Start-up Profile: Ahwahnee Technology

Who: Ahwahnee Technology is angel-backed and looking for VC funding. Update: Ahwahnee has raised $1 million in angel funding.

What: The company is developing a new energy-efficient lighting source for the general illumination market. The technology uses carbon nanotubes, nano-scale material 10,000 times thinner than a human hair that is capable of producing light.

When used in lighting applications, carbon nanotubes compete with fluorescent bulbs and LEDs (light-emitting diodes). Fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, which is harmful to the environment, and eco-friendly LED lighting is still struggling with luminosity inefficiencies and color. But carbon nanotube lighting has a long way to go, too. For example, no one is yet sure if the waste it produces could harm the environment. But Ahwahnee has taken steps to make sure the bulb is made in a way that would not let the material leak out, even if the bulb is improperly discarded (in other words, not recycled).

Where: Ahwahnee is based in San Jose, Calif., and has a factory near Shanghai that produces carbon nanotubes. The market price for the “multiwall nanotube” material used by the company, even with their own factory, is still rather high at $2 per gram. CEO Shang-Che Cheng says he wanted to figure out a way to mass manufacture these carbon nanotubes before developing a product that uses them.

The company is actively pursuing partnerships with other nanotechnology companies in the energy space, since carbon nanotubes can be used in energy production, storage, and efficiency applications. They also provide free carbon nanotube materials and kits for companies who wish to collaborate in developing these technologies.

When: Founded in 2002.

Why: The Department of Energy recently estimated that 22 percent of all the electricity generated in the U.S. goes towards lighting, representing $58 billion in annual spending. The DOE is presently examining ways to reduce that figure to 11 percent by 2025. Around the globe governments are banning the incandescent light bulb, which wastes 95 percent of the energy required to produce light.