Seven entrepreneurs will embark on a two-year fellowship as the seventh cohort of Innovation Crossroads kicks off this month at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Representing a range of transformative energy technologies, Cohort 7 is a diverse class of innovators with promising new companies.

New to Innovation Crossroads’ sponsorship this year are DOE’s Office of Electricity and Office of Science Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, which join DOE’s Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office, DOE’s Building Technologies Office, and the Tennessee Valley Authority in developing the next generation of impactful energy companies. Innovation Crossroads is one of four DOE Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Programs.

"Innovation Crossroads startups have collectively raised more than $170 million in follow-on funding and are responsible for the creation of 140 jobs," said Susan Hubbard, ORNL deputy for science and technology. "Energy technology entrepreneurship is difficult, but our alumni companies are seeing their hard work pay off. It will be exciting to experience the new ideas and energy of Cohort 7 as they build upon the recent momentum of Innovation Crossroads."

Cohort 7 fellows, their companies and sponsors include:

Md “Arif” Arifuzzaman, Re-Du, is sponsored by the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office. To combat the widespread problem of plastic waste, Arifuzzaman invented an effective organocatalyst that can convert various types of plastics — such as those used to make bottles, carpets, textiles, packaging and foams — into marketable chemicals. Effective recycling of plastic waste into useful chemicals will lessen the need for fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions created in new plastics production. Arifuzzaman is a former postdoctoral research associate in ORNL’s Chemical Sciences Division.

Shantonio Birch, ThermoVerse, is sponsored by the Building Technologies Office. ThermoVerse has developed a large-area thermoelectric cooling, heating and energy storage system, or LATCHES, that can address energy inefficiencies in older buildings. The grid-interactive energy retrofit aims to make homes smarter and more resilient to the threats of extreme temperatures while reducing energy consumption and maximizing comfort for building occupants. Birch is an alumnus of the National GEM Consortium and held a GEM fellowship at ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source in 2019.

Sarah Jordan, Skuld, is sponsored by the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office. Skuld is creating a manufacturing process called additive manufacturing evaporative casting, or AMEC, which joins the capabilities of lost foam casting and 3D printing of polymers. Lost foam casting is an evaporative process that creates complex metal parts. Compared with other AM processes, AMEC is faster, can create larger parts with precision tolerances, is less expensive and has known microstructures for ease of part qualification. Skuld has a Department of Defense Small Business Innovation Research project to demonstrate AMEC in aluminum and an America Makes project to develop the process for Inconel alloys.

Daniel Lee, Perseus Materials, is sponsored by the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office. Growth of the wind energy market is throttled by slow turbine blade production, challenging offshore blade installation, limited blade lifetimes and the emerging problem of blade disposal. Perseus Materials aims to adapt its recent innovations in polymer chemistry to a new additive manufacturing method for rapid, on-site fabrication of recyclable wind turbine blades, which cannot be achieved with current AM materials and methods.

Manas Pathak, EarthEn, is sponsored by the Office of Electricity. EarthEn develops long-duration energy storage using carbon dioxide in a closed loop to potentially store more than 100 hours of energy in a low-cost, highly scalable and safe manner with a lifetime of over 30 years. EarthEn’s software tools leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimize peak demand pricing, enable grid resiliency and increase the grid’s cybersecurity.

Marouane Salhi, Qubit Engineering, is sponsored by the Office of Science and TVA. Qubit Engineering has developed quantum optimization algorithms for the design of wind farms for energy generation. The complexity of windfarm designs make site evaluation a challenging task for currently used numerical methods. The company’s core technology, based on the implementation of hybrid classical-quantum optimization algorithms, is also applicable to the complexities inherent in electric grid management such as outage scheduling, siting and power dispatch. Salhi was an ORNL postdoctoral research fellow from 2016 to 2018.

Ryan Spencer, ThermaMatrix, is sponsored by the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office. ThermaMatrix has developed a novel optical technique to characterize a range of materials. This technology, laser-digital-image-correlation, or LDIC, is used to heat a localized area of a material and monitor the corresponding thermal expansion with microscale resolution. With the technology packaged inside a small unit that can be attached to a robotic gantry system, LDIC is able to measure intrinsic material properties and perform defect detection with scalability and cost effectiveness. Spencer is a former IACMI – The Composites Institute graduate research assistant and worked at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility.

Innovation Crossroads leverages ORNL’s unique scientific resources and capabilities and connects innovators with experts, mentors and networks in technology-related fields to take world-changing ideas from research and development to the marketplace.

Through an annual national call and competitive stage-gate process, top entrepreneurial-minded innovators are selected to join the program. Selected innovators receive a fellowship that includes a stipend, along with health insurance and a travel allowance, a cooperative research and development agreement at ORNL and comprehensive mentoring assistance to build a sustainable business model.

By embedding the next generation of top technical talent within ORNL, Innovation Crossroads positions entrepreneurial researchers to address fundamental energy and manufacturing challenges identified by industry.

About our sponsors

The Tennessee Valley Authority is the nation’s largest public power supplier, delivering energy to 10 million people across seven southeastern states. TVA was established 90 years ago to serve this region and the nation by developing innovative solutions to solve complex challenges.

DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, or EERE, is accelerating the research, development, demonstration and deployment of technologies and solutions to support President Biden’s ambitious plan to transition America to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide by 2050. EERE manages the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office and the Building Technologies Office.

DOE’s Office of Electricity is building a 21st century electric grid to power our communities, ensuring that low-cost clean energy is available to support and improve the lives of all Americans.

The DOE Office of Science’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research program discovers, develops and deploys computational and networking capability to analyze, model, simulate and predict complex phenomena important to DOE and the advancement of science.