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News Release: NREL Announces Three Grand Prize Winners of the Fish Protection Prize; Issues Deadlines for Two Additional Hydropower Prizes

Sept. 25, 2020

Nature and civilization can coexist with a little ingenuity—and nine teams put such ingenuity on display during the virtual PITCH CONTEST of the Fish Protection Prize this week at the American Fisheries Society Virtual Annual Meeting.

Through the Fish Protection Prize, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) solicited  sustainable solutions that allow hydropower and fish to thrive side by side. The American-Made Challenges’ prize was conducted in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and is administered by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in collaboration with their Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The prize cast a wide net, bringing together a broad spectrum of innovators from industry, academia, and entrepreneurs. The competitors were tasked with developing new solutions, designs, and strategies to protect fish from water infrastructure, such as water diversions, pipes, and intakes at hydropower dams.

As part of the PITCH CONTEST, the teams presented a 10-minute pitch, followed by a 10-minute question-and-answer period to introduce their concepts, the technical and market feasibility of each, and their overall research and development plans.

“From the development of next-generation fish screens to the use of air bubbles and pulsating light, this group of competitors raised the bar for what’s possible in the realm of tomorrow’s fish protection technologies,” said Tessa Greco, prize administrator at NREL.

Three teams were selected for the Fish Protection Grand Prize:

  • In first place, taking home $200,000 in cash and $100,000 in voucher support from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, are Benjamin Mater of Alden Research Laboratory and Charles Coutant, a former Oak Ridge National Laboratory aquatic ecologist, with their winning concept: Making a Deal with the Devilfish: Biometric-Informed Screening Technology.
  • In second place, taking home $125,000 in cash and $100,000 in voucher support from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, are Nicholas and Kenneth LaBry of Prometheus Innovations LLC with their winning concept: Fish Diversion Material & Inspection Improvements.
  • In third place, taking home $75,000 in cash and $100,000 in voucher support from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, are Sterling Watson and Abe Schneider of Natel Energy with their winning concept: The Center Sender.

These winning teams will share $700,000 in the form of cash and in-kind support to further develop their concepts through fall 2021.

Cutting Costs and Timelines for Hydropower Development

NREL, administrator of both the I AM Hydro Prize as well as the Groundbreaking Hydro Prize, shared new prize-related application information.

Announced in June, the I AM Hydro Prize aims to strengthen hydropower by applying advanced manufacturing technologies to reduce construction costs and repair frequency, improve efficiency and energy capture, and more. The prize team extended the application period to October 30.

Another new addition to the prize portfolio, the Groundbreaking Hydro Prize, is now open for applications. The recently launched prize challenges competitors to develop new ideas to cut the costs, timelines, and risks associated with hydropower development. This prize will accept applications until January 15, 2021.

Learn more about the NREL’s hydropower research and the American-Made Challenges suite of prizes.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy LLC.