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Announcing the 2016 FLoW Competition Winners


PASADENA, CA – May 31, 2016

Stanford University’s XStream Trucking team won the US Department of Energy sponsored $50,000 first prize at the 2016 First Look West (FLoW) competition held at the California Institute of Technology on May 18, 2016. XStream’s patented GapGorilla technology deploys a device at highway speeds that closes the gap between a truck’s cab and trailer, reducing drag and improving fuel economy by up to four per cent. GapGorilla has been tested using computer models, wind tunnels, track tests and highway trials. As a result over 1,000 trucks have agreed to paid trials. Ultimately this technology could save the $700 billion long-haul trucking industry up to $2 billion a year on fuel.

GapGorilla creates a reliably unbroken surface at highway speeds yet it can automatically and quickly fold flat when the truck slows down to allow sharp turns. Since two thirds of a truck’s fuel is spent overcoming aerodynamic drag, streamlining this gap improves fuel economy significantly. Additionally, fuel is the largest non-labor cost of running a fleet so a small reduction in its usage could have a large impact on bottom line returns.

Sharing in FLoW’s $100,000+ in prize money and startup packages that include computer aided design software for prototyping, and legal help were second place winners Akabotics, a robotics company cleaning up waterway sediments from University of Hawaii and SkyCool Systems, with novel air conditioning technology from Stanford University.

The Transformational Idea Award went to Element16 Technologies, a UCLA spin-out developing a novel heat storage system that could help relieve the strain on the power grid coping with increasing demand and variable power from renewables. The technology advance is a new type of “heat battery” incorporating inexpensive sulfur liquids as the core element which can economically store heat energy produced by combined heat and power (CHP) plants and release when needed, allowing for electricity to be produced on demand.



FLoW is a program of the Resnick Sustainability Institute at Caltech that provides entrepreneurial support for young scientists and engineers. FLoW’s annual business plan competition is one of eight regional competitions that feeds into the DOE’s National Cleantech UP, where XStream Trucking will compete next.

This year’s winners are:

  • First Place: Stanford University’s XStream Trucking. XStream’s patented GapGorilla deploys at highway speeds to close the gap between a truck’s cab and trailer, thus reducing drag and improving fuel economy by up to four percent. This feat of engineering could save the trucking industry $2 billion a year on fuel, while reducing wear and tear on truck bodies.

  • Second Place (shared): University of Hawaii’s Akabotics and Stanford’s SkyCool Systems. The Akabotics’ Microdredger™ system removes sediment buildups in waterways that increase flooding vulnerabilities, smother marine life, and impede water commerce. The Microdredger™ not only lowers diesel fuel consumption by 90 percent while reducing turbidity; the device can also work continuously and autonomously, reducing operating costs by 75 percent. Akabotics will impact the $4.3 billion global power plant dredging market where turbines, pumps, inlet canals, and reservoirs need to be free from sediment buildups in order to operate at peak efficiency. In California alone, turbine damage due to siltation has resulted in 2.6 billion kWh lost to reduced efficiency, or $316.5 million in lost electricity sales.

  • Based on research at Stanford University (and funded by the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E), SkyCool Systems’ core product is a rooftop, water cooling panel system that can improve the efficiency of refrigeration and air conditioning systems by up to 40% using an untapped renewable resource: the cold of the sky. In this approach, specialized photonic surfaces reflect the sun’s energy, while transmitting heat as thermal radiation to the sky. By exploiting a phenomenon known as the ‘sky cooling’ effect, these surfaces can remain 18 to 27°F cooler than the ambient air temperature even under direct sunlight. Integration with a building’s chiller and refrigeration system saves customers such as supermarket owners a significant amount of money in operating costs, and allows them to meet new regulatory standards and internal sustainability goals.

  • Transformational Idea Award: Element16 Technologies. Developed at UCLA, this company’s new type of “heat battery” incorporates inexpensive sulfur liquids as the core element that can economically store heat energy produced by combined heat and power (CHP) plants. CHP plants generate 12 per cent of electricity in the United States and the DOE has set a target of 20 per cent by the year 2030, with 87 percent supporting high temperature industrial needs in the US. The invention, funded by $5 million in federal, state, and private financing, including support from Southern California Gas, can help “levelize” the grid’s power peaks and valleys, and ensure CHP plants will be able to operate at top efficiency and meet their customer’s needs.


About First Look West (FLoW)

FLoW is a program of the Resnick Sustainability Institute at Caltech that provides educational and financial support for student and newly graduated scientists and engineers starting cleantech ventures. FLoW was originally launched as the Western region of the Department of Energy’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition (now Cleantech UP) for university students. The FLoW competition continues on as an integral part of the FLoW program, which also offers a cohesive set of services for startups, from early idea through demonstration. To date, FLoW has helped launch 20 companies that together have raised over $40 million. With entrepreneurial training, mentoring and real world exposure, FLoW aims to provide an unparalleled educational experience and become an indispensible resource for scientists and engineers starting their first cleantech company.

For more information contact:
Stephanie C. Yanchinski
Executive Director, FLoW
626-395-1968
stephanie.yanchinski@caltech.edu