Eleven energy and sustainability-focused scientists make up the newest Cyclotron Road fellowship cohort, a prestigious two-year program at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or Berkeley Lab.
The research and development fellowship is run by UC Berkeley and the U.S. Department of Energy, in conjunction with nonprofit Activate Global Inc., according to Cyclotron Road Division Director Rachel Slaybaugh in an email.
“[The fellows will] be working to develop and de-risk their technology, doing customer discovery, planning and executing their IP strategy, identifying their target first markets, raising both dilutive and non-dilutive funding, and growing their teams,” said Activate fellowship manager Katie Sharp in an email. “It’s a lot for them to take on, but we’re here to support them.”
Slaybaugh noted that the fellows are working on a variety of products to remedy “some of society’s toughest problems,” including developing low-cost batteries for renewable energy systems and decarbonizing the cement industry.
The program is complete with personal financial support — a living stipend and health insurance — as well as funding for research and professional development, according to Sharp. Sharp added that the nondilutive funding, or funding given without taking a financial stake in the fellows’ companies, distinguishes the fellowship.
“We believe in their technology and their companies,” Sharp said in an email. “But we are first and foremost supporting the fellows’ in their personal and professional development through education and mentorship.”
Benjamin Jenett, one of the fellows and founder of Metavoxel Technologies, noted that the program incorporates an “entrepreneurial education” to train fellows in commercializing their products.
Kezi Cheng, another fellow and co-founder of FLO.materials, said these resources, the passion and expertise of the program’s leaders and the fellows’ independence make the fellowship unique.
“It’s very very difficult to turn academic innovations into market-ready products,” Cheng said in an email. “Activate really empowers scientists to continue doing the science, to really do the hard but necessary research and development, but also to sell and market products to show that can reach and benefit society.”
Cheng outlined their project, an infinitely recyclable plastic polymer. By commercializing and scaling up this product, Cheng hopes to understand its manufacturability over the course of the fellowship to enact a circular business model. In this model, FLO.materials acts as a producer and recycler to incentivize the material’s recycling.
Jenett’s technology is a modular construction system, which he described as an ultralight “LEGO for engineering” able to achieve record-setting stiffness. With applications in transportation, renewable energy and dynamic infrastructure, Jenett aspires to minimize the monetary and environmental cost of humanity’s built environment.
“The moral of the story is: the future of our planet, and our species, hangs in the balance,” Jenett said in an email. “But we can win this with diverse technologies unified through collective policies and focused effort, and Cyclotron is a great example of bringing that into existence.”