DSM launched this international competition last October with the goal of identifying the most promising solar and energy storage solutions that will contribute to the ultimate objective of producing 100% renewable energy for the entire planet.

10 Finalists Compete for Energy Storage Funding at Bright Minds Challenge

Hugh Welsh | DSM North America


What is the goal of the Bright Minds Challenge?

DSM recognized in 2015 that science, and more specifically scientists, were not being recognized for the transformative leaders they are and our world increasingly requires. DSM commissioned an award-winning short film “Unsung Heroes of Science” which celebrated four scientists and the fact that science can change the world. The next celebration of science began in 2016 when DSM and its partners launched the Bright Minds Challenge focused on working towards solutions on one of the planet’s most urgent issues – climate change. If the world transitions to 100% renewable energy fast enough, the worst effects of climate change can be mitigated and stabilized so we hand our children and their children a world that is at least comparable to the world that previous generations enjoyed. We’re convinced that the technologies we need to achieve this already exist and by working together we will get these solutions to the to market much faster.

So DSM launched this international competition last October with the goal of identifying the most promising solar and energy storage solutions that will contribute to the ultimate objective of producing 100% renewable energy for the entire planet. These projects came from scientists and entrepreneurs across the globe and include a low-cost solar-powered hearing aid and a New York City-based project to create inflatable solar lanterns to provide affordable light to the 1.5 billion people living without access to the electricity grid.  


Who is DSM and why is it involved? 

Royal DSM began 115 years ago as a coal mining company in the Limberg Province of the Netherlands “Dutch State Mines.” Over the last century we have transformed our business and product portfolio away from fossil fuels and into advanced biofuels, biomedical materials, specialty materials and human an animal nutrition, to name a few. This transformation was achieved through strategic innovation and M&A, and a rigorous application of science. No more “Dutch State Mines” – I like to say that DSM now stands for “Do Something Meaningful.”

We are weaving sustainability as a growth driver throughout every operating level of the company. That was why we launched ScienceCanChangetheWorld.org to celebrate the impact of scientists to do great things for humanity, and continue to use sustainability targets for a material portion of our executives renumeration.

So the Bright Minds Challenge is a natural extension of our corporate mission, and it has been an incredible team effort. We are honored to be partnering with Accenture, the Chinese National Center of Supervision and Inspection on Solar Photovoltaic Products Quality (CPVT), Greentown Labs, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship of the University of Oxford, Solarcentury, SolarAid and Sungevity.


Why is this Challenge focusing on solar photovoltaic fields and energy storage?

Did you know that just 18 days of sunshine could replace all our planet’s energy reserves of coal, oil and natural gas? By harnessing this free and renewable energy, we can end the world’s dependence on harmful fossil fuels and head off the worst projected effects of climate change.

Solar and energy storage are ripe for innovation and entrepreneurship. We believe these technologies – especially when scaled up together – represent one of the best shots at taking carbon out of the power grid. New solar and energy storage solutions also have great potential to enrich the lives of people in remote places and cities all over the world, helping improve health, nutrition and economic development impacting millions of people.


Tell us about the finalists — how were they selected and why?

First, I have to applaud the nearly 40 bold and bright entrepreneurs and scientists who entered the challenge, and the many members of the public who voted for their favorite solution on the website. The top ten solutions that received the most votes from the public were given the opportunity to pitch their business and solution to a committee of expert panelists on April 12th at Greentown Labs. By the end of this day, the judges selected the top three solutions based on its societal impact, commercial scalability, uniqueness, technical quality and presentation.


The panel of experts selected the following submissions as the top three solutions:

  • INQUIMAE (CONICET) and University of Buenos Aires, School of Science: They created an electrochemical method that employs lithium insertion battery type electrodes in a two-step selective process that applies an electrical current through a lithium selective electrode and a chloride selective electrode immersed in natural brine from salt flats:

  • Solar Ear: They created solar powered hearing aid batteries: A hearing aid battery costs about 1 Euro and lasts 1 week. This makes it too expensive (over 400 Euros over the life of an aid) and it is often too difficult for a person in a developing country to find a battery. Solar Ear has invented the first rechargeable hearing aid battery which costs 1 Euro and lasts 2 to 3 years.

  • Cellulike Tanzania Limited: They created a micro-grid solar power distribution system on Pay-As-You-Go model that runs on Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) platform.


Where can we find out more about the entries … do you have a list of finalists and links to their entries?

You can learn more about the Bright Minds challenge, the top ten solutions and the three finalists at http://sciencecanchangetheworld.org.


How will the winner be determined?

The winner and runners-up will be selected in June by six expert judges. Between now and then, the judges will spend time mentoring each of the 3 finalists. You can learn more about all the judges who will mentor and choose the overall winner and the second and third place runners-up of this competition here.


What will the winners receive?

The top three solutions will all receive tailored commercial, technical, marketing and mentoring support and access to networks and investors, with the winner getting 500 hours of customized help to accelerate bringing their solution to market. The professional support to be provided to the winners has a cash equivalency of $100,000 for 1st place, $50,000 for 2nd place, and $25,000 for 3rd place.

At the Greentown Labs pitch presentations, I was also pleased to see the 10 finalists receive specific, actionable feedback regarding their pitches. The members of the expert jury spent a lot of their time with each group, working to put them in touch with other leaders in the field who may be able to help them hone their pitches and their product. This sort of partnership is exactly what we envisioned when we created the Bright Minds Challenge.


More broadly, what role do you believe companies like DSM should be playing in advancing alternative energy solutions?

As I mentioned before, at DSM we are constantly working to “Do Something Meaningful.” The Bright Minds Challenge is just one part of our commitment to driving economic prosperity, environmental progress, and social advances across the globe. DSM’s efforts to recognize science and scientists for their efforts to create a brighter world today and for generations to come began with the Science Can Change the World campaign and will continue with hundreds of DSM employees participating in the March for Science on April 22nd in Washington DC, Boston and at satellite marches around the world.

We believe that effectively tackling climate change is not just a corporate responsibility but also a business opportunity. Accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy will produce multiple benefits including sustainable economic growth, improved public health, resilience to natural disasters, and the preservation and protection of the global environment.

Among many other corporate efforts to reduce energy usage, DSM’s Belvedere, New Jersey manufacturing facility maintains the global nutrition industries largest solar field; DSM North America has also had a long-standing partnership with the US Department of Energy and its “Save Energy Now” program. In 2014 DSM with its partner POET opened the first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Emmetsburg, Iowa and in 2015 DSM North America joined the White House’s “Act On Climate” pledge to reach 100% renewable electricity in its operations by 2030.

About Mr. Hugh C. Welsh
Mr. Hugh C. Welsh is the President & General Counsel of DSM North America, a global leader in Life Sciences & Material Sciences. Traded on the Amsterdam stock exchange with 24,000 employees world wide and $10 billion in annual sales, DSM develops, manufactures and sells nutritional and food ingredients, biomedical materials, specialty plastics and resins, fibers and renewable energy. Mr. Welsh currently serves on several DSM global and regional management teams and has direct responsibilities in DSM’s nutrition and food specialties operations as well as responsibility for legal, government affairs, corporate communications, finance, HR and other shared services, corporate partnerships and DSM’s sustainability, inclusion and diversity initiatives in the region North America. Hugh currently serves on the Board of Directors of, Partners in Food Solutions, the US Chamber of Commerce Citizens Center, Seafood Nutrition Partnership, Patheon, BIO and Africa Improved Foods. He previously served on the board of the American Chemistry Council.
Follow Hugh on Twitter @HughCWelsh
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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