Heliotrope Technologies Speeds to Victory as the 2012 NOVA Innovation Competition Winner

November 29, 2012

This article was originally published on the website of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Molecular Foundry:

Heliotrope Technologies, a Molecular Foundry spinoff company, has been declared the winner of the 2012 NOVA Innovation Competition. An Oakland, CA based start-up, Heliotrope works to develop energy-efficient electrochromic window coatings that can switch reversibly between three states: solar transparent, heat blocking, and heat and light blocking.

The NOVA Innovation Competition is put on by the NOVA External Venturing unit of the Saint-Gobain group, an international building materials company with a focus on energy efficiency. 168 project submissions were openly deliberated upon over several months by experts from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, MIT, the U.S. Green Building Council – Northern California Chapter and Webcor Builders. It should be noted that the judges affiliated with Berkeley Lab recused themselves from judging any Berkeley Lab spinoff companies where there might appear to be any conflict of interest.

Eight finalists were selected to participate in the final "speed-dating" round on November 15, 2012 at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in San Francisco. Members of Saint-Gobain's executive management and marketing staff sat in pairs at five tables and contestants had the opportunity to pitch their technology innovations in a time-limited, speed-dating format. The participants had 10 minutes to present their ideas to the judges, then moved on to the next table to speak again. Ultimately, three start-ups were announced as the winners: SmarterShade, winning $10,000, PlanGrid taking $25,000 and in first place Heliotrope, awarded the top cash prize of $50,000.

Heliotrope is a developer of energy-efficient electrochromic window coatings which can respond to changing weather conditions by regulating the amounts of visible light and heat permitted to enter a building. A small applied voltage alters the surface properties to vary the transmittance of visible light and heat-producing near-infrared radiation (NIR) in three ways: fully transparent, visibly transparent while selectively blocking NIR, and limiting both NIR and visible light. Use of these windows and a simple response-control system allows solar radiation to be harnessed for a significant reduction in energy usage while also improving the comfort of building occupants.

This functionality is an evolution of previous work performed by Heliotrope's founders in collaboration with LBNL scientists Stephen Selkowitz and Arman Shehabi. This team discovered that nanocrystal films can selectively modulate the transmittance of NIR while maintaining visible transparency. This optical effect relies on the changes induced in the nanocrystals' plasmonic properties upon the application of a small jolt of electricity.

The low cost, large scale manufacturing potential, minimal power requirements, and improved user experience create a product that can dramatically decrease the global energy demands of buildings. The enormous value of this technology convinced the NOVA External Venturing unit judges, resulting in the first prize award for Heliotrope.