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Five startups from UW with great ideas to protect the earth

April 19, 2023 By Susan Lee
Composite photo: Earth as seen from NASA Suomi satellite

This composite photo shows Earth as seen from NASA Suomi satellite. Photo courtesy of NASA

When it comes to helping Wisconsin residents and the state’s economy, you Can’t Stop a Badger. This April, see how UW–Madison scientists conduct cutting-edge research and perform outreach that delivers tangible benefits for Wisconsinites and the world. Follow along using #CantStopABadger on social media. Your support can help us continue this work.

Cleantech startups from the University of Wisconsin–Madison are bringing their innovations to Wisconsin and beyond, with new technologies to address global sustainability issues.

From improving air quality, water scarcity and quality, to renewable and alternative energy sources, these solutions are not only better for the environment — they’re better for business. Cleantech is short for clean technology, often used to describe products or services that reduce waste and require as few non-renewable resources as possible.

“It’s great to see these exciting sustainability projects taking shape as viable companies from research developed at UW–Madison,” says Steve Ackerman, Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education. “We must continue to support our growing campus community of innovators and entrepreneurs with the resources they need to turn their ideas into impact.”

“The entrepreneurial guidance we have received from UW–Madison Innovate Network members has been invaluable—whether it was mentoring, cohort programs, legal assistance or funding,” notes Margaret Lumley, CEO of ChloBis Water. “We couldn’t have made it this far in our technology commercialization without these opportunities.”

The journey from research ideas to commercialization can be a long one, but the founders of these companies are up for the challenge. Their success will provide the state with environmental benefits and significant economic advantages to a wide range of industries.

Here are five startups building the future of cleantech in Wisconsin:

Removing salt from water

ChloBis Water, Inc.: Energy-efficient water desalination technology

ChloBis is a spin-off company out of the lab of Kyoung-Shin Choi, professor of chemistry at UW–Madison, who co-founded the company with two other lab members, Margaret Lumley and Dohwan Nam. ChloBis Water is on a mission to unlock the potential of water desalination by developing a revolutionary desalination battery. The technology combines salt removal, energy generation and storage, and commodity chemical production to address challenges at the intersection of the water-energy nexus. Their energy-efficient water desalination technology removes and reuses salt compounds from saline water sources, improving access to and preservation of freshwater sources. As the desalination battery removes salt from water, it simultaneously uses salt ions to store or release energy. The company is working to integrate its product with industries such as desalination plants, municipal wastewater treatment plants, and food processing facilities.

Founders: Kyoung-Shin Choi (President), Margaret Lumley (CEO), Dohwan Nam (Technical Advisor & Research Scientist)

Year: 2021

UW–Madison Connection: College of Letters and Science

Capturing and storing carbon dioxide

Earth RepAIR, Inc.: Efficient carbon dioxide capture and upcycling

The core technology for Earth RepAIR, Inc. is built on concepts developed by Bu Wang, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Rob Anex, professor of biological systems at UW–Madison. The student-led research team includes members from across campus. Earth RepAIR aims to deploy the technology at commercial scale. The ultra-efficient system uses existing waste materials to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and safely store it as a stable mineral. Industries with hard-to-abate emissions such as cement manufacturing will greatly benefit from this cost-effective direct air capture solution.

Founders: Robert Anex, Quentin Philippe (CEO), Bu Wang

Year: 2022

UW–Madison Connection: College of Engineering, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, College of Letters and Science, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies; Wisconsin Energy Institute

Building sustainable batteries

Flux XII: Renewable long-duration energy storage

Flux XII is a provider of sustainable energy batteries designed for cost-effective, safe, and long-duration energy storage. The innovative, rechargeable flow battery technology was developed in the lab of co-founder Dawei Feng, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at UW–Madison, in collaboration with co-founders Xiuliang Lyu and Patrick Sullivan. This technology will keep clean energy running, supporting economical and reliable carbon-free electricity for utilities and industry.

Founders: Dawei Feng (CIO), Xiuliang Lyu (CSO), Patrick Sullivan (CEO)

Year: 2021

UW–Madison Connection: College of Engineering

Making feedstock into useful chemicals

Pyran: Renewable alternatives to petroleum-based chemicals

Pyran uses technology developed in the UW–Madison lab of George Huber, professor of chemical and biological engineering, and postdoctoral researchers Kevin Barnett. The company’s technology uses renewable feedstocks from crop resources, such as corn cobs, to make a key ingredient that enhances the performance of everyday materials, such as paints, coatings, adhesives and more. Pyran’s technology can create sustainable supply chains and could replace expensive, petroleum-based chemicals. They are currently planning their first commercial plant.

Founders: Kevin Barnett (CTO & President), James Dumesic, George Huber

Year: 2017

UW–Madison Connection: College of Engineering

Fusion as an alternative source of heat

Realta Fusion: Industrial heat and power from fusion

Realta Fusion was born primarily out of UW–Madison research led by Cary Forest, professor of physics, Jay Anderson, senior scientist in physics, Oliver Schmitz, professor of engineering physics and Ben Lindley, assistant professor of engineering physics. The company’s technology offers a clean, safe and affordable alternative source of high-quality heat for industrial use — the consumers of nearly half of the world’s energy. Unlike nuclear fission, fusion does not create any long-lived radioactive nuclear waste. By optimizing the reactor design and the fusion process Realta proposes to produce high quality heat that can be used to drive industrial processes and applications. It will initially focus on the refining and petrochemicals market as potential early adopters of their technology.

Founders: Jay Anderson, Cary Forest (CSO; acting CTO), Kieran Furlong (CEO), Ben Lindley (Technical Advisor), Oliver Schmitz (Technical Advisor)

Year: 2022

UW–Madison Connection: College of Letters and Science, College of Engineering

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