Monday, May 23, 2011

7 Italian Clean-Tech Startups to Watch in 2011

Italy is one of the sunniest countries in Europe when it comes to energy generation from renewable energies, such as photovoltaic. However, due to is strong dependence on energy imports - indeed, 80% of consumed energy in Italy is imported from abroad -, and the initial political uncertainty, raised at the beginning of 2011, on the country's environmental policy  after the fierce debate started by the Italian government on its intention to introduce new atomic power plants as solution to the problem of energy dependence from abroad, it seems that the government has changed position, maybe cooled down by the terrific disaster which hit Japan, by giving a long-waited answer, to a sector which was risking to be kneeled down, with the signature of the so-called IV Conto Energia, i.e. the regulatory framework that sets out the new feed-in tariffs' system for the PV sector, and which does not change the tariffs previously announced. This last event surely represents the first clear sign  of the government in supporting a sector which in my opinion will be a key driver in the economic growth of the country in the few years to come.

However, despite the recently raised political uncertainty and the current economic crisis, the country enjoys the presence far-sighted entrepreneurs who have since long time understood that renewable energies are one of the strategic areas in which one should invest in order to contribute to the economic growth of the country.
These far-sighted entrepreneurs have founded very promising clean-tech startups which range from the development of high-altitude wind energy-harnessing kites, new thin-film deposition techniques for solar PV, to IT platforms matching clean-tech entrepreneurs with technical experts. These high-tech startups which are worth to watch, and why not to invest in 2011, are in order:

KITEnrg: this very promising clean-tech start-up from Turin, Piedmont, has developed an innovative technology which allows to convert high-altitude wind energy into electricity, by exploiting the flight of automatically controlled tethered airfoils (like power kites used for surfing or sailing). The kites operate between 500 and 1000 m above the ground, where strong and persistent winds blow practically everywhere in the world, and electricity is generated at ground level by converting the traction forces acting on tethers into mechanical and electrical power, using suitable rotating mechanisms and electrical generators. Therefore Kitenergy represents a major breakthrough in renewable energy and a radical innovation in wind energy generation.

2SN Siena Solar Nanotech: is an Italian startup, based in Siena, which is introducing in the PV industry a new equipment for the production of high-quality and cost competitive thin-films. The equipment under production is developed with a novel proprietary technique called "Pulse Plasma Deposition" PPD). Based on 20 years of research PPD works via ablation by means of high energy hood thresholds' electron passages generated by special electron guns. PPD can overcome many of the limitations of conventional deposition systems used in the industry today giving  the PV sector a proper tool to reach efficiency and cost-goals that are needed to make solar energy competitive with non-renewable sources in future unsubsidized markets. Pulse Plasma Deposition is a new and unique solution to enable the PV industry to produce high uniformity films on very large areas and very high production rates with high process control and yield on a wide range of rigid and flexible materials. In short, in the PV industry, the company from Tuscany could be one of the pioneers as regards the advent of second-generation photovoltaics.   

Minteos: (Turin) is an innovative platform for environmental monitoring with wireless sensor networks - WSN - designed to prevent environmental disasters and extended to monitoring in industry, energy and agricultural sector. Specifically, the company has developed an automatic Natural Hazards detector, called NatureAlert: originally designed to monitor forest fires and allow to operator to act quickly and effectively, the system developed by Minteos, is today an innovative system that performs real-time monitoring to detect several dangerous phenomena such as wildfires, floods and landslides. However, it can also be used to detect the emission of harmful gases in industrial plants, to monitor pipelines and dams, or to detect the exceeding of particulate matter in big cities. It consists of a sentinel network of sensors distributed throughout the territory, which collects data in real time thanks to wireless connections. The network is fully automatic, to minimize maintenance and eliminate the risk of false alarms. With this breakthrough innovation Minteos recently won the Innovation Day, an action investor-oriented day bringing together the best of Italian technology and innovation, organized by Mind the Bridge, Intesa San Paolo and Booz & Co. The event was held in San Francisco (USA) on March 31, 2011.

