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Wisconsin Energy and Sustainability Challenge: Bringing new ideas forward

Image of Emonix and Capacitive Triboelectric teams

(Left) Emonix, represented by Bharadwaj Krishnamurthy, won first place in both the Dvorak Energy Prize and the Global Stewards Sustainability Prize. (Right) Capacitive Triboelectric, represented by Jack Tilka and Matthew Starr, won second place in both competitions.

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Inventors of a real-time monitoring platform aimed at making water softeners more efficient took home two top prizes at the Wisconsin and Sustainability Challenge (WESC) on Friday. 

The Emonix team led by electrical and computer engineering graduate students Neil Klingensmith and Bharadwaj Krishnamurthy as well as mechanical engineering undergrad Zach LaValee won the Dvorak Energy Innovation Prize of $5,000 for best energy-related technology and the Global Stewards Sustainability Prize of $5,000 by demonstrating an “intelligent water softening” system that saves building owners money while improving water quality from the tap to the treatment.

“The judges were not only impressed by the practicality and market potential of the Emonix team’s device,” said Scott Williams, research and education coordinator for the Wisconsin Energy Institute, “but also by the year’s worth of data they had to back up their claims of reducing salt waste and its environmental impacts.”

Taking second prize in both categories at this Fall’s WESC competition, held for the first time during the annual Energy Hub student conference, was Capacitive Triboelectric energy harvesters, designed to harvest the energy from moving parts of bicycles to power electronic devices. Led by materials science and engineering graduate students Jack Tilka and Matthew Starr, the Triboelectric’s energy harvester design is inexpensive, lightweight, and contains only earth-abundant materials.

Image of uGrid team

uGrid, represented by Joe Goldman (middle) and Craig Poulin (right), won the Energy Hub People's Choice Award at this year's Wisconsin Energy and Sustainability Challenge.

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According to Williams, the judges saw a lot of potential in this fairly new technology to reduce the need for batteries. “The team also indicated that this process could be adapted to extend the range of electric vehicles down the road,” he adds. The team will have the opportunity to use the $3,000 in total prize money to further development of the product.

A new $500 prize—the Energy Hub People’s Choice Award—was awarded to electrical and computer engineering graduate students Craig Poulin and Joe Goldman of uGrid Solutions, a microgrid electricity management solution designed to both increase reliability and reduce customers’ carbon footprint through dynamic control of distributed energy resources.

The Wisconsin Energy and Sustainability Challenge is a student competition aimed at advancing creative ideas in energy and environmental sustainability. The challenge combines the Dvorak Energy Innovation Prize and Global Stewards Sustainability Prize. This year’s competition was supported by the Dvorak Family, the Global Stewards Society, and the student group Energy Hub.

Winners of the WESC competition from April of 2015 include a next-generation industrial chemical mixer and reusable to-go boxes for use in cafeterias. The next WESC competition will take place at the annual Energy Hub student conference in the Fall of 2016.

Mark E. Griffin