Chicago startup seeks more efficient screens — and more diverse team

NanoPattern's quantum dot ink technology helps screens operate up to 70% more efficiently.

A Chicago-based cleantech company is accelerating efforts to boost diversity within its business after recent protests and social unrest around the country. More on NanoPattern Technologies after today’s tech headlines…

🔬 INNOVATION: The director of NREL’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center in a commentary for CleanTechnica writes that corporate-backed incubator programs could play an important role in helping cleantech startups thrive in the next decade, noting the success of programs that offer financial capital along with access to facilities and expert research. 

💰 FEDERAL FUNDING: The Gas Technology Institute in Des Plaines, Illinois, is among 11 organizations receiving U.S. Department of Energy funding for R&D related to carbon utilization. The institute will get $1.27 million to “develop a process and catalytic membrane reactor for producing DMC from captured CO2 and hydrogen.”

🚨 WIND ENERGY: Xcel Energy has incorporated new radar-activated lighting technology on turbines at two wind farms in Minnesota and North Dakota, T&D World reports. The lights turn on when radar detects nearby aircraft but otherwise go dark, reducing light pollution in rural areas. The technology also helps enable the use of autonomous drones for maintenance work.

Now back to NanoPattern Technologies... 

Founder Yu Kambe told me he had been re-examining the startup’s employee and advisory board diversity before recent police violence and protests put race and equity atop the nation’s agenda. The increased attention has added urgency to his quest. The business is taking measures to ensure more diverse hiring and partnership practices. The tech industry “already is so male-dominated, which I don't like. It’s pretty homogeneous, when it comes down to it,” Kambe said.

THE TECHNOLOGY: NanoPattern Technologies is developing more energy efficient quantum dot ink technology, which is sold to manufacturers to make screens for electronic devices.

THE PROBLEM: “Screens are not very energy efficient at this time. If you consider an iPhone, a good 50% to 60% of the energy consumption on the battery is based off of your screen,” Kambe said. Devices that are turned off but still plugged in or powered by a battery also experience “ghost” energy consumption.

THE IMPACT: The company’s ink improves the color of screen displays and helps screens operate up to 70% more energy efficiently. More energy efficient screens could improve battery life as well as a device’s overall lifespan. It would also reduce ghost energy consumption.

“We’re wasting a huge amount of energy all the time. The next generation of TVs and screens will be moving away from that structure and hopefully will really improve battery life… but also dramatically reduce the ghosting and energy drain we have in electronics today,” Kambe said.

THE CHALLENGES: The pandemic has slowed some of NanoPattern Technologies’ progress, as it has at many early-stage startups, due to health concerns prompting limited access to R&D facilities and equipment.

ON MIDWEST TECH: “Physcial sciences companies still have somewhat restricted resources in Chicago,” Kambe said. “I’m invested in seeing what the Chicago innovation system can do in the future. I'm proud to say we have more companies coming through the pipeline now.” He credits incubators such as Argonne National Laboratory’s Chain Reaction Innovations with providing needed resources to entrepreneurs. “It bridged the gap with funding and to get a secure facility to bring our technology to next stage,” Kambe said.

WHAT’S NEXT: The business is currently in the “de-risking” phase as it tries to prove product claims and ensure the science works. The next step is to grow the company after raising funding next year, and then scale to meet manufacturing demands. Kambe says the technology reaches into a lot of different applications so there is great growth potential and the ability to transition to similar optical applications such as sensors. For now, “we want to make sure we can get to the point where we correctly commercialize the technology in a sustainable fashion to impact society,” he said.

Do you know of other startups in the Midwest developing technology that improves energy efficiency? Send news tips, press releases, and feedback to katie@centered.tech or connect on Twitter @centereddottech.


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