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Antora Energy’s Shell/NREL prize is latest in series that started with TomKat Center

January 24, 2019
Precourt Institute

By Vincent Xia

Antora Energy, a startup developing an energy storage system to integrate large amounts of renewables with the electric grid, was one of four companies selected for funding in the first year of a new collaboration between Shell and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Antora Energy’s technology combines thermal storage with thermophotovoltaic energy conversion. The startup is led by Stanford University alumni Justin Briggs, PhD ’17, and Andrew Ponec, BS ’17, as well as MIT alumnus David Bierman, PhD ’17.

“The funding will help us de-risk our core technology and accelerate our commercialization,” said Ponec, the startup’s chief executive.

Antora team photographed outdoors at Berkeley Lab.
The Antora Energy team: (left to right) Tarun Narayan, David Bierman, Justin Briggs and Andrew Ponec.
(Image credit: Berkeley Lab).

The company was moving along the commercialization path pretty quickly already. As part of his PhD in applied physics, Briggs worked on some of the fundamental materials science undergirding the technology Antora Energy is developing. In the fall of 2017, the Innovation Transfer program at Stanford’s TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy provided the initial support for developing their idea. In May 2018, Cyclotron Road selected Briggs and Ponec as fellows to work on their project, which was soon joined by Bierman, another Cyclotron Road fellow. That July, the team won a cash prize from Caltech’s FLOW program. In September, the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agengy granted the Antora Energy $3 million for full-scale R&D.

The latest award comes from a new multimillion-dollar partnership between NREL and Shell GameChanger, which is Shell’s incubator program. The partnership, GCxN, identifies early stage technologies with the potential to shape the clean energy landscape. Beneficiaries get a grant for up to $250,000 to develop and demonstrate their technology, as well as access to state-of-the-art facilities and technical experts at NREL and Shell. They also will have the opportunity for follow-on funding and beta testing with a strategic program partner.

"This first round of portfolio companies will help advance both energy storage and smart grid controls,” NREL director Martin Keller said in a press release.

Antora Energy’s team hopes to provide long-duration energy storage at 5 percent of the cost of conventional batteries. When excess electricity is available—for example, at midday in electric power systems with high solar penetration—their technology uses a resistive element to heat inexpensive carbon blocks contained in a large, insulated tank. Later, when power is needed, their modified solar cells convert heat from the blocks back into electricity for the grid.

GCxN’s competitive process also selected e-Zn, Electrical Grid Monitoring Ltd. and Feasible, Inc. for the inaugural cohort. The program’s partners—cleantech incubators, accelerators and universities—nominate candidates. Technology experts at NREL and Shell make the final selections.