U-M student winners of Dow Sustainability Award named in water purification, energy efficiency contest

Water purification and energy efficiency and  projects earned top University of Michigan honors in the 2012 Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award.

ANN ARBOR, MI, Dec. 10, 2012 -- Energy efficiency and water purification projects earned top University of Michigan honors in the 2012 Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award.

Teams of master's students representing the School of Natural Resources and Environment, the College of Engineering and the Stephen M. Ross School of Business won first and second prizes for U-M. Graduate students from 17 universities on five continents participated in this year's event. The competition concluded on Dec. 6 with a global webcast and live chat among all participating universities and winning students.

The Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award, known as SISCA, is a global competition to generate inventive and interdisciplinary ideas for water and energy sustainability and is sponsored by Dow Chemical Co. This year at each university, first-place winners received $10,000 and runners-up earned $2,500.

A team of five Sustainable Systems students from the School of Natural Resources and Environment and the College of Engineering won the first-place award for their proposal titled "Increasing Energy Efficiency in Buildings through Occupant Density Monitoring and Adaptive Control Algorithms." This proposed energy-saving system would use smart phones and Wi-Fi to track occupants inside a building and use the data for electric load and heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) automation. The system would also sense occupant density in real time and shut down power outlets and close airflow dampers in unoccupied places. The team plans on using the $10,000 award to develop and test a system prototype on the U-M campus.

"We are all very honored to receive this award and grateful for the opportunity to work with a company committed to sustainable practices," said first-place team member Cara Bastoni. "Crafting a winning proposal was also a very important exercise as it helped our team focus in on the best aspects of our ideas."

Members of this first-place team include the following master's students: Joseph Colett, mechanical engineering; Tim Dobson, sustainable systems; Tirumalai Tejas, energy systems engineering and sustainable systems; Bastoni, environmental policy and planning and sustainable systems; and Sundeep Ramachandran, mechanical engineering and sustainable systems.

"This team's project proposal reflects just the kind of innovative, solutions-focused ideas that are necessary to tackle the world's wicked sustainability challenges," said Andrew Horning, acting director of U-M's Graham Sustainability Institute, which administers the annual competition on the U-M campus. "We are honored to have such breakthrough thinkers coming out of our institution."

A team of three master's students from the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, a dual-degree program between Ross and SNRE, earned second prize for a project proposal titled "Arbor Aqua: Harvesting Moringa and Harnessing Entrepreneurship."

The team's idea is to launch a business that cultivates the moringa plant -- often referred to as the "miracle plant" because its foliage and seeds can be used for human consumption, animal feed, plant growth hormone and water purification. The team would focus mostly on the water sanitation benefits to the developing world, with the overall business model being partially self-funded through the sale of moringa-based products.

The two winning teams were selected based on the following criteria: innovative thinking and excellence in research; potential for solving significant problems; interdisciplinary nature of research; and alignment to the spirit of Dow's 2015 Sustainability Goals.


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