Tag Archives: environmental innovation challenge

Electrifying cars, one fleet at a time

Voltaic
Voltaic team

In 1909 Henry Fold laid down the law: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Today, consumers who want their favorite car to be electric instead of gas-powered will confront a similar lack of options. The problem is that retrofitting drive trains on an existing fleet to run electrically is prohibitively expensive. That will change if Voltaic Drive Systems succeeds.

Voltaic won 2011 Grand Prize of the University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC), produced by the Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in partnership with the UW College of Engineering and UW College of the Environment. The team drove away with $10,000 after besting teams across Washington with a 2002 Honda Accord fitted with their V-EV Drive Module. Their prototype demonstrated that a module component approach could provide automotive companies with the ability to produce electric models of current gasoline vehicles quickly and affordably, bypassing expensive redesign costs.

On the heels of winning the Challenge, Voltaic was awarded a $700,000 competitive EcoCar 2 grant from the US Department of Energy and General Motors. Sixteen universities across North America are competing to reduce the environmental impact of a Chevrolet Malibu without compromising performance, safety and consumer acceptability. The ideal vehicle will generate limited or zero pollution, have a range of 300 miles and be fuel-efficient.

James Barger, Voltaic’s VP of finance is upbeat about their chances. “The EIC provided us with great experience in developing a drive train. We built that working prototype in four months, and we think that will give us an edge in the EcoCar competition.”

UW mechanical engineering Professor Brian Fabien worked with the Voltaic UW senior design team of Trevor Crane and Trevor Fayer, and was impressed by their talent and skills. “It was obvious that these students had extraordinary leadership qualities,” he said. “The module was their idea and their implementation.”

If Voltaic succeeds, it will be a win all around: greener vehicles, lower costs for the car maker and more choice for consumers.

$22,500 awarded to clean technology winners

Teams who won the 3rd annual University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge invented solutions to some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues. Wind energy. Electric car improvements. Biomass energy. Water purification. Algal biofuel efficiency. The 2011 event also had a range of other clean-tech innovations with 17 teams from Washington state universities (UW, WSU, WWU and SPU) competing. Undergraduate, graduate and PhD students from engineering, business, economics, philosophy and a number of other disciplines joined forces to tackle the environment.

VoltaicGrand Prize of $10,000 = Voltaic

A group of UW undergraduate engineers and business students created an electric vehicle modular drive train that can replace drive trains of gas-powered engines in existing models. The electric module can be customized to fit inside any car and the team displayed a Honda outfitted with its prototype electric engine to show how it powers the car.

2nd Prize of $5,000 = PotaVida

This UW PhD team (an electrical engineer, bio-engineer and policy analyst) created a device that measures water quality with a reusable, solar-powered electronic indicator for monitoring solar disinfection of drinking water. Their inexpensive indicator won a $40,000 design award last year and will be field tested in Bolivia this summer. PotaVida is advised by experts at PATH and Microsoft as well as UW professors.

Three honorable mention prizes of $2,500 each went to other UW interdisciplinary teams. Pterofin invented an affordable, more versatile alternative to wind turbines; the new device is lighter than current wind technology and harnesses wind energy at lower wind speeds. BioTek has a patented and patent-pending suite of tools to help optimize and scale the growing algal biofuel industry; their instruments and software are low-cost and field-ready. C6 Systems created a novel system to turn woody biomass into charcoal (or biochar) at forestry sites; their biochar can be sold to heating/electric plants or used as soil enhancement.

Starbucks VP of Sustainable Procurement Sue Mecklenburg, one of many business, science and venture capital judges at the event, said, “It just gets better every year.”

“The Environmental Innovation Challenge is supposed to be more than a university-level science fair. The goal is to be able to take these ideas into a real, revenue-generating business,” said James Barger, UW undergraduate mechanical engineering student who serves as VP of finance for Voltaic.

The UW Environmental Innovation Challenge is sponsored by the UW Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UW College of Engineering, UW College of the Environment and UW Center for Commercialization.

InTheWorks goes in for CARB testing

Third-party validation is a critical test of a new technology, and InTheWorks, which developed a catalytic converter for gasoline marine engines (a technology that could set the standard in marine emissions reduction), has survived that particular ordeal. Since winning an honorable mention award at the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge in 2009, InTheWorks (ITW) has gone through third-party verification, completed a round of private funding, and is now embarking on the all-important CARB (California Air Resources Board) certification process for its patent-pending AquaCat catalytic converter.

