Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Student engineering team wins Clean Energy Prize

A plan to use algae to simultaneously treat wastewater and produce the raw materials for biofuels won the Clean Energy Prize.

Team Algal Scientific Corp., comprised of business and engineering students from U-M and Michigan State University, earned the top prize of $65,000.

Clean Energy Prize winners Geoff Horst, Jeff LeBrun, Bobby Levine and John Rice devised a business plan that involves using algae to treat wastewater and provide the raw materials for a biofuel. U-M students LeBrun and Rice are in the master of business administration program, while Levine is a chemical engineering doctoral student. Horst is an ecology doctoral student at Michigan State University. (Photo by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services)

The award is sponsored by U-M, DTE Energy, the Masco Corporation Foundation and the Kresge Foundation to encourage entrepreneurship in Michigan and the development of clean energy technology.

“We put a lot of effort in, and we had tough competition,” says team member Bobby Levine, who is a doctoral student in the Department of Chemical Engineering. “I think we still have a lot of work to do, but we’re excited to plan the next phase.”

In Algal Scientific Corp.’s wastewater treatment system, algae would take up nutrients at wastewater treatment plants in a more economical and environmentally friendly way than the current state of the art. This method uses no chemicals. Then, the nutrient-packed algae would be harvested and sent to a plant to be converted directly to biofuels.

“We’re trying to address two major global concerns: clean water and clean energy,” says Geoff Horst, an ecology doctoral student at MSU who developed the technology. “And we can do that with one process.”

The Stephen M. Ross School of Business’ Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship and the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute along with student organizations MPowered Entrepreneurship and the Ross Energy Club organized the competition.

“This competition helps to cultivates the entrepreneurial spirit of the next generation,” says Stephen Forrest, vice president for research. “One of the real characteristics of an entrepreneur is that one way or another you get it done. You don’t wait for someone to say yes. You don’t listen to people who say no. If you believe in your ideas, you just go. The young people in this competition are exemplifying that fortitude.”

Forrest, an entrepreneur himself, is the William Gould Dow Collegiate Professor of Electrical Engineering and a professor in the Department of Physics and Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

Other members of the Algal Scientific team are U-M master of business administration students Jeff LeBrun and John Rice.

Twenty-three teams competed. On Friday, the finalists presented business plans and investor pitches to a panel of judges.

Second place and $21,000 went to team Husk for its proposal to use rice husk ash to make insulation for refrigerators that’s at least six times more efficient than dominant technology. Third place and $3,400 went to Ikanos Power for its proposal to produce fuel-flexible power generators for use first in military tanks and tractor-trailers. The SITumbra team, which proposed a rigid solar shading window system configured to respond to seasonal variations with optimal energy efficiency, won fourth place and $3,400.