BioSolar Entrepreneurship: Environmental and Social Sustainability as Mutual Bootstrapping

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2010 - $34,663

The West African nation of Ghana is mostly rural, with farming constituting 60% of the workforce. Many of these farms are small, but collectively they produce an enormous amount of biomaterial that is currently burned as waste. As a result, the post-harvest sky is choked with air pollution, uncontrolled wild fires are a constant threat, and the burning biomass contributes to global warming.

This team proposes to convert the post-harvest biomass into usable energy with a solar enhanced pyrolysis device. Pyrolysis, the decomposition of biomass in an oxygen-free environment at elevated temperatures, results in biofuel (gas and oil) and a biochar residue that can be used to enhance soil fertility. The team’s device uses corncobs and concentrated solar energy to convert the waste into energy and biochar with high efficiency and throughput.

The team is partnered with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana. Travel funds to enable two-way student exchanges have been provided by an alumnus to enhance the project.

Increasing Smallholder Farmer Income Through Appropriate Technology in the Jatropha Biofuel Value Chain in Guatemala

University of Colorado at Boulder, 2010 - $49,951

Roughly half the population of Guatemala lives on less than two dollars a day, with the majority of rural households making a living through subsistence agriculture. At the same time, the country depends entirely on unsustainable energy sources to power the economy, importing all of its fossil fuel, while most rural households use firewood as their primary cooking fuel.

To address the dual issues of poverty and environmental degradation, this grant supports the development of briquettes made from the locally available Jatropha plant and other agricultural waste to meet rural families’ cooking fuel needs. Fuel briquettes are an environmentally friendly substitute for expensive or unsustainable fuel sources and can be produced at low cost using manual technology and free raw materials—in this case, Jatropha seedstock waste left over from the production of biodiesel. The team is partnering with TechnoServe, an international NGO with an office in Guatemala that has been creating biodiesel from Jatropha since 2006. The team has prior experience in briquette production, having collaborated with an Afghani NGO to launch a successful fuel briquette microenterprise in Kabul (funded by another Sustainable Vision grant).

Cedarville Ethanol Challenge Team - Reformer Project

Cedarville University, 1998 - $14,000

This E-Team originated from the Ethanol Vehicle Challenge sponsored by the United States Department of Energy, General Motors Corporation, and Natural Resources Canada. Ethanol is a cleaner burning fuel than gasoline, and a renewable source of energy. A significant problem with the fuel is that engines fueled with a high percentage of ethanol do not start well at low temperatures. The technology that Cedarville began to investigate was a device that reformulates ethanol into ether and water since ether is highly combustible at low temperatures.

The Cedarville team later discovered a better approach than the ether/water solution. Ethanol motor fuel is "contaminated" with 15% gasoline to make it toxic so that the liquor tax does not apply. The gasoline can be recovered or separated by distillation and then used for the cold start. There are many advantages to this system, as it is less volatile than ether and therefore safer. The distillation system requires much less maintenance than a catalytic reformulation device.

The E-Team for this project comes from a larger team of twenty-nine members who competed in the Ethanol Vehicle Challenge. Team members have skills in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and chemistry and they have established several working relationships with industry and suppliers.

Renewable Energy Entrepreneurship Partnerships (REEP)

Savannah State University, 2009 - $24,000

With support from NCIIA, Savannah State is creating the Renewable Energy and Entrepreneurship Partnerships program (REEP), comprised of two courses in renewable energy and engineering entrepreneurship: an introduction course and an advanced course. The advanced course will focus on E-Team competitions with technology prototypes and business plans. In the summer between the intro and advanced course, students will be engaged in internships with local industries. A six-week summer workshop will also be conducted, where SSU faculty will discuss renewable technology and entrepreneurship principles. Lab sessions will also be held in the workshop series for students to design and build green prototypes with accompanying business plans. After the advanced course, a symposium to share the results of the courses will be held.

UW Environmental Innovation Challenge

University of Washington, 2009 - $15,000

In the summer of 2007, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) and the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at the University of Washington collaborated to create the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge, a contest asking teams of students to come up with working solutions for environmental problems. The first Challenge was held in April 2009, with a total of sixteen teams participating. In all, CIE raised a total of $137,900 through fundraising and donations for the first event; some major sponsors included the Wiancko Family Foundation, Siemens, UW TechTransfer, and Starbucks, among others. Nine teams were funded awards (totaling $25,000) to fund projects ranging from energy efficiency to water purification. The Challenge was created in conjunction with a new course, the Environmental Innovation Practicum, intended to inform students about current environmental challenges, as well as the efforts of researchers, entrepreneurs, and investors.

