Creative energy harvest and storage ideas top Energy and Sustainability competition

April 18, 2013

by Renee Meiller

Rest a laptop computer on your lap for any length of time and you'll quickly appreciate how much heat it generates.

A team of UW-Madison undergraduate students has developed a way to capture that lost heat through an innovative laptop case that doubles as an on-the-go charger for cell phones or other portable electronics. During the Wisconsin Energy and Sustainability Challenge (WESC) April 17 at UW-Madison, the team won the UW's Dvorak Energy Innovation Prize and earned $5,000 for its invention, called JouleJack, which simultaneously cools a laptop computer and uses the heat to generate electricity.

Citing energy storage as one major barrier to integrating renewable energy technologies into the power grid, a team of UW-Madison electrical and computer engineering Ph.D. students won the WESC Global Stewards Sustainability Prize and $5,000. Inspired by pumped hydroelectric storage stations, their idea — Let Sand Work — centers around using a looped system of underground quicksand pits, specially designed turbines and generators to store and convert energy harvested from renewables into electricity.

Two teams also received honorable mentions for their ideas. In the Dvorak Energy Innovation Prize, the Modified Windmill — a redesigned, urban wind turbine — earned a runner-up award, while in the Global Stewards Sustainability Prize, honorable mention went to KLEE, a revolutionary method that draws on social media and other user-generated online resources to map land use in urban spaces.

WESC challenges UW-Madison students at all levels to develop an original energy technology advance or an innovation that improves environmental sustainability. The Dvorak Energy Innovation Prize is funded through UW-Madison father-and-son alumni Stephen and Eric Dvorak and their extended family, while the Global Stewards Sustainability Prize is sponsored by the Global Stewards Society, the UW-Madison Nelson Institute Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, the Wisconsin Energy Institute, and the UW-Madison College of Engineering.