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July 09, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Spark Cleantech Accelerator announces 2024 Cohort!

The cohort is made up of a diverse group of founders working to commercialize a wide variety of promising cleantech and climate-tech products, ranging from aluminum and sodium batteries, to solar energy and wildfire prevention.

The Spark Cleantech Accelerator is one of Knoxville’s most successful, competitive, and promising accelerator programs. Spark graduates such as SkyNano and Holocene have secured millions in funding, built laboratories locally, and hired talent in Tennessee.

Between the Spark Cleantech Accelerator and Spark Incubator, Spark has supported 29 companies that have collectively raised $77 million, hired 108 full-time employees, and supported 44 interns. 82 percent of the companies served still have an active presence in Knoxville and 72 percent have employees physically located here.

Now a new cohort of six companies will take up residence at the University of Tennessee Research Park to undergo 12 weeks of intense mentorship, connections, prototyping support, business acceleration, and commercialization.

“We’re looking forward to working with this year’s cohort,” said Lilly Tench, Director of the Spark Innovation Center. “The six startups we have selected will be joined by the new cohort of Innovation Crossroads fellows. Together, these two groups create a strong community of founders working to commercialize exciting solutions. The diverse mix of technologies represented by this year’s cohort have the potential to make a huge impact on their respective industries, on the planet, and the local economy.”

This will be Tench’s first official cohort as the Director of the Spark Cleantech Accelerator. Considering the level of talent seen in the selected companies, it’s sure to be a good year for her!

The Spark team will be introducing a new version of the curriculum this year, focusing on four core pillars: The Business Model, Minimum Viable Product, Financial Model, and Pitch.

The curriculum will be led by Lilly Tench and the Spark Experts in Residence (EIR) team, John Bruck, Carol Seamons, and Bill Malkes, with mentorship provided by the Innovation Crossroad’s EIR team of Angelique Adams, John Derrick, and Gary Rawlings as well as the Energy Network of the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC),  and other local partners such as the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) Haslam College of Business, the UT Center for Materials Processing, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.

The Accelerator will kick off on August 19 and will culminate in a Demo Day on November 19, 2024, as part of “Opportunities in Energy” hosted by TAEBC. The founders will receive stipends for their time in the program, and connections with local entities.

Meet the 2024 Cohort!


Brian Washington

AluminAiry is a Knoxville-based startup from UTK, specializing in aluminum-air battery technology for electric vehicle (EV) applications. Current Li-ion batteries in EVs cause range anxiety and require long recharge times, drastically decreasing marketability.

AluminAiry’s batteries use fully recyclable aluminum and air to produce energy. Aluminum-air batteries could potentially offer energy densities ten times higher than Li-ion batteries, doubling EV range and rivaling internal combustion engines (ICEs).

Additionally, AluminAiry’s unique recharge mechanism aims to cut recharge times by a factor of ten. The company’s solutions address key EV limitations, which will be significant for manufacturers, current EV drivers, and potential consumers of the future. Read more about AluminAiry in this article.

The start-up was founded by Brian Washington, a Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering at UTK since 2020.

American Advanced Membrane Technology

Rachid Essehli, Ph.D.

American Advanced Membrane Technology (AAMTECH) is a Clean Technology company dedicated to providing zero-waste lithium-ion battery recycling and providing the highest quality advancements in environmentally friendly process manufacturing. The company focuses on three core verticals: Reverse Osmosis through proprietary membrane filtration systems, wastewater treatment reactor manufacturing, and battery recycling.

Through large-scale, eco-friendly procedures with minimal CO2 emissions, AAMTECH can efficiently reclaim lithium, cobalt, manganese, and nickel from old batteries. These recovered materials are then reintegrated into the manufacturing of new batteries. The company’s refined battery treatment methods prioritize safety, sustainability, and operational efficiency.

The company was founded by Rachid Essehli, Ph.D., who is based in Knoxville.

IonTech Energy Solutions

Subathra Rajendran

IonTech develops cutting-edge sodium-ion battery technology, offering a sustainable, affordable, and safer alternative to traditional lithium-ion batteries.

Utilizing abundant sodium, their batteries feature high stability, good cycling performance, low toxicity, and wide temperature range capabilities.

IonTech’s innovative Na’SICON cathode technology enhances energy storage efficiency for applications in the home, grid, mobile, and telecom sectors. Their vision is to accelerate the transition to clean energy and contribute to a sustainable future through advanced battery solutions.

The start-up was founded by Subathra Rajendran, who is from Kettering, Ohio.

Witching Hour

Lance Adler

Witching Hour aims to address the issue of power line-related wildfires. Utilizing advanced materials, the company focuses on reducing faults and ignitions of power lines that can lead to catastrophic forest fires.

Witching Hour’s technology includes a special coating for high-risk electrical lines and a robotic machine that applies this coating, eliminating the need for human intervention and enhancing safety. This innovative approach can potentially reduce the cost of current mitigation efforts, like installing covered conductors and underground power lines, by up to 97 percent.

The start-up was founded by Lance Adler,  who is from Gulfport, Florida. He was also a member of cohort three of the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator. Read more about Witching Hour in this article.

Z18 Engineering

Bing Cao

Z18 Engineering has developed recyclable magnetic nanoparticles (RMNPs) coated with an Amine-PEG ligand to eliminate PFAS from water, wastewater, and sludge.

These nanoparticles bond with PFAS through surface ligands and separate PFAS from the media under the influence of a magnetic field.

The RMNPs are reusable, highly efficient, and more cost-effective compared to conventional treatment technologies. The technology also has the potential for customization to target specific pollutants and can be applied to wastewater sludge treatment.

The start-up was founded by Bing Cao in Knoxville.

3D Solar

3D Solar revolutionizes solar energy with highly efficient three-dimensional solar cells inspired by the biomimicry of insect eyes and sacred geometric shapes.

Daniel Clark

These innovative cells maximize energy production by capturing up to three times more power at nearly half the cost of conventional silicon-based cells. Clark has successfully miniaturized his 3D solar cell design, enabling assembly into 3D solar modules that overcome the inefficiencies and high costs prevalent in the existing solar panel industry.

The company was founded by Daniel Clark who is from Carmichael, California. He came to Knoxville for cohort three of the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator. Read more about 3D Solar in this article.



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