A project that increases the efficiency of biofuels was declared Wednesday the winner of the University of Wisconsin Nelson Institute’s Climate Leadership Challenge, which awarded $50,000 in prizes to student-developed projects.
Modeled on the X-Games, the CLC solicited products that promote climate change solutions at the state, national and international level.
“Cellulosic Biofuels” was declared the overall winner out of the 25 projects submitted by early April, earning its development team a prize of $20,000.
“It was great,” said UW senior and project co-developer Jack Ho on winning. “We felt that we had a really great idea and concept, but at the same time all of the finalists had really great ideas and all of them deserved really good recognition. We were definitely pleasantly surprised.”
The project involves using a genetically engineered enzyme to increase the energy efficiency of some biofuels.
According to Ho, development of their project began last summer after his team decided to enter another competition. He said he is unsure of where his team will go from here, as many of its members are graduating this spring.
Overall he said the competition was a valuable way to connect with people in the field of climate change.
“The biggest thing was how many people were excited about what we were doing,” Ho said. “We’re definitely really excited about it because it’s something that can definitely make a difference in the world, and the fact so many people are excited about it is definitely a positive thing.”
Judges also awarded prizes for the best state, national and international solutions. Each team was awarded $10,000.
“EcoStream,” an environmentally friendly vending machine, was named the best state solution.
“A Novel Method of Carbon Sequestration” was awarded best national solution for turning biomass into biochar and capturing the synthesis gas created.
A project called “Solar Cycle” that made use of garbage to produce a water purification system and solar cooking device won best international solution.
UW senior and EcoStream co-developer Mike Deau said he was very impressed by the overall quality of the submissions.
“This was the best competition I’ve ever seen. Everyone came with their game face on today,” Deau said.
Deau, who described his project as “an environmentally minded invention that has a business aspect to it,” said the money awarded to his team will go to further development of EcoStream as a product and company.
He said he and his partner UW senior Chris Meyer may even hire their first employee.
CLC Project Coordinator Josh Ghena said he believed the competition went very well.
“I was very impressed. As an organization we were extremely happy with our turnout. We had 25 submissions — we were shooting for 12 — and the quality was really good,” Ghena said.
The CLC will be held again next year, as the Nelson Institute has already procured funding for another round of competition.