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Cleantech pioneers: 10 companies that are changing the industry

Cleantech pioneers: 10 companies that are changing the industry

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Bloomberg New Energy Finance recognized 10 companies for their innovation in solar, energy storage and the smart grid. These companies and their game-changing technologies are worth watching.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance recently picked 10 cleantech companies that all share a common trait: they've developed innovative, proven tech that promises to change the energy industry. The energy pioneers were recognized this week at the fifth annual Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit in New York City.

The companies run the gamut of the cleantech industry from bioenergy and energy storage to electric vehicles, smart grid and solar. Companies didn't make the BNEF list on their game-changing tech alone. Only companies with a robust business model, momentum and potential to scale globally were deemed worthy.

Here's the list, with a handy little description of each company. These companies are worth watching.

Clean Power Finance: The company backed by venture capitalists Kleiner Perkins as as well as Google Ventures, has developed a software tool that helps solar installers provide financing to consumers.

Homeowners or commercial property owners who wanted to install solar on their rooftop used to have a chunk of cash readily available to cover the upfront costs. CPF essentially removes that barrier.

ECOtality: The San Francisco-based electric vehicle charging company has developed an software called The Blink Network that allows electric vehicle chargers to integrate with utilities and other third parties to help with data exchange, services, energy management, media communications, membership and payment programs.

Earlier this month, ABB invested $5 million in ECOtality and agreed to use the company's software for its electric vehicle charging systems. ABB previously invested $14 million into ECOtality.

Emefcy: The Israeli company has developed tech that uses an electrogenic bioreactor filled with naturall occurring bacteria to treat wastewater. The organix material found in the leftover waste can be used to produce power and treat water. In short, the company has found a way to generate electricity from wastewater treatment.

Conventional wastewater treatment that uses aerobic or anaerobic digestions is energy-intensive, expensive and emits a lot of carbon. The tech developed by Emefcy, pronounced M-F-C, not only helps operators cut costs, it gives them an opportunity to put power back on the grid. Last summer, Emefcy gained the financial support of Energy Technology Ventures, a joint venture by GE and NRG Energy and ConocoPhillips.

LanzaTech: The company, founded in 2005 and backed by investment company Khosla Ventures, has developed technology to use microbes to convert industrial gases like carbon monoxide into ethanol and other drop-in fuels. LanzaTech received a $3 million contract from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for an alcohol-to-jet fuel project and last November signed its first commercial customers -- Concord Enviro Systems in India -- to use its tech to produce power and fuels from municipal solid waste syngas.

The failed U.S. cellulosic ethanol company Range Fuels sold its only factory to LanzaTech for $5.1 million in January. As I wrote at the time, this was one helluva deal, considering Range Fuels received tens of millions in federal loan guarantees and grants to build a factory that never produced a single drop of next-gen fuel.

Maxwell Technologies Inc.: The San Diego-based company has developed and makers ultracapacitors that store energy in an electric field. The devices can quickly take in and release a charge and have a much longer lifecycle that lithium-ion batteries.

Last year, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded Maxwell Technlogies a $1.7 million contract to create a portable hybrid ultracapacitor energy storage device that soldiers can use to power radios, computer and other electronic equipment.

Silver Spring Networks: The smart grid networking company, which filed an IPO in July, is off to an auspicious start this year. The company landed in February Japanese industrial conglomerate Hitachi as a partner and potential investor. It also finalized a massive agreement with utility Commonwealth Edison to deploy its network to nearly 4 million homes and business.

Smarter Grid Solutions: The company has developer grid management software to help operators get the most out their existing assets. Its shaping up to be a critical tool for utilities trying to connect to renewable energy.

The company's applications manage power flow, manage urban network congestion caused by growth in demand and help utilities avoid or defer the need to reinforce the grid.

Tendril Networks: The Boulder, Colo.-based startup has developed home energy monitoring platform designed to help utilities balance demand, minimize operational costs and give customers tools to connect and manage devices in their home area network.

Earlier this year, the company kicked off a contest to encourage independent developers to design a killer smart grid app for its cloud-based management platform. The hope is that by opening up the platform to developers, innovative home-energy-related apps will emerge for customers and utilities. The end goal is a smart grid and smart home apps store, according to a statement from Tendril’s chief technology officer Kent Dickson.

Va-Q-Tec: Here's one company I've never heard. The Italian-based company makes high-performance vacuum-based insulation materials for industrial and consumer applications that it says provides up to 10 times better insulation than conventional materials.

Which just goes to show game-changing products can really happen in any space.

Xtreme Power Inc.: Renewable energy is variable, which creates problems for grid operators trying to maintain smooth power loads. Xtreme makes energy storage and power management systems designed to integrate large-scale renewable energy installations onto the grid.

Xtreme Power was picked to design, install and operate a 36-megawatt capacity system capable of storing electricity produced by Duke Energy's 153-megawatt Notrees wind farm in west Texas.

Photo: Flickr user Jeremy Levine Design

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure