Updated: Feb 23, 2021
After meeting in a graduate-level entrepreneurship class, we came together to solve a wicked problem: how to re-imagine the future of nuclear waste. We were committed to finding a solution that did not require new regulations, and was fundamentally transformative and ambitious.
When the University of Michigan and Energy Impact Center launched the inaugural Nuclear Waste Grand Challenge to re-imagine the future of nuclear waste, we jumped at the opportunity.
After many late night ideation sessions over Zoom, mentorship meetings with experts from national labs, energy companies, tech companies, and think tanks, we came up with a crazy idea. What if we could find a way to harness the immense passive heat generated by spent nuclear fuel? Even better, what if this heat source could be used to eliminate or decrease other forms of toxic waste?
“There is no time to waste to meet a decarbonized future and find a way to de-risk nuclear waste storage which is accumulating by the minute. We wanted to find a solution that was fit for implementation by 2025. No incremental change or low-hanging fruit here.”
On April 10, 2020, an expert panel of judges evaluated the teams as entrepreneurs soliciting start-up funds from early stage investors and venture capital firms. Teams were judged on overall product desirability, customer validation, technical analysis, go-to-market strategy, and legal and regulatory evaluation.
We were absolutely thrilled when we learned that we won the $17,000 First Prize! After the initial shock wore off, we began asking ourselves: what if this could actually work?
The work began in earnest!
Guided and encouraged by the leading nuclear innovators in the United States-- including those at national labs, government agencies, and venture capital firms-- we began building out our business model, building prototypes, and talking to experts.
Almost a year later, we began actively building out our business model and go-to-market strategy in entrepreneurship and clean-tech accelerators thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation and VentureWell.
We are a diverse group from four different countries representing six languages and five different academic disciplines. Our diversity makes us a team that constantly asks "but how" and "for who"?
Each one of us bring something different to this work. Some are committed to ensuring that nuclear energy remains a viable pathway towards decarbonization. Some are committed to designing circular systems where nothing is wasted and everything can be valorized. Others are policy wonks who know that innovation can still be possible with full regulatory compliance.
But, we are united by a strong belief in the power of human innovation and responsibility to leave behind a positive legacy for future generations. This is what has fueled our foray into entrepreneurship and energized our conversations with over 50 experts in the nuclear energy and wastewater industries.