Todd Hanson, a UW biochemistry graduate and the chief technologist of the company, developed the technology that was on display at the Challenge last year. The AquaCat was designed to increase fuel efficiency and eliminate most of the harmful emissions of high-performance engines, which are dirtier and more difficult to address than smaller engines. He calls the CARB test “more rigorous than the federal government’s EPA standards.” Passing this test, he says, will give ITW access to new development and market opportunities.

Hanson’s role in CARB has meant that he’s spent more time in California in the last year than in Washington. According to Hanson’s team mate, Jamie Forsyth (Bainbridge Graduate Institute MBA 2009), who is now the company’s business development director, in the works at ITW is an initial proposal for the US Coast Guard for a diesel adaptation of the technology, a memorandum of understanding with a regional transit authority for a passenger ferry project, and new interest by a leader in automotive induction systems technologies. “We think that 2010 will be the year that InTheWorks makes its mark,” she says, “and the marine industry is just the start of something big.” Check it out at www.intheworks.com

Ecowell delivers on its refreshment kiosk promise

“For the Environmental Innovation Challenge in 2009, we had an old computer server rack we’d dummied up to look like a vending kiosk that served water. Our mission was to eliminate a portion of the 500 million plastic bottles and cans that are discarded every day,” said Reid Schilperoort, a 2010 WSU graduate in finance and entrepreneurship. “Of course that first kiosk didn’t work, but it got the message across!”

EcowellToday, the kiosks work. Ecowell, which incorporated in May 2009, provides waste-free, healthy and personalized refreshment to on-the-go customers through its revolutionary vending kiosks. Customers can fill their reusable containers with purified hot, cold, or carbonated water and personalize their beverage with 100 percent natural juices, teas, and nutritional supplements.

After a successful first round of financing, ecowell has manufactured eight new beverage-dispensing kiosks. With installations at three eastern Washington high schools and at Avista Utilities in Spokane, the company’s test marketing is going better than expected. The ecowell  team includes the original UW Environmental Innovation Challenge competitors, as well as four new employees and a board of directors. And they’re well on their way to answering their original question: Can on-the-go purified water and other beverages be offered without polluting our environment and or risking our wellbeing?

2009 grand-prize winner HydroSense is acquired by Belkin International

hydrosense“HydroSense won the grand prize at the inaugural Environmental Innovation Challenge in April 2009 with a water-usage monitoring technology that screws onto a single valve in a home and can detect water use down to each specific toilet, shower, and faucet,” says Jon Froehlich, a PhD student in computer science. “This type of highly granular monitoring data can fundamentally shift how households, utilities, and policy makers think about and understand water consumption.”

After winning the UW EIC, Froehlich and his student team of engineers and computer scientists entered the UW Business Plan Competition, adding MBAs from the Foster School of Business to the team to help refine the HydoSense business model and investment pitch. One of 90 teams at the outset of the event, they made it to the Final Round of the competition, winning a $5,000 prize and the $2,500 Best Clean-Tech Idea award.

“Our success generated a lot of visibility, and we received queries from a number of potential investors and acquirers,” Froehlich said. “The HydroSense research team is led by UW Professor Shwetak Patel, and I’m one of two graduate students on the project. Within about six months, the UW TechTransfer office negotiated a licensing deal, and the HydroSense technology was acquired as part of a larger energy portfolio by Belkin International earlier this year. We went from being a research idea to being bought by a major international company that has the resources to commercialize HydroSense on a massive scale. Now that’s impact!”

For Belkin International’s acquisition of HydroSense/Zensi, see news release.

Winners of UW Environmental Innovation Challenge

“It’s like a science fair on steroids.” That comment by judge and venture capitalist Loretta Little (of WRF Capital) captured the essence of the University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge. 19 student teams from 7 Washington state universities and colleges met in Seattle on April 1 to pitch clean-tech, energy-saving business ideas and prototypes to more than 100 judges, venture capitalists, angel investors, professors and business leaders. Watch video highlights.

EIC_EnvitrumGrand prize = $10,000

A team of University of Washington engineers with a business called EnVitrum won the $10,000 grand prize for their innovative glass recycling and green building technology that converts glass into bricks that are stronger and cheaper than masonry and have a dual purpose of cultivating plants.

