rensselaer polytechnic institute

BioSolar Entrepreneurship: Environmental and Social Sustainability as Mutual Bootstrapping

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2010 - $34,663

The West African nation of Ghana is mostly rural, with farming constituting 60% of the workforce. Many of these farms are small, but collectively they produce an enormous amount of biomaterial that is currently burned as waste. As a result, the post-harvest sky is choked with air pollution, uncontrolled wild fires are a constant threat, and the burning biomass contributes to global warming.

This team proposes to convert the post-harvest biomass into usable energy with a solar enhanced pyrolysis device. Pyrolysis, the decomposition of biomass in an oxygen-free environment at elevated temperatures, results in biofuel (gas and oil) and a biochar residue that can be used to enhance soil fertility. The team’s device uses corncobs and concentrated solar energy to convert the waste into energy and biochar with high efficiency and throughput.

The team is partnered with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana. Travel funds to enable two-way student exchanges have been provided by an alumnus to enhance the project.

ABSAL Desalination Systems

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2010 - $12,200

Although the ocean contains over 97% of the total water on Earth, less than 1% of world’s drinking water comes from the ocean. Desalination (the process of removing excess salt from water) on a large scale typically uses extremely large amounts of energy and requires specialized, expensive infrastructure, making it costly compared to the use of fresh water from rivers or groundwater. While most desalination technologies try to increase freshwater output by adding heat, making it an energy-intensive process, this E-Team is developing technology to harvest drinking water from the ocean using only solar energy. This is done by mimicking the water cycle: optimizing variables such as air flow, surface area, and liquid depth to increase evaporation.

The team is targeting developing countries with this technology, estimating a sixteen-gallon daily yield and a cost of $50 per unit for a scaled-down version.

Turbohead

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1999 - $17,970

The Turbohead is a re-engineered turbocharger configuration designed so that the entire mechanism resides inside the head of an engine. This design is cost effective in terms of manufacturing and installation, produces a more efficient and powerful turbo system, and eliminates many of the wear problems existing products have. The Turbohead also creates a larger potential market for turbochargers, as they are normally a specialty item. The team has completed initial feasibility testing and a patent search.

They plan to take their idea to the market by prototyping and testing their design and filing a patent. The team draws on RPI's resources to help start up a business: the Entrepreneurs Club, an Inventor's Studio, and the Rensselaer Technology Park.

Students in the team are mechanical engineering majors, with one major doubling in management. The project idea began in the NCIIA-funded course Inventor's Studio.

LNR Design Team (Frogger)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1998 - $15,345

This team is developing a three-dimensional vertical maze game using air power. The game is conceptually based on a popular Parker Brothers video arcade game called Frogger. The game is joystick operated, and propels a ping-pong ball upward through a maze of gates and tubes using air. The game play is controlled via embedded control through a microcontroller. The microcontroller interprets the movements of the joystick and positions the servo motors that move the path gates in the game, controls the score counter and game timer, monitors photogates that track the positioning of the ball, and provides visual and audio feedback to the player.

This game is targeted for use at arcades and carnivals, selling at a lower cost than typical arcade games. An initial patent search showed no similar designs, and the team is developing a patent application. The team members are civil engineering, electrical engineering, and industrial management engineering majors.

Dairy Pasteurization for Rural Peru

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2009 - $16,000

Many families in rural Peru make yogurt and cheeses, but, due to a lack of pasteurization equipment and sanitation controls, they can’t legally sell their products in a larger market. Instead, they eat the food themselves or trade with neighbors. Building on prior work in the region and working closely with students from the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Peru (PUCP), this E-Team is developing affordable and easy-to-use pasteurization equipment for rural families in Peru. The need for this project comes directly from the villagers themselves, having spoken with team members while implementing a Sustainable Vision-funded project to install green homes in rural Peru. The region of Cusco is the top tourist site in the country, but the villagers have no way of getting their products certified so they can be sold to tourists. The team’s gravity-fed pasteurizer will work by causing milk to flow from an upper pan through tubing submerged in a boiling water bath. The milk flowing through the tubing should reach the appropriate temperature to kill a sufficient number of bacteria. The team, consisting of students from RPI and PUCP, has been investigating the local market. With NCIIA funding they will develop and test a pasteurizer, make sure that dairy products made using the device can achieve certification, and work with microfinance organizations to make the device available for purchase.

