front and the technical/hassle-factor is a hurdle to adopting ‘cleaner’ options.
• Leverage partnerships with academics, entrepreneurs, corporates, etc and collaborate to develop new solutions, distribute them to new markets and channels, etc
• Know your area of specialty and work with others to create win-win partnerships for everything from development to manufacturing to distribution and funding.
• Know your market and sell to your market. Prioritize which markets you will sell to when and know why.
• Provide offerings which could withstand extreme conditions – weather, heat, chemicals, etc. and also last for long periods of time, like a decade or two.
• Follow basic business principles: have a great idea and prove it through measurable outcomes based on aggressive milestones and timelines.
• Consider aerospace and military applications for your materials innovation.
• Collaborate to influence policy to be more friendly to innovations in this space.
• Have your finger on market pulse and focus on the needs and feedback of your customers.

In the end, entrepreneurs who will succeed in this space will focus more on incremental innovations than on creating/identifying a game-changing new material, more about business models than on ‘rocket science’, more about producing real value to paying customers and scaling to meet the current and anticipated needs of a global marketplace.

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We would like to thank our speakers for FountainBlue’s December 5 Clean Energy Entrepreneurs’ Forum on the topic of Materials Innovations in Clean Tech:
Facilitator Jill Weir, Product Manager, TE Connectivity
Panelist Scott Elrod, Vice President, Director of Hardware Systems Laboratory, PARC
Panelist Alissa Peterson, Director, Product Marketing and Business Development, Primus Power
Presenting Entrepreneur Phillip Roberts, CEO and Founder, Ionex Energy Storage Systems Inc.
Please join us also in thanking our hosts at PARC.

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