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Frugality rules among Cleantech Open finalists

Winning proposals in this year's green tech start-up funding competition offered low-cost options for consumers.

California regional finalists for the Cleantech Open were announced Wednesday.

Cleantech Open

Think of the Cleantech Open, which started in 2006, as a Western divisions-only March Madness for environmental techies looking for funding. Contestants initially compete against each other in three Western U.S. regions: California, Rocky Mountain, and Pacific Northwest. Since its inception, the contest has garnered more than $125 million in funding for its contestants, according to Cleantech. It's also helped companies like Cool Earth Solar, and GreenVolts get noticed.

This year the California region judges had an initial pool of 278 teams, which it narrowed down to 49 semifinalists who then presented their projects in person. From those semifinalists, six regional finalists were chosen, one for each category of environmental technology that the Cleantech Open focuses on. Those final six, which received $100,000 worth in prizes for their regional win, will now go on to compete against finalists from other regions for the national award in their category.

This year's air, water, and waste category in California was won by Micromidas, a company trying to perfect a process to turn raw sewage into biodegradable plastic products.

Alphabet Energy, a team from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, won the energy efficiency category for a system that produces electricity from waste heat. The group, which twittered a thank you to "the academy" for its win, says its inexpensive method has the potential to offset up to 500 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

Tru2earth won the green building category for its Life Cycle Roof Tile made from recycled water and soda bottle plastic that can double as siphons for capturing gray water.

A DIY-installation solar roof panel system from Armageddon Energy, called the SolarClover, won the renewable energy category, while the smart power category was claimed by EcoFactor. The company developed an SaaS platform that "collects, analyzes and acts upon thousands of data points relating to a home's HVAC needs and preferences to help utilities improve demand management and enable consumers to lower energy costs and save money on utility bills without sacrificing comfort or giving up control."

"The Cleantech Open helped Armageddon Energy get off the ground. It brought the founding team together, helped us build our business plan and make crucial business connections. And, by winning the Renewable Energy category, it will undoubtedly help us as a small company gain credibility with crucial customers, supply chain partners, and investors," Armageddon Energy CEO Mark Goldman, said in a statement.

The transportation category was handed to FuelSaver Technologies. The team proposed a modified design for tractor-trailer trucks to minimize drag. The group claims the invention could reduce fuel consumption of a truck by as much as 25 percent depending on certain conditions, and could pay for itself in fuel savings within a year of long-haul driving.

"Our solution is a full body streamlining of the vehicle's aerodynamic profile, minimizing drag at the back of the trailer, underbelly of the trailer, and the gap between the tractor and trailer," the group said in a statement.

Finalists from each region will attend an awards ceremony and gala in San Francisco on November 17.