OptiBit Wins MIT Clean Energy Prize

OptiBit chip MIT Clean Energy Prize
OptiBit’s product brings the high bandwidth and energy efficiency of fiber optics to computer chips, helping data centers keep up with ballooning volumes of electronic information while saving energy. | Photo courtesy of OptiBit

OptiBit won first prize Monday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Clean Energy Prize Grand Finals in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the final regional contest in the Energy Department’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition (NCEBPC).

The student-led team has developed a novel approach to helping data centers keep up with ballooning volumes of electronic information while saving energy. OptiBit’s product brings the high bandwidth and energy efficiency of fiber optics to computer chips, using a drop-in phototonics hardware solution with 10 times more throughput, two times lower latency, and 95% less energy use than the current copper-based technology. OptiBit developed the technology over the course of 10 years at MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Colorado, making it the first multi-university team to win a NCEBPC regional competition.

OptiBit’s patented technology ties in with the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce the federal government’s energy use, including cutting consumption in data centers. A 2009 executive order requires agencies not only to measure and set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also to adopt best practices for energy-efficient management of servers and data centers. In 2014, the President’s Better Buildings Challenge expanded to include data centers.

Twenty-one semi-finalists from universities across the country competed for more than $400,000 in prizes at the MIT Clean Energy Prize Grand Finals. Each start-up entered one of three categories: Energy Efficiency, Infrastructure and Resources, or Renewable Energy. Technologies presented included a solution to convert ocean wave energy into electricity and fresh water, an ultra high-efficiency air purification technology, and a high-voltage power supply that cuts pasteurization energy costs in half. Ultimately, OptiBit took home $275,000 in prizes, which includes the $75,000 DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Prize and the $200,000 Eversource MIT Clean Energy Grand Prize.

The National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition aims to promote entrepreneurship in clean energy technologies that will boost American competitiveness, bring cutting-edge solutions to the market, and strengthen our economic prosperity. After winning the MIT Clean Energy Prize, OptiBit now qualifies for the fourth annual DOE National Competition in Washington, D.C., on June 24. The company will join four other regional finalists:

  • FGC Plasma Solutions: winner of the Clean Energy Trust Clean Energy Challenge;
  • Hyliion: winner of the DOE Clean Tech Prize at the Rice Business Plan Competition;
  • Living Ink Technologies: winner of the University of Colorado Boulder Clean Energy Competition Regional Championship; and
  • Axiom Exergy: winner of the First Look West (FLoW) 2.0 Cleantech Competition at the California Institute of Technology.

At the National Competition, regional finalists will compete for a $50,000 cash prize and unique in-kind services to help commercialize their technologies. Previous competitors have gone on to launch more than 70 start-ups, create 120 jobs, file 55 patents and disclosures, and raise $60 million in follow-on funding.

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