Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne selects innovators from across nation to grow startups

April 18, 2018

Entrepreneurs from Illinois, California, New York, Texas and Missouri have won spots in an elite national program at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory to grow startup technologies.

 On April 18, John Carlisle announced the second cohort of Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI) following an extensive two-part pitch competition and reviews by panels of industry experts, investors, scientists and engineers. CRI is the Midwest’s first entrepreneurship program to embed innovators in a national laboratory.

“CRI will accelerate the development of sustainable and energy-efficient technologies and drives manufacturing growth by helping startups and innovators reduce development costs and risks.” — John Carlisle, director of CRI.

DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) created the Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Programs to provide an institutional home for innovative postdoctoral researchers to build their research into products and train to be entrepreneurs. The two-year program is funded by EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO). CRI is located at Argonne and supported by area mentors from the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago and the Purdue Foundry at Purdue University.

“We need entrepreneurs in cleantech to drive innovation, and we need a stronger connection between national laboratories and entrepreneurs to accelerate that,” said AMO Director Rob Ivester. “The more we as a nation drive technologies into applications that change manufacturing, the more we realize the direct benefits of that innovation through job creation, economic growth and global competitiveness.”

Eighty-three innovators from 26 states applied to earn a spot. The goal: Embed in Argonne for two years and access the lab’s scientific expertise, world-class facilities and mentorship to support them in developing their innovative technologies. The new technologies focus on enhancing energy efficiency or sustainability, and overcoming complex scientific challenges to improve quality of life. Technologies in advanced manufacturing, smart grid, grid-level storage, graphene, water, electronics and energy conversion made it to the final competition.

“Argonne National Laboratory, as one of the nation’s leading energy science laboratories, and the University of Chicago, which operates Argonne on behalf of the Department of Energy and is home to the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, are particularly well-positioned to spur energy technology innovation,” said Eric Isaacs, executive vice president for research, innovation and the national laboratories at the University of Chicago. “The new cohort in Chain Reaction Innovations can draw from the expertise of these two institutions, and the city of Chicago's entrepreneurial ecosystem for startups with a growing investor network and several of the nation’s top engineering schools.”

“The Purdue Foundry has a strong track record of launching successful science-based businesses,” said Tim Peoples, managing director of the Purdue Foundry. “We are thrilled to be able to leverage that expertise to help Argonne and CRI innovators commercialize clean energy solutions that create new businesses and manufacturing opportunities.”

Innovators of the second cohort will focus on the following technologies and goals: 


Boeing wants to drastically lower the cost of small wind turbine technology. She is developing small-scale wind power systems that can be integrated as part of a sustainable energy platform to power buildings. These design features efficiently capture and translate high velocity wind currents into energy. The key innovation involves a flywheel-based drive train that minimizes costs associated with power electronics that are economically prohibitive for small wind applications.

Tom Guarr (Michigan State University): ORGANIC MATERIALS FOR ENERGY STORAGE

Guarr wants to use molecular design principles to create organic compounds that will revolutionize the field of energy storage. He is developing a small molecule that enables the production of a novel flow cell battery for energy storage. The structural flexibility of the molecule depends on its redox state which translates into electrolyte solutions that can function with simple barrier separation as opposed to ion selective membranes found in the state-of-the-art flow batteries.

Chad Husko (Columbia University): INTEGRATED HYBRID SILICON LASERS

Husko wants to harness emerging materials for applications in silicon photonics for energy-efficient computing and data centers. He is developing technology that reduces optical interface footprint and provides a highly efficient manufacturing technology for hybrid silicon based lasers. The technology has been advanced to show the principles of experimental feasibility by demonstrating components function in a controlled laboratory environment.

David Manosalvas-Kjono (Stanford University): DYNAMIC FLOW CONTROL SYSTEMS FOR VEHICLES

Manosalvas-Kjono uses computational fluid dynamics for the design of add-on mechanisms to reduce aerodynamic drag, energy consumption and harmful emissions in heavy vehicles. He is developing an adaptive add-on device to reduce aerodynamic drag on commercial semi-trailers thereby improving fuel efficiency. The technology relies on generating a dynamic air flow across the back of the trailer to direct the wake of the trailer in real-time, reducing drag and boosting fuel efficiency up to 16%.

Ted Seo (Northwestern University): GRAPHENE ENHANCED ELECTRODES

Seo focuses on the interdisciplinary fields of nanomaterials and nanomanufacturing. His proposed graphene-based technology takes advantage of the unique properties of graphene to enable the preparation of nanoscale composites to serve as advanced electrodes in lithium-ion batteries.


Stelmakh’s project involves the development of an innovative thermophotovoltaic technology that affords a lightweight, small-footprint power alternative to battery packs. The team has shown basic combustion technology that drives a photonic crystal, which emits selectively enhanced photons that are captured by lowbandap photovoltaic cell to produce electricity.

DOE estimates that the global clean energy market will be in the trillions of dollars as the demand for energy-based products grows, thanks to an expanding global middle class and the private sector’s increasing appetite for new clean energy technologies.

The selected innovators will move to Illinois in May to begin two years of research and development at Argonne. Through CRI, they will gain unprecedented access to world-leading tools and experts at Argonne and the fertile innovation ecosystem in Chicago, which sits at the heart of one of the nation’s greatest concentrations of research institutions and industrial bases.

“CRI will accelerate the development of sustainable and energy-efficient technologies and drives manufacturing growth by helping startups and innovators reduce development costs and risks,” said John Carlisle, director of CRI.  

“To meet the greatest global challenges in energy, sustainability and security, we need to support a culture of innovation that combines the risk-taking spirit of entrepreneurs with the expertise and capabilities of national laboratories,” said Argonne Laboratory Director Paul Kearns.

CRI’s ability to embed innovators at Argonne and provide multifaceted support sets it apart from similar programs that typically only provide business support.

At Argonne, CRI participants gain access to tools and capabilities at five DOE Office of Science User Facilities, including the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, the Center for Nanoscale Materials, the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility, the Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System and the Advanced Photon Source, the nation’s highest-energy X-ray synchrotron for materials characterization. Innovators can also collaborate with more than 1,600 scientists and engineers and use a variety of other resources, such as the Center for Transportation Research and energy storage leaders ACCESS and JCESR.

Applications for CRI’s third cohort will open in September 2018 and selected innovators will be asked to join the two-year program. Innovators receive up to $220,000 to spend on research and development, and up to $110,000 annually in stipend, benefits and a travel allowance.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) supports early-stage research and development of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies that make energy more affordable and strengthen the reliability, resilience, and security of the U.S. electric grid.

EERE's Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) supports early-stage research to advance innovation in U.S. manufacturing and promote American economic growth and energy security.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.