Ten Emerging-Technology Innovators to Watch in 2012

Ten Emerging-Technology Innovators to Watch in 2012

From 'torrefaction' to 'nanobodies,' leading-edge technology is at the core of these firms' business models.

In its latest quarterly analysis, Lux Research Inc. offers a look at 10 companies "developing emerging technologies that are poised to impact global megatrends like sustainable energy and infrastructure, sustainable health and wellness, and materials revolutions."

Lux, a Boston-based emerging-technology research firm, profiled 262 companies across 12 emerging-technology domains in fourth-quarter 2011, as part of its ongoing intelligence services. These 10 are the pick of the litter.

Note: Each firm gets a "Lux Take" that ranges from "strong caution" to "strong positive," to provide a bottom-line assessment of its prospect, with a "wait-and-see" rating for companies that still face too much uncertainty for a definitive call.

  1. Diamon-Fusion International (advanced materials) -- Positive. "With its transparent silicone film used to coat silica-based substrates, Diamon-Fusion is one of the few startups in the protective-coatings space with strong technical and business-execution track records," Lux Research said.
  2. Proterro (bio-based materials and chemicals) -- Wait and see. "Proterro is commercializing a strain of photosynthetic organism that produces sugars at levels 10 times more productive than sugarcane and in a configuration that could deliver the holy grail of '5-cent' sugars (i.e., 5 cents per pound), but it will need funding and downstream partners to scale its potential breakthrough technology beyond a lab prototype.
    Ablynx engineers "nanobodies" to deliver small-molecule drugs to a target site.
  3. Topell Energy (alternative fuels) -- Positive. "Working with German utility RWE, Topell Energy scaled its first commercial torrefaction facility in 2011 to convert wood waste into bio-coal pellets. Topell is a leader in the torrefaction space and is positioned to capitalize on healthy incentives in the E.U. for coal/bio-coal co-firing."
  4. Spirae (smart grid and grid storage) -- Wait and see. "With the growing grid penetration of renewable-energy sources and the inherent difficulty in managing their fluctuating inputs, Spirae could be in a prime position to support utility infrastructure with its comprehensive control-and-management system if it can prove its concept on a large scale and secure long-term utility contracts."
  5. eIQ Energy (solar systems) -- Positive. "One of the few DC/DC-optimizer companies staying with standalone hardware, eIQ partners with engineering, procurement and construction companies who can realize its technology's value in the strong commercial market segment."
  6. Pervasive Displays (printed electronics) -- Wait and see. "Using a technology honed for the 'One Laptop per Child' program, Pervasive Displays produces low-power electrophoretic display modules that target application developers for warehouse signage and electronic shelf labels. While Pervasive has power advantages from its control functions, it will need to drive its costs down to compete with more established competitors and access a broader market."
  1. Kurion (water) -- Positive. Kurion is "a high-risk but high-profit U.S. nuclear-contamination-control company that rapidly scaled to clean up the Japanese Fukushima radioactive-cooling-water problem to the tune of massive windfall profits when no one else on the planet was prepared to deal with the problem."
  2. Hycrete (sustainable building materials/efficient building systems) -- Wait and see. "Hycrete's water-barrier technology improves the durability of concrete infrastructure at prices significantly cheaper than the incumbent membrane-based approach, but it will need to establish partnerships with well-known infrastructure or chemical companies to gain market access in the conservative infrastructure segment."
  3. Citic Guoan MGL (electric vehicles) -- Wait and see. "In the sea of Chinese lithium-ion battery developers, state-owned MGL stands out for its traction in China's electric and hybrid-electric bus market. Its strong government relationships could provide ready channels to market for would-be foreign-technology partners, but competition with other domestic firms such as China Aviation Lithium Battery Corp. will be fierce."
  4. Ablynx (formulation and delivery) -- Wait and see. "Ablynx engineers its "nanobodies" -- therapeutic proteins derived from antibodies in camel blood -- to specifically deliver small-molecule drugs to a target site. Despite stiff competition in the saturated antibody field and a multitude of emerging targeting strategies (such as DNA aptamers), Ablynx has snagged more than its share of heavyweight partners (Boehringer Ingelheim, Merck Serono, Norvartis and Pfizer), and is generating tens of millions in revenue to assist in its own healthy development pipeline."
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