Energy Tech Leaders Take to the National Stage at DOE Pitch Competition

The Polsky Center’s Ozge Guney-Altay, director of Resurgence, was a judge for the regional EnergyTech UP competition, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Technology Transitions in partnership with American-Made Challenges.

>> UPDATE: Team Rise Reforming from the University of Chicago took First Place at the event and was awarded $50,000.

Teams from the University of Chicago and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation will be pitching at an upcoming national event, the EnergyTech University Prize (EnergyTech UP).

Finalist teams will compete for more than $400,000 in cash prizes during the Energy Thought Summit in Austin, Texas, on April 15.

Featured among them are three undergraduate students from the University of Chicago who connected as molecular engineering majors at the College – with a common interest in waste reprocessing sparked after a talk from Argonne researcher, Amgad Elgowainy.

George Rose, who has worked as an undergraduate researcher in the Patel Group, cofounded Rise Reforming with his classmates Lucas Zubillaga Maharg, BS ’25, a former research assistant in the Gagliardi Group and intern at Argonne National Lab, and Jona van Oord, BS ’26.

The idea for the startup all began with an email from the College promoting the work of Cafer Yavuz, now one of Rise’s advisors – specifically his novel NiMoCat, a catalyst for dry reforming. While he couldn’t make the talk, Rose reached out to Yavuz about the technology and has since spent time “digging in” to the reforming process.

The initial goal was to harness Yavuz’s breakthrough technology to reform landfill gas into valuable chemicals, but, as Rose explained, “by the fall it was clear that reforming plastics made more technical and economic sense.”

Now, the technology is focused on converting plastic waste into carbon-negative dimethyl ether (cnDME). “The process gasifies plastic waste, then dry reforms the resulting hydrocarbon gas into syngas, and upgrades the syngas to cnDME, our product,” said Rose.

With a primary target market of renewable fuels, Rose said the product when blended with liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) reduces the life-cycle emissions of a 20/80 DME/LPG blend by 62% compared to pure LPG. “Furthermore, given this blend possesses an energy density competitive with that of diesel and gasoline, cnDME can play a major role in decarbonizing the transportation industry,” he added.

After pitching in the national finals of the EnergyTech UP, the team will focus on patenting and demonstrating the process at the lab scale. The hope is that a successful lab-scale demonstration will garner interest and the funds needed to build a pilot module.

Also among the finalists selected to pitch next week is Blaze Power, a participant in Cohort 1 of Resurgence, the Polsky Center’s cleantech accelerator. The startup is championing the power of lithium manganese iron phosphate (LMFP) and iron-based cathodes – advancing sustainability with next-gen battery materials.

“28 teams out of the 225 that competed in the regionals will be pitching in the nationals. This is no small accomplishment. We have two seats reserved for this great opportunity,” said Ozge Guney-Altay, Polsky Center’s Resurgence Director.

Guney-Altay was invited to be a judge for one of the EnergyTech UP regional competitions, representing the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes regional competition was hosted by Evergreen Climate Ventures, which has been a supportive ecosystem partner for Resurgence since before its launch last year.

“It was a great experience to hear the next generation of clean energy leaders talk about their passion projects,” said Guney-Altay.

EnergyTech UP is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Technology Transitions (OTT) in partnership with American-Made Challenges.

The DOE’s American-Made program fast-tracks clean energy innovation through prizes, training, mentoring, and cross-sector collaboration. Part of this program, the Making Advanced Technology Commercialization Harmonized (Lab MATCH) prize also recently announced its Phase 1 winners, including Leaf Automation, a participant in Cohort 3 of the Polsky Center’s data science and AI accelerator, Transform.

Leaf Automation is developing next-generation AI-enhanced CAD plugins that expedite and optimize the design of commercial electrical and mechanical systems. On its application for the prize – a competition matching US National Lab IP with startups for commercialization – Leaf Automation listed IP from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The IP for projecting the financial performance of a given PV solar system would be used to build out the startup’s current PV design automation software, Branch, noted CEO and founder Evan Haug.

// Resurgence, in partnership with the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, and Transform, in partnership with the Data Science Institute, are housed within the new Deep Tech Ventures initiative at the Polsky Center. A full-spectrum venture support initiative, Deep Tech Ventures is dedicated to translating deep tech innovations into startups that bring life-saving, world-changing products and services to market. 

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