OsmoPure

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2009 - $10,500

This E-Team is developing OsmoPure, a low-cost water purification device for developing countries based on simple membrane filtration technology. While there are a number of water filtration devices being marketed to the poor, many of them don’t work in murky water (they get easily clogged), often require a large energy input in order to work (e.g., hand pumping), and fail to remove all contaminants. OsmoPure is a compact, cartridge-based, multi-stage water purification system. To produce potable water, the user fills a plastic bottle with dirty water, screws on the purifier like you would screw on a cap and squeezes the bottle to dispense clean water. When the filter looks dirty, the user simply shakes the fluid inside to remove debris. The purifiers are meant for plastic bottles that exist currently as rubbish in the target areas, cutting production and distribution costs and creating an environmentally friendly solution to the global water crisis.

Updates:

OsmoPure wins $100,000 at MassChallenge (Nov. 2010)

Fast Company story (Dec. 2010)

Facilitating Entrepreneurship in Lighting

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2009 - $29,394

The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at RPI is a well-established research and educational institution dedicated to lighting. With this grant, RPI is adding an entrepreneurial component to its MS in Architectural Sciences with a Concentration in Lighting program. To address societal and environmental needs, entrepreneurship will become an integral part of the program. With NCIIA funding, a multidisciplinary team of faculty and graduate students, along with leaders and professionals from the lighting industry, will develop a core curriculum that will make up the new entrepreneurship component. The new entrepreneurial component will include a new Leadership in Lighting Course, a master’s project (including a business plan and product prototype), as well as adding entrepreneurship to an existing Lighting Workshop. The program will be sustained by funding from RPI and outside industry partners.

Rensselaer and Grupo de Apoyo at Sector Rural for a Sustainable Peru

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2006 - $45,195

Getting appropriate technology implemented in rural ares in Peru is very difficult due to the geographical dispersion of the approximately 70,000 communities living in extreme poverty. To help solve the problem, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is collaborating with two Peruvian NGOs: Grupo de Apoyo al Sector Rural at the Pontificia Universidad del Peru and the Inca-Bus mobile technology education program. The goal of the collaboration is to create and build systems for sustainable sources of energy and clean water and air for the rural population. Interdisciplinary student design teams from RPI's chapters of Engineers for a Sustainable World and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers will build the systems. Projects will be identified and evaluated based on impact on basic human needs and potential for commercialization.

Summer 2009 update: In 2008 the RPI team set up communication with Peru and received funding to build a demonstration house designed by RPI where technologies they developed were installed and tested. They designed a prototype guinea pig house, a well drilling and pumping system and an improved biomass stove and press for the reformulation of dung. By 2009 this team had also designed and built a solar-powered lighting system, dung stove chimney and drilling bit/rope-pumping system. Because of this project, several classes at RPI now have sustainable engineering components. The team received follow on funding from NCIIA in order to develop affordable and easy-to-use pasteurization equipment for rural families in Peru.

Fire Extinguisher Training System (Bullex)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2003 - $15,080

Bullex, launched at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, received Advanced E-Team grants in 2003, 2004 and 2005 to develop the Intelligent Training System (ITS), an innovative fire extinguisher training device. The majority of today's live-fire extinguisher training is done by taking a bucket and filling it with kerosene or diesel, and water. After an instructor lights the fire, a trainee is given an extinguisher and told to put it out. This method is expensive, can be dangerous, and often requires a HAZMAT cleanup.

ITS makes fire extinguisher training more efficient by simulating the extinguishing of a real fire, removing costly extinguishant from the equation. First, flames are generated in a clean-burning, propane-fed pan equipped with digital sensors. If users aim properly and hit the sensors, they can quell the fire without the mess. The sensors then give out a reading on how well a trainee used the extinguisher. The device is cleaner, safer, and easier to use than the traditional training method.

Bullex launched successfully in 2003, and now has 60 employees and estimated annual sales of $7.3 million. The company was featured in Fortune Small Business Magazine after making it to the final round of the magazine's national business plan competition, receiving honorable mention. Their customers include the US Navy, Northrop Grumman, Michelin, International Truck, and Trane.

TekAlert Wireless Firefighter Tether (TABS System)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2004 - $14,500

When firefighters enter a burning building, they must keep in physical contact with each other to stay together, which limits their mobility and, when contact is broken, results in injuries and fatalities. The TekAlert E-Team developed the Team Accountability Buddy System (TABS), which uses proximity-sensing wireless technology to allow firefighters to free their hands and conduct more efficient searches while maintaining team integrity. TABS allows firefighters to work a safe distance apart, determined by visibility. When a member of the group is outside the distance limit for thirty seconds, the audible and visual beacon system activates, guiding the group back to the missing firefighter. Each unit is interoperable and compatible with all other units.

Fire Extinguisher Training System (Bullex)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2005 - $13,977

Bullex, launched at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, received Advanced E-Team grants in 2003, 2004 and 2005 to develop the Intelligent Training System (ITS), an innovative fire extinguisher training device. The majority of today's live-fire extinguisher training is done by taking a bucket and filling it with kerosene or diesel, and water. After an instructor lights the fire, a trainee is given an extinguisher and told to put it out. This method is expensive, can be dangerous, and often requires a HAZMAT cleanup.

