National Instruments just unveiled its 2011 Green Engineering Grant program and its announcement highlights the notable trend among design tools vendors to offer free software licenses and training to spur innovation and R&D among green engineering startups.
Through its program, NI is focusing on the clean energy sector with plans to donate up to $25,000 in LabVIEW graphical programming software as well as training to eligible startups. For 2011, NI’s second year of sponsoring the grant program, the company will look for candidates working on applications around solar, wind and biofuel to improve the smart grid and provide what it calls the foundation for a clean energy future.
Brian MacCleery, NI’s principal product manager for clean energy technology, says the grant program focuses on the smart grid because NI views it and clean energy as the “biggest and most exciting economic opportunity of our time.” NI sees the grant program as its own little venture capital initiative, unearthing the clean tech startups that have the most potential to make a difference and those for which the NI tools can play a critical role in their development efforts.
Last year, NI provided over 40 grants for fledgling companies worldwide, MacCleery says, to the tune of $900,000. Some of the beneficiaries of last year’s grant: Windlift, a startup company developing airborne wind energy systems, including onboard energy storage for mobile microgrids in post-conflict reconstruction and disaster relief; and Makai Ocean Engineering, which is harnessing ocean thermal energy to create electricity. Thanks to an assist from the Green Engineering Grant, Makai is leveraging LabVIEW and NI’s Compact DAQ data acquisition system as part of its test program to determine the optimal materials and manufacturing technology for heat exchanger designs–the single most expensive component of an OTEC power plant, according to Robert Loudon, mechanical engineer at Makai.
NI isn’t alone in offering grants to sponsor green engineering companies. Autodesk also has a Clean Tech Partner Program for supporting early-stage clean technology companies. Through its program, participants can apply to receive up to $150,000 worth of Autodesk digital prototyping software for just $50. IT Power, a U.K.-based energy consultancy, is one of the latest recipients to partake in the Autodesk Clean-Tech program. It’s leveraging the Autodesk Inventor CAD package to develop the Pulse Tidal device, which employs oscillating horizontal hydrofoils in place of more traditional rotating blades to generate renewable energy from tidal streams.
I’m not sure the grants alone will give any of these clean-tech players any kind of sizeable edge, but they surely can’t hurt. And it’s good for the clean-tech industry–not to mention, good for the design tool vendors–to have any kind of hand in facilitating development that in the end, is so vital to the future of this planet.