Innovators Are Embedded at Argonne

By Jared Sagoff

Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI), the Midwest’s first entrepreneurship program to embed innovators in a national laboratory. Has selected its first members and mentor partners More than 100 innovators from 22 states applied for the opportunity to participate in the first cohort based at) Argonne National Laboratory and funded through the DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office.

CRI is a new initiative at Argonne to accelerate the development of sustainable and energy-efficient technologies and drive manufacturing growth by helping startups and innovators reduce development costs and risks.

The first cohort will focus on the following technologies and goals:

  • Felipe Gomez del Campo, Ohio – Aerospace industryDecrease the operating cost of jet engines by designing a new fuel nozzle that uses plasma-assisted combustion to burn fuel more efficiently during flight and idling.
  • Ian Hamilton, Indiana – Recycling and energy generation industriesCreate new long-lived, lightweight weather-independent power by recycling the by-product of nuclear waste decay to create electricity. This would reduce the need for nuclear waste storage and create a new power source.
  • Tyler Huggins and Justin Whiteley, Colorado – Recycling and energy storage industries: Reduce expensive wastewater treatment costs and create a cheaper manufacturing process for high-performance carbon products. This will be accomplished by using wastewater to grow fungus to create tunable carbon-based products, such as battery electrodes.
  • Chad Mason, Michigan – Transportation and energy generation industries: Decrease the cost of fuel cells by eliminating the need for the electrolytes to act as electronic insulators, which will decrease water management costs. Development of a low-temperature solid-state fuel cell to open the door for new applications for electrochemical devices.

“Chain Reaction Innovations, with the support of Argonne National Lab, will help the next generation of entrepreneurs developing the technologies needed to combat climate change and advance a low-carbon economy,” said former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “Our national laboratory system is a cornerstone of U.S. science and technology and plays a key role in driving innovation by working with entrepreneurs to commercialize clean energy solutions that create new businesses and manufacturing opportunities.”

The Department of Energy estimates that the global clean energy market will be in the trillions of dollars as the demand for energy-based products grows thanks to an expanding global middle class and with the private sector’s increasing appetite for new clean energy technologies.

Argonne and Chicago sit at the heart of one of our nation’s greatest concentrations of research institutions, an industrial base that is driving clean tech and advanced manufacturing, and a population that embraces innovation,” said Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill). “With the creation of Chain Reaction Innovations, we further expand our portfolio of resources for entrepreneurs and ensure that Illinois will be a leader in the next-generation of breakthrough energy and manufacturing technologies.”

The selected innovators have begun two years of research and development at Argonne. Through CRI, they will gain unprecedented access to world-leading tools and experts at Argonne and the fertile innovation ecosystem in Chicago, which sits at the heart of one of the nation’s greatest concentrations of research institutions and industrial bases.

“To meet the greatest global challenges in energy, sustainability and security, we need to support a culture of innovation that combines the risk-taking spirit of entrepreneurs with the expertise and capabilities of national laboratories,” said Paul Kearns, Argonne Deputy Laboratory Director for Operations and Chief Operations Officer.

CRI’s ability to embed innovators at Argonne and provide multi-faceted support sets it aside from similar programs. Its unique benefits include advanced modeling and characterization tools that reduce trial and error development time, testing and validation tools to more accurately assess product lifespan, durability and energy efficiency claims and world-leading experts, all to enable faster development pivots to produce better products that go to market more quickly.

“Chain Reaction Innovations is pretty much the program that solves all of our needs,” said Gomez del Campo. “We need capital. We need lab space. We need technical mentoring. And we need a place to prove our technology and demonstrate it at the system level.”

At Argonne, CRI participants gain access to equipment at five national scientific research facilities, including a supercomputer called Mira, the Center for Nanoscale Materials and the nation’s highest-energy X-ray synchrotron for materials characterization, the Advanced Photon Source. Innovators also can collaborate with more than 1,600 scientists and engineers and use a variety of other resources, such as the Center for Transportation Research and the Materials Engineering Research Facility, the world’s only scale-up facility to test manufacturing processes for producing advanced battery materials in sufficient quantity for industrial testing.

The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago has joined the CRI team as a mentor organization that will help participants develop business strategies and attract investors and commercial partners. The Polsky Center drives venture creation and technology commercialization within the University of Chicago and the surrounding community.

The Purdue Foundry has also joined as a mentor organization. The Purdue Foundry is a leader in growing new businesses and accelerating their acceptance into the marketplace.

CRI is accepting pre-applications to be notified when the next cohort selection begins. Four to six innovators will be accepted annually to join the two-year program and receive $350,000 to spend on R&D and up to $110,000 annually in salary, benefits and a travel stipend.

Jared Sagoff is a writer at Argonne National Laboratory.

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