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Universities to help drive energy savings innovations

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:energy savings? green technologies? power management?

The future of energy saving innovations now rest on universities as they have become efficient resources of new technologies. In fact, several universities have launched student competitions to identify promising technologies that could benefit the planet. Specific areas of study include geothermal and solar power.

This year's winners of two highly regarded competitions, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Clean Energy Prize and the SETsquared 2011, have designed innovations and identified promising technologies demonstrating energy savings and efficiency. The SETsquared competition is a collaboration of five U.K. universities: Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Clean Energy Prize winner was chosen from among 80 participants from 47 universities across the United States. CoolChip Technologies, which was awarded the grand prize of $200,000, is working to bring the next generation of energy-efficient microprocessor cooling systems to consumers and data centers. For the first time in the competition's four-year history, the winner was an MIT-based concern.

CoolChip has designed a heatsink that is "a revolutionary CPU air-based cooler that is capable of rejecting more heat and improving performance better than any other air-based cooler." The innovation claims a 40 percent cut in operating costs by decreasing the energy used in data center cooling.

The four other finalists in the MIT competition were Ubiquitous Energy, Made in the Commonwealth, PK Clean and LinkCycle, each receiving $15,000.

Ubiquitous Energy won for its plans to commercialize a technology that allows low-cost printing of solar cells on any flexible surface, including paper or fabric. The team hopes to develop a solar charger the size of a standard sheet of paper that could be used for charging cellphones or lanterns in off-grid locations in developing countries.

PK Clean has patented a process for making fuel from discarded plastic, thereby transforming mountains of waste into barrels of oil. The process would allow the team to tap into the multibillion-dollar fuel market. The team plans to build a 20-ton-per-day pilot facility to make fuel for cars and trucks for the equivalent of $25 to $30 a barrel.

Made in the Commonwealth plans to produce renewable fuels for jet aircraft, as well as gasoline, diesel and natural gas for other vehicles, at a new refinery in Massachusetts. Led by Matthew Pearlson, an MIT graduate student in the Engineering Systems Division, the team this year hopes to raise $20 million to begin fuel production.

LinkCycle won for a software package that streamlines the process through which businesses conduct life-cycle analysis of their products. Rather than hire consultants to perform an analysis from scratch for every new product, businesses would use LinkCycle's online platform for sharing basic data that applies to many products, thereby making the analysis process less expensive and more transparent, while simplifying verification.

The SETsquared 2011 competition received applications from 75,000 students from the five universities. The winner was Alistair Shepherd, a 22-year-old graduate student in aeronautics and astronautics at the University of Southampton.

His winning entry exploits wave energy by using the motion of ships to generate electricity in a device inside the ship itself. Since the device is not immersed in seawater, it avoids the damage that affects other wave power solutions. "Wave power could replace diesel auxiliary generators on millions of ships worldwide, saving money for the ship owners and reducing carbon emissions," said Shepherd.

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