Resnick Institute



FLOW Rocket Fund Sparks New University Startups


Five cleantech startups are powering towards commercial success, thanks to awards from the FLOW Rocket Fund grant program. Bk Litec, Opus 12, PowerFlex, Viper Irrigation and XStream Trucking needed money to build their first commercial prototypes necessary for field testing their technology and securing potential customers. FLOW Rocket Fund stepped in and awarded grants of up to $50,000 to build these demonstration units. Working with guidance from potential buyers, the teams will be able to further refine their products. Finding that elusive first product that customers will buy lays the foundation for building a successful company.

The Rocket Fund was launched in 2015 by partners Caltech, the Emerging Technology Coordinating Council (ETCC, a consortium of six California utilities), and the San-Diego based Moxie Foundation. The Fund’s grants bridge the so-called Valley of Death, after university support ends but before funding from government agencies, corporate partners and investors kicks in. The Rocket Fund aims to accelerate exciting technologies out of university labs and into the market place. It amplifies recipients’ potential for impacting energy efficiency and sustainability. The FLOW Rocket Fund program pipeline includes FLOW, a cleantech mentorship program run by the Resnick Institute that includes a Department of Energy supported capstone business plan competition, an entrepreneurial educational module and mentoring. Companies find participating in the competition before seeking a grant improves their chances of winning an award but teams can apply separately.

This year’s award recipients are:

  • BK Litec, is developing advanced LED lighting whose design solves a major problem with current LED fixtures: heat accumulation that reduces power efficiency. Its patented HS frame reduces thermal resistance by a factor of 30x, eliminating the need for heat sink components. The lighter, streamlined design will eventually allow for integration of Internet of Things (IoT) components such as cameras, speakers, microphones, sensors, and connectivity/wifi directly into LED lamps without increasing their size, and so allowing conventional LED lamps to act as “Trojan horse” vessels for IoT operations. The Company used its award to complete essential stages of its design prior to field testing.

  • Opus 12’s (Stanford) core invention is a device, incorporating novel CO2 splitting catalysts, that recycles carbon dioxide into cost-competitive chemicals and liquid fuels. The technology bolts onto any source of CO2 emissions, and with only water and electricity as inputs, transforms that CO2 into some of the world's most critical chemical products: a $300 billion global opportunity. With a FLOW Rocket Fund award and support from SoCal Gas, Opus 12 is moving into a major field trial, aimed at converting CO2 emitted from a power plant into more commercially valuable methane.

  • PowerFlex, (California Institute of Technology), has based its novel EV charging system on advanced Caltech research on optimizing power flow. Powerflex is deploying its innovative adaptive charging network (ACN) for electric vehicles that provides desired charging capacity at a fraction of infrastructure and operating costs. ACN provides real-time measurement, communication and control, and can smooth out the irregular power peaks delivered by renewable energy sources. Using FLOW Rocket Fund dollars to scale its first prototypes, PowerFlex has since deployed hundreds of units, working with Caltech and JPL, the Hilton Inn hotel chain and Google. The company recently signed a manufacturer’s MOU, and in 2017 won a coveted Wells Fargo IN2 award to further refine its product.

  • Viper Irrigation LLC, (US Air Force Academy, CO) is developing a novel irrigation system that injects water, fertilizer and pesticides directly into a tree or vine on demand. As the plant transpires, negative pressure is created in the xylem tubes; this allows climate and agronomic cycles to automatically regulate water consumption according to need. Early tests show water consumption reduced by 85%, and the developers anticipate the system will have other benefits such as eliminating runoff, as well as the percolation of fertilizers and chemicals into groundwater supplies. The young company completed its initial product design with FLOW Rocket Fund support, and is poised to begin field trials with a 600 acre citrus grower.

  • XStream Trucking’s (Stanford University) patented GapGorilla device increases the efficiency of the $700 billion long-haul trucking industry by streamlining the gap between the cab and trailer. The GapGorilla deploys to fill the gap at highway speeds to create a smooth surface, and then automatically folds flat when the truck slows down to allow sharp turns. At highway speeds, two thirds of fuel is spent overcoming aerodynamic drag, so streamlining this gap improves fuel economy significantly. GapGorilla saves up to 4% in fuel consumption. Since fuel is the largest non-labor cost in running a fleet, a small reduction in fuel usage could have a large impact on bottom line returns. XStream’s FLOW Rocket Fund grant helped build ten units for testing with potential customers, and in June 2017 the company raised its first $2.5 million investment.