College of Engineering University of Wisconsin-Madison
Decorative header to link to Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering

Graphic of the ECE newsletter The Fountain
ECE NEWS :The Electrical & Computer Engineering Department Newsletter


Year in Review 2009-2010

Featured Articles

BRIGHT IDEAS: Undergrad competition showcases ECE student ideas and inventions

BRIGHT IDEAS: Recycled electrification system will light up developing nations

New semiconductor laser structure

Nam Sung Kim

Katherine Compton

Focus on New Faculty:
Nader Behdad

Focus on Alumni:
Meet the ECE Visiting Advisory Board

Dean Foate receives Distinguised Acheivement Award

Andrew Hanson:
Transferring entrepreneurship from classroom to company

Michael Splinter: Blending engineering, business and social responsibility

In Memoriam

Regular Features

Message from the chair

Department News

Student News




spacer Homepage for ECE newsletter Button to obtain BACK ISSUES Button to CONTACT US Button to JOIN OUR MAILING LIST Button that connects to UW Foundation page for online giving  

From their freshman year to the last semester of a PhD program, ECE students are active participants in a variety of invention and innovation competitions at UW-Madison—and their efforts are being well rewarded with cash prizes and resources to establish companies.

Dan Ludois, Jonathan Lee and Patricio Mendoza Araya

From left: Dan Ludois, Jonathan Lee and Patricio Mendoza Araya

Recycled electrification system will light up developing nations

Decorative initial cap At age 15, Dan Ludois tried to convince his grandparents that the best way to run electricity to a shed in the corner of their farm was to use recycled parts from a microwave. At the time, his grandparents weren’t entirely convinced of the teenager’s technical credibility, but Ludois kept the idea in the back of his mind for the next 10 years.

On Earth Day 2010, Ludois and two of his fellow UW-Madison ECE graduate students presented the idea, which has evolved into an electricity system called the Microformer, at the second-annual Climate Leadership Challenge, a campus competition focused on combating climate change. The Microformer is designed to provide electricity to rural households in developing countries, and the idea was rewarded with more than $50,000 in prizes.

Ludois’ partners, Jonathan Lee and Patricio Mendoza Araya, each have experience with engineering projects for developing countries. Lee is involved in the UW-Madison chapter of Engineers Without Borders and has served on projects in Haiti and Rwanda. Mendoza has worked on a hydroelectric generator and smart grid projects in his native Chile, which is where the Microformer team may first implement its system.

“After the earthquake that happened in Chile [in February 2010], this is a good opportunity for me to give back and encourage others that things can be improved,” says Mendoza.

The Microformer is based on the transformer inside microwave ovens. The trio put the transformer—which converts the 120 volts of electricity from standard wall outlets into 2.5 kilovolts of potential power—into a metal paint can full of mineral oil, which cools the transformer. The team then adds a recycled spark plug to serve as an insulator to move power in and out of the can.

The resulting system provides enough electricity to power a few lights, a small refrigerator and other small electronics, such as a cell phone charger or laptop. Essentially, the Microformer can power a household in a developing country with the electricity needs equivalent to a typical U.S. dorm room.

A key aspect of Microformer is the cost: A typical U.S. transformer costs more than $1,000, but by using recycled materials, each Microformer costs only $60-$70.

The Microformer was recognized as the most action-ready idea at the Climate Leadership Challenge, which is staged by the UW-Madison Nelson Institute Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment. The award comes with a $50,000 cash prize, plus funds for a promotional trip and a one-year lease for space in the new University Research Park Metro Innovation Center. “We’re excited to be part of the innovation community over there and find resources to help us with the business aspects of this,” says Lee.

The team will form a company to fine-tune and test the design, as well as begin implementing the system in interested communities. The students plan to sell affordable online kits that instruct people how to build the system and maintain it safely. Eventually, the group hopes to expand to sell a variety of kits for constructing renewable energy sources from local materials.

For help with this webpage:

Copyright 2010 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

Date last modified: Monday,20-December-2010
Date created: 20-December-2010



Graphic of the ECE newsletter