Four UW-Madison students share $50,000 prize in climate contest

April 21, 2011

by Tom Sinclair

Four undergraduates have won $50,000 in a student competition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for innovative ideas to counteract climate change.

Joseph Keuler, Matthew Kirk, Patrick Kirk, and David Osmalov captured the grand prize in the third annual Climate Leadership Challenge at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies' Earth Day Conference.

Their team proposed a new way to produce hydrogen from plant sugars in agricultural waste and explored how the technology might be applied in biogas plants, calling their project Cellulose Digesting Biogas Plants for Hydrogen Production (CDBP).

"Although all the exhibiting winners were spectacular, the CDBP team really stood out — they had a clever idea for implementing a known technology in a novel way, producing two energy sources from agricultural waste," said Tracey Holloway, director of the Nelson Institute Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, which sponsored the contest.

Besides cash, the grand-prize winners receive an option for a free one-year lease in the University Research Park's Metro Innovation Center on Madison's east side and other incentives to further develop their idea.

"The Climate Leadership Challenge really showcases the amazing talent here at UW-Madison," said Holloway. "And the top team was composed of undergraduates from business, computer engineering, philosophy, and chemistry. Their success demonstrates the strength of interdisciplinary problem-solving."

Three other projects qualified as exhibiting winners, receiving $2,000 each:

  • BioGRASP (Biogas Growth: Regional and Sustainable Partnerships), proposing a collaborative network of biogas installations in western Uganda and beyond. Team members and their academic departments: graduate students Aleia McCord (Nelson Institute), Jeffery Starke (civil and environmental engineering) and Sarah Stefanos (community and environmental sociology/Nelson Institute).
  • The BrightWater Initiative, a self-sustaining purification system to reduce deaths from the consumption of contaminated water in developing countries. Team members: undergraduates Brad Lindevig and Josh Zent (both, biomedical engineering), Parikshith Lingampaly (electrical and computer engineering), and Luke Voellinger (business).
  • The Refrigerator Aider, an innovative ventilation system to boost the efficiency of domestic refrigerators by 10 percent or more without using additional energy or moving parts. Graduate student Mike Hvasta (nuclear engineering) submitted the idea.

Open to all UW-Madison students, the Climate Leadership Challenge is the biggest university competition of its kind in the country, according to Holloway. It is funded by the Global Stewards Society, a locally based philanthropic group that includes John F. and Mary Cooper; Gary and Ellora Cooper; Christine Cooper; John and Mary K. Noreika; Peter Vogel of Vogel Brothers Building Company; David Beck-Engel of J.H. Findorff & Son; and Scott J. Repert of Superior Health Linens.