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Students pitch green businesses for greenbacks

The Ignite Clean Energy Competition in Boston announces winners to a business plan competition, one of many contests used to fund promising green-tech ideas.

If you wanted to start a business and help save the world, what would you do?

The Ignite Clean Energy (ICE) competition on Wednesday, announced the winners of a business plan competition that offers a peek into how university students are approaching environmental problems through business. There is a wide range of technologies being pursued--everything from ocean power to providing off-grid power systems to developing countries.

A conceptual design of a microbial fuel cell where microorganisms reacting with organic material create a chemical reaction that induces an electrical current. IntAct Labs

The awards were decided on Tuesday afternoon after teams pitched their business plans to a panel of judges at the Massachusetts State House. Winners are eligible for cash and in-kind services, ranging from $50,000 to $12,500 in total with a sizable portion coming in the form of legal advice.

The first-place winner for this year's competition was IntAct Labs, which received the award for an "energy positive wastewater treatment" system. The company is working on a range of technologies, including microbial fuel cells that make electricity from wastewater, sensors made of proteins, and photoactive proteins that could act as solar cells.

New Jersey-based InnoSepra won second place for a technology it says reduces the cost of separating carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants. It is using a "microporous" material for capturing CO2 and demonstrated its feasiblity at bench scale, according to the company.

Third place went to EGG-Energy, which has a business mission of bringing affordable electricity to people in poor countries. Its team last summer traveled to Tanzania to test out how its battery and electric light combination work as an alternative to kerosene lighting.

Among the "people's choice" awards in the competition were Velkless, which is developing flywheels for energy storage, and HydroCoal, which is working on a coal gasification process to make a substitute for natural gas.

For business plan summaries of all the participants, see here.

The Ignite Clean Energy competition is one of many cropping up around the country to fund entrepreneurs working in green technology. The event at the Massachusetts State House is part of a "clean energy week," which also includes a showcase of ongoing energy research on Wednesday and the Fifth Annual Clean Energy Conference starting on Thursday.

Updated on April 19, 2010 with corrected details on the competition.