TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A research group from The University of Alabama is part of a national program aimed at taking technology from the lab to the market.
Based off technology developed in the lab of Dr. Shuhui Li, UA associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, a start-up company called Orange Power Electric is taking part in the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps, or I-CORPS, Teams program.
The program provides NSF-funded researchers entrepreneurial education, mentoring and funding to accelerate innovation to attract third-party funding.
The UA group is one of 14 teams participating together in a five-week curriculum and program as part of an I-Corps Cohort, which kicked off with a workshop in Newark, New Jersey, in late July and ends with a finale in Newark Sept. 8.
Orange Power Electric has been supported by UA’s Alabama Innovation and Mentoring of Entrepreneurs Center, known as AIME, which focuses on commercially developing concepts from UA.
In 2015, the NSF named the UA AIME Center an I-CORPS site to provide regional infrastructure, advice and resources to aid faculty and students in transitioning their work into the marketplace.
“The NSF support is of great strategic value for promoting and commercializing UA’s research efforts, and I support AIME in taking an active role in promoting the work of these teams,” said Dr. Carl A. Pinkert, UA vice president for research and economic development and the principal investigator of the I-Corps Node.
UA is actively recruiting and sending teams to this program to expand research opportunities on campus and to stimulate economic development, said Dr. Dan Daly, director of AIME
“Going through I-Corps national cohort training will enable the team to transition into a viable company by developing its customer base,” Daly said. “The teams that go through this training have seen an increase chance of getting follow-on funding from both national programs as well as investors.”
Orange Power Electric’s technology is a method to reliably send electricity from a renewable energy source such as a solar photovoltaic system to the power grid. With three patents and other protected intellectual property, the UA team hopes to enhance energy generation from renewable resources and improve the efficiency, reliability, stability and power quality of integrated renewable and electric utility systems.
Renewable energy such as wind or solar power produces electricity at varied rates, unlike electric generators powered by the consistent burning of fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas.
The technology developed in Li’s lab improves system stability, reliability and power quality through a programmed inverter control unit using artificial intelligence that combines distributed energy sources into a microgrid, operated in either stand-alone or grid-tied mode, to produce electricity.
During the program, team members will talk with more than 100 companies in the industry including manufacturers of electric distribution equipment along with electric utilities to better understand the business model to commercialize the technology.
Along with Li, the team includes entrepreneurial leads Malek Ramezani and Weizhen Dong, two doctoral students in Li’s lab; and business and industrial mentors Dr. Scott Spear and Ishan Jaithwa. Spear is a research scientist with AIME, and Jaithwa graduated from UA with a master’s in electrical engineering in 2014 and now works for Cummins in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
UA has had two other teams participate in the NSF I-Corps Teams program, and both are pursuing commercialization of research technologies.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.