Fuel storage capacity, range and costs have been the main deterrents to the adoption of natural gas as an alternative fuel choice in America. Part of the problem is the typical natural gas fuel storage system found in vehicles; prior to advancements in composites and designs, tanks were made of steel, were very heavy and dangerous if exploded due to scrap metal debris. Advancements over the years have allowed for higher pressure (and thus greater storage capacity and range), but have usually resulted in additional cost or added weight.
This team is developing a new natural gas fuel storage system that could solve these issues. The solution, a higher-pressure storage vessel constructed using innovative, mineral-based composite materials, can hit the target service pressure of 5800 psi compared to standard 3600. By increasing pressure, more fuel can be stored in a smaller space, thus reducing the size and increasing capacity. The team’s innovation is the material (mineral fiber reinforced plastic which mimics carbon fiber) and the use of several composite manufacturing techniques (including braiding and filament winding to enhance strength).
In developing countries worldwide, infant mortality rates remain extremely high: out of the 3.7 million neonatal deaths and 3.3 million stillbirths in the world each year, 98% occur in developing countries. Among these numbers are newborns that are unresponsive upon delivery, but which still have a faint heartbeat. Unfortunately these infants are often declared stillborn and left to die, as the absence of reliable medical devices to check for heartbeat and the lack of training in using them prevent attempts at resuscitation.
The International Business Ventures Enterprise team is developing the Infant Heart Annunciator (IHA) to address this problem. The IHA can quickly detect the heartbeat of an unresponsive infant by using electronic impulses; the device is placed on an infant’s chest, and two electrodes detect the infant's electrocardiogram (ECG) within three seconds. If the infant’s heart is beating, the device will flash a light and beep for each heartbeat, indicating that resuscitation is required. Healthcare workers, midwives and other medical professionals are trained to resuscitate, so if the infant is identified as being alive, the chances of them surviving increase dramatically.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2011 - $18,500
One of the greatest challenges facing the solar industry is the high cost per kilowatt hour for solar power. Even with government subsidies and incentives, the price of solar power is still much more expensive than traditional energy sources. For it to become widely adopted, cost reductions need to be accomplished that increase the energy output of solar cells and reduce manufacturing costs.
Effimax Solar is developing technology that addresses both of these challenges. Currently, crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar cells comprise over 85% of the solar cell market share. Among all of the c-Si solar cell manufacturing processes, texturing is one of the most significant in determining cell efficiency. Conventional texturing processes have several drawbacks, but Effimax Solar’s new process, called Omni Black, ameliorates the disadvantages, enhances efficiency, and lowers the cost of c-Si cells. Omni Black is a nanotexturing process that creates high density and high aspect ratio nanostructures on silicon solar cell surface to lower the surface reflectance and improve the light trapping. This results in more light being collected and converted into electric power. Further cost savings are realized by reducing the silicon loss in the texturing process and migrating to thinner wafers with almost no loss in efficiency.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2011 - $18,800
While approximately 80% of the world’s amputees live in developing nations, only 2% of the people in that segment have access to appropriate prosthetic care and rehabilitation. This is because developing the custom-fit socket for the prosthetic is extremely labor-intensive and expensive. The socket must be fabricated by a trained prosthetist after taking measurements of the individual amputee, and typically costs around $5,000 to produce.
Illini Prosthetic Technologies (IPT) is a nonprofit organization founded in 2008 by engineering students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to develop and deliver an affordable prosthetic arm. The paradigm behind IPT’s below-elbow prosthesis is the elimination of the custom-fit in the socket. This allows for a rapid-fitting, off-the-shelf device that is both affordable and appropriate for the developing world. See the current prototype at http://vimeo.com/33997864.
The term “complex communications needs” (CCN) is commonly used in hospitals to refer to the problems severely disabled patients can have in communicating their needs to staff. Barriers to communication can occur, for example, when a patient has new physical disabilities caused by traumatic injury. Hundreds of thousands of patients experience this every year, and it can create dangerous situations: a recent Joint Commission survey identified communication failures as a top underlying cause of events resulting in death or serious injury to patients while under hospital care each of the past eight years.
Augment Medical is developing PatientLink, a novel wireless communication platform accessible to disabled patients that enables them to call the nurse, turn lights on and off and control the TV. It consists of a patient input controller, a wall adapter, Bluetooth wireless technology, and software for user interface. This allows a patient to call a nurse with voice activation or by squinting, and to communicate by capturing signals from facial movements.
The General Population Census of Cambodia in 2008 found that 76.8% of the rural population still practices open defecation. As a result, diarrheal diseases are the number one cause of sickness and death amongst Cambodian children, with 20% of children under five years old suffering from diarrhea. At the same time, most Cambodian fields are under-fertilized, with UN estimates suggesting that only 30% of rice fields receive even minimal fertilizer application. Too often, poor farmers fertilize their fields with raw human waste, leading to widespread illness.
This team has designed the EZ*PZ, an inexpensive (~$4) device that converts urine into a safe fertilizer. Essentially half a toilet that goes on the front part of a latrine squat pan, the EZ*PZ ensures that urine, feces, and blackwater are separated at the point of collection. The urine ends up in a clear plastic jug, where it’s treated immediately with direct sunlight. This pathogen-free fertilizer can then be combined with water and applied directly to vegetables and other crops. Preliminary tests indicate that users of the device will see rapid increases in crop yields and improvement in public health.
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, 2011 - $8,000
This planning grant supports the creation of a new program, the Innovation Sandbox, at Cal Poly. The program will have a number of components, including a basic prototype facility available to students, staff skilled in technology business development, faculty from engineering and business, access to campus engineering labs, connections to campus competitions, and support in writing E-Team grants. The goal of Innovation Sandbox is to nurture new tech ideas and take them beyond the academic setting.
The Hatchery, a course at The University of Texas at Austin, combines academic coursework, business-building support, and industry engagement in order to help PhD, MBA and JD candidates successfully commercialize university technologies. This grant supports modifying the curriculum to include healthcare-focused Computer Science graduate students and promote distribution of this curriculum to a broader spectrum of disciplines at UT. For each technology, teams will develop a commercialization plan and a draft patent application (or intellectual property strategy). The teams will then receive structured incubation support and mentorship.
This grant funds the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship and CU’s Environmental Center in establishing a campus Innovation Lab to support the formation of E-Teams. The lab will be in an accessible, central location with on-site and online resources for E-Team development, including an entrepreneur-in-residence. The goals of this seed project are to: launch the lab; have over 100 students use it in the first year; and have eight E-Teams formed and active. The lab will have a movable kiosk that travels across campus to different colleges to reach out to students and encourage them to explore entrepreneurship opportunities and commercialization of their ideas.