Agroils: produces sustainable biodiesel that it sells to cellular operator in Africa for powering their base radio stations. The group has developed significant competences in vegetable oil supply chains structuring and management. Thanks to its founding partners, three young engineers from Florence, the company has collected wide expertise in the biofuels sector, thanks to the cooperation with major research centers and universities. Thanks to several projects in Africa, South America and Asia, usually in difficult social and infrastructural situations, the expatriate staff has developed the capacity to adapt the most advanced agro-engineer techniques to local environments.

Enatek, another start-up from Tuscany (Piombino), is developing a new type of wind turbine that can be easily installed on residential and industrial roofs in urban areas. Its name is Venturbine and its horizontal shape allows installations to scale, by easy sequencing of multiple units, and minimizes noise and visual impact, while maintaining high efficiency thanks to the wall effect, i.e. the increase in wind speed as wind is funneled across the edge of structures: about 75 cm. in front of-, and 75 cm. above the roofline, there is a turbulence triggered by the wall effect that constitutes a significant increase in wind-speed. The idea came from the obvious need and belief that in the future the next challenge will be to allow the production of electricity from renewable sources at capillary level thanks to the so-called RDEG solution (Renewable Distributed Energy Generation). The team exploited a European resolution of November 2009 which will be transposed in the forthcoming Energy Performance Building Directive (EPBD), according to which starting from 2021 onwards all buildings must be "passive": i.e. they will consume the amount of energy that they are able to self-produce. Taking advantage of this regulation the company is creating the next generation of building-integrated wind turbines, which through Venturbine represents the first and unique solution specifically developed to be integrated within  urban environment.
Skipso, is London-based Italian start-up positioned at the intersection of three defining trends of our time: Web 2.0, Open Innovation and Clean-Tech. It supplies a Web platform that makes it possible for Clean-tech companies to find their resources necessary for accelerating internal innovations, making the business grow at lower costs and marketing their products. The company aims to leverage the power of the  Internet to accelerate the next wave of Cleantech innovation. Put shortly, a platform for collaboration and crowdsourcing aggregating together all the players in the clean-tech sector: cleantech clusters, entrepreneurs, companies, investors, incubators, universities, research centers. It integrates with Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook and so far groups together more than 1,000 companies and 5,000 experts. Although the project speaks English, one of the founders is the Italian Carlo Soresina (the other being the mexican Felipe Padilla).

eRALOS3, based in the Etna Valley (Sicily), is an italian high-tech and innovation oriented seed startup, which produces innovative and flexible photovoltaic (PV) cells, characterized by flexibility, lightness and low cost that can be integrated in your jackets, bags, T-shirts, tents, umbrellas or whatever you want! These PV cells, called "Solar Writing" (SW), are manufactured in order to create various shapes, patterns and words. eRALOS3 wants to satisfy the energy needs of small portable electronic devices, (Cell phones, MP3 players, PDA, etc.) in a simple, autonomous and cheap way, using portable photovoltaic (PV) solar cells able to convert sun energy into electricity. This will let you to recharge any small portable electronic devices even if you have no land power supply at your disposal and allowing you to go on using them anywhere you are. This idea can create a new and unique final product that can startup a technological apparel wearing trend which may spread and generate a remunerative business in a new market segment: the "Solar Technology Fashion." The company after having won the Mind the Bridge Business Plan Competition has flown to San Francisco in order to further develop the project and finding investors. The company has drawn the attention of major media, TV and newspapers such as Wired Italy, Glamour, Corriere della Sera and Leiweb. Put simple, the company is proposing a new life concept: people dressing and using the Solar Writing will start up the "Solar Generation."

These are in my opinion the best clean-tech Italian startups to watch in 2011, and why not to invest in, which surely will contribute with their breakthrough innovations to the green revolution that is finally taking place in Italy.