The annual Berkeley Lab Pitch Competition occurred on October 27, 2022 and is a part of an entrepreneurship training program co-hosted by the Intellectual Property Office and Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. Chun Chang, EESA Research Scientist in the Energy Geosciences Division, tied for second place.

The competition, funded by the Department of Energy (DOE), was designed to provide scientist-entrepreneurs at the Lab experience in pitching to key stakeholders such as potential investors and partners. The panel of judges included people from many different backgrounds, including entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

Chang’s pitch presentation, titled “Hunting the Greener and Cheaper Energy You Need,” centered around recovering low temperature geothermal energy and industrial waste heat.

Low-temperature geothermal resources are at a shallower depth (less than three kilometers) underground, and generate less heat density compared to regular geothermal resources that are located deeper in the subsurface. Typically below 300 degrees Fahrenheit, these resources are less efficient in vaporizing liquid water and producing steam compared to geothermal systems deeper underground with higher temperatures. This low-temperature energy source is largely wasted, despite its capability to power up the entire nation for 186,000 years.

At the same time, industrial processes generate enormous amounts of low-temperature heat every year, the majority of which is below 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Sixty percent of this low-temperature heat is wasted, and this waste is equivalent to 10% of U.S. annual energy consumption and enough energy to power 15 million households. Recovering this industrial waste, however, is challenging because of  the heat resource fluctuation, low heat capacity of water, distance transportation and heat loss. A new material is needed that can address these challenges and be produced at an industrial-scale with low energy cost.

Chang’s idea is a new material designed to recover this low-temperature heat from both renewable energy resources like solar and geothermal in addition to industrial waste. This “magic liquid,” is composed of a new type of functional nanomaterial that absorbs and releases heating more efficiently when phase changes occur at low-temperature. The material is expected to have a higher heat capacity, higher thermal conductivity and higher mobility, allowing it to capture the low temperature heat more efficiently, hold it tight during transportation and release heat where desired to the end users.

This research is funded by the EESA Early Career Development Grant, a seed project that provides an opportunity for early career scientific staff to develop new concepts, tools and approaches with the potential to enhance existing EESA research programs, make progress on new EESA research directions, and to lay the foundation for future proposals.

“I learned a lot from participating in this event, particularly on the vision and effort of Berkeley Lab in commercializing scientific research and supporting scientist-entrepreneurs at the lab,” Chang said. “I enjoyed this so much, in addition to the fun from research. I would encourage my EESA colleagues to pitch their ideas in future competitions.”