ITS makes fire extinguisher training more efficient by simulating the extinguishing of a real fire, removing costly extinguishant from the equation. First, flames are generated in a clean-burning, propane-fed pan equipped with digital sensors. If users aim properly and hit the sensors, they can quell the fire without the mess. The sensors then give out a reading on how well a trainee used the extinguisher. The device is cleaner, safer, and easier to use than the traditional training method.

2003 update: Bullex launched successfully in 2003, and now has 60 employees and estimated annual sales of $7.3 million. The company was featured in Fortune Small Business Magazine after making it to the final round of the magazine's national business plan competition, receiving honorable mention. Their customers include the US Navy, Northrop Grumman, Michelin, International Truck, and Trane.

2012 update: Bullex was acquired by Ohio company Lion Apparel, which makes clothing for fire fighters.

Chemical-free Artisanal Mining Solution

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2006 - $17,500

Of the more than thirteen million individuals in fifty-five developing countries that depend on small-scale gold mining to survive, most employ an ancient and harmful practice called "mercury amalgamation" in order to extract the gold. After panning for gold in local bodies of water, the miners pour gold-bonding mercury into their pans to form a solid paste. They wash off excess mercury into the water and boil down the paste to yield pure gold. The mercury in the water poisons the miners, the communities living downstream, and pollutes the environment. The European Union, the world's largest global exporter of mercury, will soon ban mercury exports, putting tens of millions of artisanal gold miners out of work.

This E-Team has a solution: an inexpensive (~$30), manually powered centrifugal gold extraction device. Based on industrial-size gold centrifuges, the device uses lightweight modern plastics to create a hand crank-based centrifuge capable of extracting gold with little effort and without requiring mercury.

Two competitors exist, but both of their solutions still require the use of at least some mercury.

Greensulate (Ecovative)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2007 - $15,815

Household energy use accounts for one-fifth of the total energy consumed annually in the US. Better insulation would lead to a reduction in energy consumption, but today's most popular forms of insulation have significant drawbacks in the form of health risks, high cost, and large environmental footprints.

This E-Team developed Greensulate, an environmentally friendly home insulation material. Greensulate is a composite board made up of insulating particles suspended in a matrix of mycelium-growth-stage mushroom cells. This mushroom-based insulation is biodegradable, low cost, produces no pollution in the manufacturing process, and insulates as well as competing products.

They've since focused on developing and selling Ecocradle, a green alternative to polystyrene/Styrofoam packaging.

Update: the team is now incorporated as Ecovative Design. The company won 500,000 euros at Picnic Green Challenge 2008, the world's premier green ideas conference, in Amsterdam, received SBIR Phase I funding from the EPA, and won the DoE's Renewable Energy Laboratory's Clean Energy Venture Awards. Click here to visit their website.

 

Disposable Robot De-mining

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2008 - $13,420

Worldwide, 2,000 people each month are killed or maimed by land mines. Humanitarian de-mining projects are underway, and fall into two categories, manual and mechanical. Manual de-mining involves a person in protective gear prodding the ground for hours, and while effective, it is very slow and can be dangerous. Mechanical de-mining involves the use of robots to explode mines, but current robots are either very expensive ($500,000) or are unproven and not widely implemented.

This E-Team is developing a low-cost, disposable robot de-miner. Reasoning that the high cost of most robot de-miners comes from the fact that they are built for repeated detonations, and therefore need to be very sturdy, the team's robot is lower-tech, consisting of spike rollers, a steering mechanism, and a pressure concentrator to detonate the mine. The idea is to deploy a "swarm" of $50 one-shot robots to clear a minefield. The team has developed an alpha prototype.

NexGEN SolarPads

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2008 - $19,000

Solar power has long been seen as a viable alternative to fossil fuel-based power, but has remained too expensive to force a trend in the residential market, where outfitting your home with photovoltaic panels can cost up to $40,000. Current panels are themselves non-sustainable: they require a large amount of energy to manufacture, and the materials are non-recyclable.

This E-Team is looking to solve both problems with SolarPads, an inexpensive, recyclable photovoltaic panel. The design uses compound parabolic concentrators to widen the panel’s range and increase its concentration ratio, which means that fewer photovoltaic cells need to be used, lowering the cost. It also uses an inflatable wedge system that allows the panel to rotate to a position closest to the sun. Overall, the team is aiming for a panel that is 90% cheaper than similar solar panels.

