Intelligent Energy

The most innovative companies so far this year

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As part of its quarterly review of innovation, Lux Research has picked 10 companies that have compelling tech and business models.

Google-backed Transphorm Energy and biomass-to-fuels tech company Amyris were among the top 10 most innovative firms in the first quarter of 2012, according to Lux Research.

The Boston-based research firm profiled 328 companies across 15 different emerging technology domains that are posied to impact global megatrends like sustainable energy and infrastructure, materials revolutions and health and wellness. Analysts at Lux Research identify each quarter the 10 most compelling companies and provide a bottom-line assessment of its prospect. Companies are given a rating, such as "strong caution," strong positive" or "wait and see," for those that face too much uncertainty for a definitive call.

The top 10 are listed below. Keep an eye out for these companies, one of which landed in my 7 startups to watch forecast.

1. Transphorm (wait and see rating)

The company has developed a power conversion module that uses semiconductor device material gallium nitride -- and not the more commonly used silicon -- to limit power losses that occur whenever electricity from the grid is converted into usable electric power. Last year, Transphorm and Enphase Energy received $3.6 million to develop a cost effective, high efficiency solar inverter to limit power waste.

2. Zyvex Technologies (positive rating)

The Columbus, Ohio-based company makes nanomaterials that can be used in labs and finished products. For example, the company developed the Piranha, an unmanned boat that's 400 percent more fuel efficient than similar models, thanks to the verssel's ultra-lightweight nano-enhanced body.

Lux gave Zyvex positive marks for its savvy business strategy and noted that its one of the few developers to successfully commercialize structural nanocomposites.

3. Clearford Industries (positive rating)

The Canadian company has created an easy-to-install distributed wastewater treatment system that it claims can provide the same performance at a significant lower cost when compared to historic gravity sewers.

4. Accelergy (positive rating)

Accelergy has developed catalytic coal-to-liquid and gas-to-liquid technologies that convert cheap, available feedstocks into jet fuel and diesel. The company is testing its CTL tech in China.

5. Cbrite (positive rating)

The printed electronics company uses novel metal oxide semiconductor materials that could liberate flat-panel displays from dependence on silicon.

6. Amyris (positive rating)

I thought this pick was interesting because the California-based company, which uses genetic engineering to convert biomass into chemicals, fuels and lubricants, recently announced a major management shakeup, revised its production and cash flow targets. The company's share price has dropped from a high of $30.78 to as low as $2.61.

Despite, its plunging stock price, Lux analysts contend that Amyris still tops the list of bio-based innovators, noting that its biosynthetically produced farnesene readily converts into products relevant to cosmetics, flavorings and diesel-compatible fuels. Lux believes the company's real challenges aren't its tech, but slack demand. the research company also warned that scaling up can present any number of problems, even if a company's approach is conservative.

7. Global Solar (wait and see rating)

Global Solar is a makes flexible thin-film solar modules made out of copper indium gallium diselenide (or CIGS) materials. Last month, the Tucson, Ariz.-based company said it was planning to sell its portable solar products division. The company said at the time it wants to focus on growing its photovoltaic market.

8. Liquid Metal Battery (wait and see rating)

The startup is working to commercialize liquid metal battery technology it invented at MIT for cheap, grid-scale energy storage. The secret to the high-temperature batteries are its liquid components that naturally settle into distinct layers because of their different densities.

9. Encap Drug Delivery (positive rating)

The company makes liquid and semi-solid capsules for poorly soluble drugs, potent drugs that require special facilities and biologics.

10. Controlled Power Technologies (wait and see rating)

The company, founded in 2007 by senior automotive execs, develops and supplies technology designed to improve fuel consumption and emissions in vehicles. Lux noted that its system doesn't use expensive rare earth magnets and can use cheaper cooling systems.

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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