Second place + honorable mentions = $12,500

Second place with $5,000 went to Triangle Energy (a University of Washington team consisting of two Foster MBA students, one UW doctoral student in mechanical engineering, one UW doctoral student in biochemistry and one UW chemical engineering undergraduate) who created a mobile bioreactor that converts solid biomass into synthesis gas for energy use. Three honorable mention awards of $2,500 each went to interdisciplinary teams of engineering and business students: NanoWAVE (North Seattle Community College) created an energy-efficient, cost-effective LED lighting alternative for growing plants in nurseries, greenhouses and indoor gardens; iDriveSmart (University of Washington) created software that helps predict and encourage fuel-efficient driving; and Idyll Energy Solutions (Seattle Pacific University) created a solution to the idle, wasted energy of household electronics.

The 2nd annual UW Environmental Innovation Challenge was a collaborative venture between the UW Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UW College of Engineering and UW College of the Environment. Learn more or get involved in next year’s Challenge.

Center funds $35,000 in clean-tech prototype development

A HydroSense sensor“We have funding available.” Those are four words that are bound to attract student attention. For the University of Washington’s Environmental Innovation Challenge, student teams define a clean-tech problem, design and develop a solution and produce both a prototype and a business summary that outlines the market opportunity. To aid in prototype development for the April 1 Challenge, the Center offered teams $35,000 in prototype funding. All they had to do for the free money was apply by December 11.  And apply they did.

Seventeen teams, with students from engineering, environmental sciences, business, computer science, arts and sciences and forest resources, submitted proposals requesting a total of $59,961. The review team examined each proposal for the credibility/novelty of the idea and its potential for impact. After that first cut, the reviewers looked at each team’s budget and whittled down the expenses. What did the team really need, what could they do without, buy on Craig’s List or find in a UW lab with faculty support? In the end, 14 teams received emails from CIE Director Connie Bourassa-Shaw, awarding them between $450 and $5,400.

The ideas for the 2010 UW EIC include automotive adaptations to save energy, new forms of solar products, thermal heating and cooling systems, products for households wanting to conserve electricity, energy solutions from biomass and wireless alternatives for energy distribution. Students have from early January to April 1 to use the funds and must provide receipts of their expenses. By accepting the prototype funding, teams agree to compete in the Challenge. The prototype dollars were provided by the UW College of Engineering and the National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance (NCIIA).

Water consumption tracker wins UW Environmental Innovation Challenge

HydroSense, a team of seven students from across the University of Washington, won first place and $10,000 in the inaugural UW Environmental Innovation Challenge on April 1, 2009.

The team won for their practical solution of tracking water usage in the home. When attached to a faucet, the HydroSense product can calculate real-time water flow, infer the specific source of use such as the toilet, shower, etc., and, detect leaks.

According to research provided by the team, a 15% reduction in water usage across U.S. households would save an estimated 2.7 billion gallons per day and more than $2 billion in consumer costs. Given its potential impact, a low-cost, practical solution to monitor water consumption in the home made perfect “HydroSense” to the 78 judges.

“We’ve seen a tipping point in the United States from a financially-driven bottom line to a triple bottom line; or what my company refers to as the triple win: customer, society and investor,” said judge Maury Costantini, Jr., solutions sales manager for Siemens Building Technologies. “That was on full display today. I’m encouraged by the students’ compassion to improve the human condition and excited by their innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.”

Sustainable solutions come to life
To win the $10,000 grand prize, HydroSense beat out 15 other teams representing five colleges from around Washington State. Students came from a variety of disciplines including business, computer science, engineering and urban planning. Each team was tasked with developing a viable product to reduce environmental impacts and improve ecological sustainability.

Second place and $5,000 went to Nanocel, for technology that cools electronic devices using a convective flow of fluid within a small plastic heat sink. Three honorable mention prizes of $2,500 went to Wind20 (production of potable water using wind energy), Ecowell (vending machines to refill drinking containers) and InTheWorks (marine engine emission reduction).

Challenge, a cross-campus collaboration
The challenge was conceived of by Ellen Lettvin, UW Applied Physics Laboratory, and Connie Bourassa-Shaw, Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Foster School of Business. As the Challenge took shape and the Center offered an “Environmental Innovation Practicum” course, momentum for the Challenge spread across the UW campus and garnered financial support from the College of Engineering, the College of the Environment and a host of corporate sponsors.