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UC San Diego Teams Shine at Innovation Competition for Clean Energy Transition

Recapping the 2023 DOE EnergyTech University Prize Southern California EXPLORE Event

EnergyTech-UP.pngThe UC San Diego community is no stranger to leading the pack, and when it comes to collegiate innovation competitions, our university teams find it hard to not charge ahead. This year’s EnergyTech University Prize (Energy TechUp) was no different, with UC San Diego student teams earning some well-deserved recognition.  

Sponsored by the Office of Technology Transitions at the U.S. Department of Energy and in partnership with the American-Made Challenges and CleanTech San Diego, Energy TechUP challenges multidisciplinary student teams to compete for a total of $370,000 in cash prizes. Each team explores business opportunities for energy technologies, assess commercialization opportunities through market analysis, and present a viable business plan to industry judges. 

“What’s important about EnergyTech UP is that it presents a wonderful opportunity to help drive the talent and technology of tomorrow in this country,” said Associate Vice Chancellor Paul Roben of Innovation and Commercialization. “Not only are we seeing the best and brightest showcase their ideas, but we’re doing it in a way that reflects university partnerships and community engagement, all for a more sustainable future.”   

Pahan-and-Team.pngOn February 23, UC San Diego undergraduate Pahan Jayatilake alongside his team of fellow undergraduates Harrison Mach, Kelvin Tsui and PiYuan Liu were selected as the 2023 Southern California Regional Winner. Their project entitled “Low Temperature Hydrothermal Synthesis” took a green approach to getting more out of our lithium ion batteries. Their business plan was to commercialize the repurposing and recycling of cathodes from lithium ion batteries through a process involving low temperature hydrothermal relithiation. 

“When our team decided to participate in the Energy TechUP 2023 competition, our goal was to explore the prevalent challenges and opportunities within our field of NanoEngineering,” said Pahan. “As a team representing the Department of NanoEngineering, who are passionate about sustainable energy technologies, this competition was the perfect challenge to leverage the expertise of our team and mentors to tackle a real-world problem with nanomaterials.”

The benefits of their plan were clear. By repurposing and recycling those cathodes through this process, it would be possible to reduce environmental waste on a national scale, lower our dependence on foreign sourced raw materials, and, as a result, bring down the cost of lithium ion batteries. Ultimately, this plan would then make smartphones, laptop computers, stationary storage and electric vehicles more affordable to all! A tribute to their entrepreneurial mindset and ingenuity, Pahan’s team was awarded $3,000 for their presentation which was judged the winning Business Plan in the 2023 EnergyTech UP, Southern California Region Explore Event. Additionally, Pahan’s team was a Semi-Finalist for the DOE’s National Lab Technology IP Licensing $25,000 Technology Bonus Prize. 

Also sharing the spotlight was another UC San Diego team for their project “GETECH - Hacking the Grid.” Led by Smrithi Suresh and Ben Garofalo, they were selected as a Semi-Finalist for the DOE’s Office of Electricity $25,000 Grid Enhancing Technology Bonus Prize. Their business plan presentation is being judged against the other national Semi-Finalists and the Winner will be announced at the EnergyTech UP Finals Event.

Pahan’s team, now representing the State of California, is moving on to compete with 14 other regional winners in the next phase of competition, the Refine Phase. During this phase, they’ll dial in their market analysis and business opportunity before laying it all on the line in the DOE’s National Pitch Event Finals at the Zpryme Energy Thought Summit in Austin, Texas on April 3. 

And for a team like Pahan’s, they remain focused on this next phase as a means to a much larger prize. 

“Our team aspires to launch our own startup and establish collaborations with other labs,” said Pahan. “However, we are positive that our participation at the national pitch event in the Energy Thought Summit will provide us with the necessary support and opportunities to further develop our concept and contribute to the battery recycling industry in the foreseeable future. Energy TechUP has enabled us to network and collaborate with industry and laboratory professionals, granting us invaluable knowledge and mentorship.”

Clearly, the Department of Nanoengineering at UC San Diego is helping shape some of these outstanding innovators of tomorrow. Pahan and his team also extended their gratitude to Daisy Hu, Ethan Doan, and Duc Tran of the student organization NanoEngineering and Technology Society (NETS) for their support and expertise. 

With such talent and promise like that, we look forward to seeing these incredible teams continue on their path of success and wish all competitors the very best… After all, we all win when their ideas do. 


See for yourself! Watch the competition below:


NanoEngineering and Technology Society (NETS) is a pre-professional student organization dedicated to strengthening the NanoEngineering community. Learn more about NETS.