Smart Parking Lot

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2001 - $14,900

In continental Europe and the UK, the parking industry has developed innovative solutions to accommodate the increase of cars in limited spaces, but parking technology in the US hasn't reflected these industry changes. Recognizing the need for improved parking technology in the US, this E-Team has developed appropriate technology in response. With Preora, ImargenAR's proprietary technology, wireless sensors in each parking spot alert drivers to empty spots within the lot.

For lot owners and managers, the sensor technology provides constant, accurate information on parking lot occupancy and allows them to keep the lot at full capacity and serve customers better. The sensor system is compatible with automated payment systems, like E-Zpass, and bar code scanners at each spot ensure that customers park in their allotted spaces. Preora could also aid in increased security if linked with license plate scanners and facial recognition systems, monitoring those entering or leaving the lot.

With the sensor system, customers can reserve a space over the Internet or telephone.

Biomimetic Hip Prosthesis

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2000 - $5,500

The major limiting factor in the lifetime of total hip prosthesis is wear and its incumbent problems. The current implant lifetime is ten or fifteen years, which is typically insufficient for most active patients, and revision surgeries are often necessary.

This grant supported the development of patent protection and the pursuit of licensing agreements for a novel approach to increasing the durability of artificial replacement hip joints. The team consisted of one student and a broad group of advisors working to develop basic technology sufficient to obtain patent protection and initiate licensing arrangements.

The innovation is a method of mimicking the lubrication capabilities of natural cartilage with a synthetic matrix containing molecules that mimic the weeping and ionic re-uptake of synovial liquid that protects the bearing surfaces.

Introduction to Engineering Design and Follow-on Courses

Kettering University - $9500.00

This grant supports the creation of an E-Team "clinic" for continuing projects from an existing Introduction to Engineering Design course or other sources. Funding supports prototyping, patenting, market research, and further product development. The technically oriented teams of engineering majors each sell their ideas to business students from the management school business planning class. Students work with mentors to write business plans as they refine their products. Each semester, three to five teams work on patenting and commercializing their products. The students work on the projects on a non-credit basis, register for independent study credit, or complete projects for other classes

Climbing High to Fitness

Northeastern University

The Climbing High to Fitness E-Team has created the Wall Climber 2000 (WC2000), an indoor rock climbing simulator for use as a training instrument and low impact exercise machine. The WC2000 consists of a collapsible climbing deck that rotates with a speed and incline chosen by the user. The hand and foot holds, made of rubber to simulate a rocky surface, change as the climbing deck rotates, according to the difficulty level chosen by the user.

At this stage, the Climbing High to Fitness E-Team is creating an advanced prototype of the WC2000. In addition, the team is working to better understand the exercise equipment market, by conducting market research and drafting a business plan. In the fall the E-Team plans to apply for a patent. The Climbing High to Fitness E-Team originated in a team based design course at RPI and is composed of five engineering students.

SideWinder

University of Massachusetts Amherst

The OmniSport E-Team has designed the SideWinder, an electric wheelchair capable of moving in any direction while the rider faces forward. Using any number of compatible input control devices such as a joystick, mouse, track ball, or voice control the rider controls the wheelchairs motions through a track ball drive system. The increased mobility offered by this design provides the rider with the choice of participating in a wider variety of sports and offers greater accessibility in the office and home.

The OmniSport E-Team is now in the process of researching the market potential of the SideWinder and determining the feasibility of the technology. The team originated in an introductory engineering design course, and consists of three engineering students, and a faculty advisor. The team is recruiting advisors with adaptive equipment expertise.

Miniature Ice Resurfacer

University of Virginia-Main Campus

The Miniature Ice Resurfacer E-Team has developed an innovative ice resurfacing machine called the Ice Chief. The Ice Chief is a lightweight, portable, and relatively inexpensive machine intended to maintain quality ice surfaces on private skating rinks or ponds. The device is towed behind a standard garden tractor and will be priced to make it accessible to small municipalities or individuals with access to a pond or artificial rink. To date, the E-Team has built a working prototype that successfully cleans an ice surface; collects debris; then resurfaces the ice in one pass. The E-Team plans to continue prototype testing and refine the design, while writing a business plan in partnership with the RPI Incubator Program. The team is also conducting a patent search and prepare a patent application.

The Miniature Ice Resurfacer E-Team originated in an RPI engineering design class. The team consists of six engineering majors, several with minors in economics or computer science. They plan to launch a business to market this product in 1998.

Product Design Studies I & II

Trinity College

This project supports the establishment of a design studio for the first two semesters of the interdisciplinary design curriculum at RPI. The curriculum, designed to support students in independent design work, follows on the Introduction to Engineering Design course already offered. The studio provides ongoing support for E-Teams after IED, and includes shop equipment for modeling, digital cameras, and computers with scanners and printers.
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