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In just a few months, startup company Umpqua Energy will open its first manufacturing facility with 50 new employees producing an emission control system that can potentially reduce the emissions from vehicles by 90 percent. 

In a significant technological jump, the startup’s system is scalable to any engine including those of cars, trucks, trains, or even power plants.

Equally impressive is the fact that this technology was sitting in Argonne National Laboratory not so long ago, and now it’s drawing attention from the State of California and major automakers. Umpqua Energy licensed a part of its system under an agreement with the National Lab as part of the America’s Next Top Energy Innovator program. The program reduced the upfront cost of obtaining an option agreement to license national lab technologies and simplified the process in an effort to make the discoveries made by the labs more accessible to entrepreneurs.

As a result, Umpqua Energy and 35 other startups licensed 42 patents from the labs. For an upfront fee of $1,000, each company could license up to three patents of the 15,000 patents held by the labs. Fourteen of those companies entered into the America’s Next Top Energy Innovator Challenge to compete for the spotlight at 2012 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit.

Last week, Secretary Chu recognized Umpqua Energy as one of the top three companies selected by an online vote and a panel of experts, who evaluated the company’s propensity for social and economic impact.

The system developed by Umpqua Energy makes engines operate more efficiently with a plasma reformer attached to the engine. The device extracts hydrogen from the fuel and then injects the hydrogen into the combustion process causing the fuel to burn more completely, which improves fuel consumption and also increases the power from the engine. This component is said to possibly double gas mileage under the right conditions. The jump in efficiency also greatly reduces the emissions of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere though vehicles outfitted with the plasma reformer still emit harmful nitrous oxide (NOx). That’s where the Argonne technology comes into play.

The catalyst developed at Argonne completes the revolutionary system by cleaning up 85 percent of the NOx as it escapes through an attachment on the tailpipe. The first applications for the company will be retrofits to car and diesel fleet vehicles. Argonne originally developed the catalyst with power plants in mind, so the next application will likely be scaled up to industrial power generation, according to Williams Evans, Umpqua Energy CEO and founder.

Umpqua Energy is on the forefront of the reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing gas mileage and increasing fuel savings, which is why they were selected as one of America’s Next Top Energy Innovators.