SALT LAKE CITY — Sometimes great big ideas come from really small — make that microscopic — materials.
A team of University of Utah researchers and MBA students is on their way to the White House to submit its quantum dot production method in a competition against the several other high-profile schools in the U.S. Department of Energy's inaugural National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition.
U. start-up company Navillum recently won $100,000 in a regional clean-tech competition, and have advanced to the finals, which concludes with an award ceremony in Washington, D.C., on June 13.
Navillum is developing a new, more efficient method for producing quantum dots — which can be used to make television screens, computer screens, mobile devices and solar panels more efficient and produce better color imaging. The team will be competing against five other schools, including Columbia, MIT, Northwestern, Stanford and the University of Central Florida that also won regional contests to advance to the final round of competition.
Winners of the six regional competitions will vie for the honor of presenting the best clean energy business plan before a panel of expert judges and invited guests from federal agencies, industry, national labs and the venture capital community.
The competition is part of "Startup America," a White House campaign aimed at inspiring and promoting entrepreneurship.
"These are some really good universities and to be in their company is kind of special," said MBA student Chris Lewis — who along with Ryan Tucker and Ameya Chaudhari developed the business plan that won the $100,000 regional prize at the University of Colorado in April.
Lewis, Tucker and Chaudhari were connected with Navillum through the Pierre Lassonde Entrepreneur Center at the Eccles School of Business.
The program matches business students as well as graduate students from other disciplines and partners them with faculty inventors to assist them in the commercialization of technologies, said Lassonde director Troy D'Ambrosio.
The technology behind Navillum is unique and could help advance the next generation of TV's, cell phones and solar panels, said Tucker.
While the business plan was developed by a trio of MBA students, the inventors were based in chemistry department.
According to Navillum co-founder Jacqueline Siy-Ronquillo, quantum dots are tiny semiconducting nanocrystals that range in size from 2nm to 10nm, which is 100,000 times thinner than the width of a strand of human hair. QDs fluoresce — or shine —when excited by light or an applied electrical source.
The color emitted is based on the dot’s size, she added.
Quantum dot screens use 35 percent less energy and provide better colors, as well as increase battery life in tablets and smart phones. QD technology could also more than double the energy efficiency of solar panels from the current 20 percent up to 45 percent, said Navillum co-founder and chief operating officer Cecinio "Nikko" Ronquillo.
Traditionally, large scale quantum dot fabrication has been difficult, resulting in limited supply and high prices, Ronquillo explained.
However, recent technological advances have made commercial scale production possible, he said.
The team's plan indicated that the market for quantum dots over the next several years could grow from sales of $67 million in 2010 to $676 million by 2015.
The group said it is confident about it's chances to compete against the very stiff competition.
"We think we have a great technology," Lewis said. "Going into the national competition, we have a really good shot."
Part of the final round of judging will also include online voting from the public who can offer their opinions after watching videos presented by each team on their individual technologies.
Voting for the top national team is currently underway, with the Utah team among the leaders.
To vote or for more information on the Navillum technology, visit http://energy.gov/national-clean-energy-business-plan-competition/navillum-nanotechnologies.
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