Katy Winn, Katy Winn/Invision/AP
Marvel characters are unveiled at Disney Infinity 2.0 launch at Pacific Theatres Cinerama Dome on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 in Hollywood, Calif. Avalanche Software Disney Interactive won an award at the annual Utah Innovation Awards, along with seven other local businesses.

SALT LAKE CITY — Major innovations often begin as small ideas to existing issues. Others develop as a remedy to a complex problem. A few of Utah’s brightest and best minds were honored Thursday for their ingenuity in pursuit of technology advancement.

Eight local businesses were recognized at the annual Utah Innovation Awards. The statewide program, organized by the Utah Technology Council and Salt Lake law firm Stoel Rives, honored Utah companies that created new, potentially groundbreaking technology.

“(This event) allows this great community of innovators to tell their stories,” said Richard Nelson, president and CEO of the Utah Technology Council.

Among the finalists were local companies working to develop solutions for a variety of issues and industries, including clean tech energy.

Salt Lake City-based Ceramatec took top honors in the category for its HiTech Membrane Reactor that converts natural gas to benzene, a versatile liquid used to make commonly used chemical products. The company’s one-step process significantly reduces environmentally hazardous impacts and greenhouse gas emissions at a lower cost.

"Ultimately, it allows (us) to make benzene much cheaper than you can today," said Ceramatec vice president Anthony Nickens.

Another innovation that claimed a top prize was in the computer hardware/electrical devices category. Orem-based Thermal Imaging Radar has developed a compact, lightweight thermal camera that has the ability to create 360-degree panoramic images every second and analyze them. The device consumes only 5 watts of power and can be used for various low-light applications.

“We can see a man in total darkness at 600 meters away or a vehicle at 1,800 meters away,” company spokesman Larry Price explained. “We can also detect a wildfire from 5 kilometers away.”

Meanwhile, for the average homeowner, an Alpine company was selected as top recipient in the outdoor and consumer products category for its Wi-Fi-operated automatic lawn sprinkler system. Skydrop is a “smart” sprinkler controller that helps consumers water their lawn and landscape while reducing overall consumption.

“(It) will talk to our cloud service (and) pull down weather information as it’s happening,” explained company spokesman Clark Endruzzi. “It knows when to water, when not to water, and takes (the process) out of your hands.”

The system is expected to be available in local home improvement stores this summer, Endruzzi said.

The winners and finalists were judged by a committee of about 60 experts from local private industry, government and academic communities in each of the program's eight categories.

2015 winners

Clean technology and energy: HiTech Natural Gas Membrane Reactor by Ceramatec Inc.

Computer hardware/electrical devices: Thermal Radar by Thermal Imaging Radar

Consumer software: Disney Infinity by Avalanche Software Disney Interactive

Enterprise software, cloud and big data: MoneyDesktop Personal Finance Management Suite by MoneyDesktop

Life science — biotechnology and pharmaceutical: LPCN 1021 by Lipocine Inc.

Life science — medical device: PowerGlide by Bard Access Systems

Mechanical systems/chemicals/manufacturing: Efficient Manufacturing of Quantum Dots by Navillum Nanotechnologies

Outdoor and consumer products: Skydrop Sprinkler Controller by Skydrop

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