Villlage Empowerment

University of Massachusetts - Lowell, 2008 - $31,000

Village Empowerment was founded on a commitment to sustainable partnerships among students, faculty and professional volunteers from a wide range of disciplines and institutions along with Quechua villagers in Peru. VE has installed over 80 systems that address renewable energy, health care, education, communication, water, food production and housing needs in 44 villages/towns with the help of more than 120 students, volunteers and 5 faculty from Umass Lowell. The long-term vision for this grant is to develop and offer a multi-disciplinary course on global poverty focusing specifically on Peru as a representative case study. Instructors will work together to develop a course on overcoming poverty using Peru as a case study. It will be a multi-disciplinary undergraduate course, which will involve service-learning projects, according to a student’s major, for installation in a Peruvian village. The course will be structured to foster team-work and efficiently and effectively use the knowledge of Peruvian villages to innovate systems to help alleviate poverty throughout the world. Some of the students will travel to Peru. The course should provide students with the opportunity to complete a community-service project in Peru as well as give them a deeper understanding of mass poverty.

SVSU Social Entrepreneurship

Saginaw Valley State University, 2008 - $6,500

This team seeks to expand the existing minor in entrepreneurship offered at Saginaw Valley State University. Emphasis is placed on mid-Michigan as a region undergoing economic transformation, due primarily to the fall of its industrial base, auto parts and assembly. There is an economic shift to a high tech economy in the region, with business start-ups focusing on alternative energy, biomaterials, and healthcare. SVSU has taken a leadership role, providing support through faculty, staff, and laboratory facilities for entrepreneurs. This grant will create a social entrepreneurship course focused on the use of local materials to create low-cost and nutritious food.

Natural gas is currently relied on for the production of nitrogen fertilizer. As a result of economic changes (increased energy prices, increased demand for biofuels, and adverse weather conditions in major food production regions), more governments are searching for practical alternatives that can sell food without long supplies chains and without reliance on gas-based fertilizer. SVSU will recycle dining hall garbage by vermiculture, a process that generates organic nutrients for plant growth. The fertilizer is subsequently used in soil-born plants and hydroponic vegetable growing systems in greenhouses. Aquaponics, the use of natural bacteria to convert ammonia fish excrement into nitrate for plan fertilizer, will be added.

Sustainable Energy Venturing Curriculum Project

University of Colorado - Boulder, 2005 - $9,000

With this grant, faculty from UC Boulder's School of Business and College of Engineering are designing pilot curricula and classes based on sustainable energy technologies and related entrepreneurial opportunities. The faculty team is revising and expanding the existing business school MBA-level course, Sustainable Venturing, to include project feasibility planning and a focus on sustainable energy and marketing. They are also designing a new undergraduate engineering course in sustaining energy technologies, which focuses on technological opportunities and challenges. In both classes, E-Teams composed of business and engineering students identify entrepreneurial opportunities in the field of sustainable energy technology and complete class projects on the feasibility of selected opportunities. The classes are cross-listed in the business school, the engineering school, and potentially in environmental studies, economics, geography, law, and architecture and planning. Students presenting viable business plans will be encouraged to compete in the Sustainable Venturing Business Plan Competition and to enroll in the Business Plan execution course in the following semester.

The goal of this curriculum change is to ensure that the link between the technological skills of engineering students and the entrepreneurial skills of business students is forged through practical, integrated coursework on sustainable ventures.

Genesis, Inc.

University of Central Florida, 2005 - $21,000

The University of Central Florida is developing Genesis, Inc., an E-Team program that focuses on launching socially responsible ventures to solve energy usage and natural resource problems. Genesis provides student teams with the resources necessary to translate innovative ideas that focus on specific environmental issues into live corporate ventures with working product prototypes meant to make a difference in saving the world’s environment. Teams are challenged to address the technological, economic, and political barriers associated with creating environmentally focused ventures.

This program expands on the success of UCF's current E-Team course and will be offered annually. The Technology Entrepreneurship Institute (TEI) and the UCF Venture Lab will work with the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and the Florida Solar Energy Center to identify a diverse pool of qualified engineering students. In turn, the College of Business will identify a pool of top graduate business students from a diverse array of business disciplines as potential E-Team candidates. Each team will consist of at least one engineering student and two business students. Diversity within each team will be ensured by faculty advisors.

Developing Sustainable Off-Grid Energy Systems in Rural Mali

Iowa State University, 2007 - $46,778

Mali is one of the poorest nations in the world, with approximately 80% of the population engaged in subsistence-level farming or fishing. Nan Kenieba is a collection of eight rural villages in which no resident has access to electricity or phone, and only half of the 7,000 people have access to clean water. The average person earns $1/day. Iowa State University began working in Mali in 2006 with the NGO Medicine for Mali. ISU has established lighting as a primary concern, and an appropriate technology design course in the mechanical engineering department has worked to design lighting solutions using photovoltaic cells and thermoelectric devices. Sixteen prototypes designed in the course were tested in Nana Kenieba, and ISU students partnered with students from the University of Bamako in Mali to survey the costs of different light sources and battery costs. The team will now develop a battery charging station to be run by a local entrepreneur collecting the excess power from a solar-powered water system. The water system's electrical pump demands less power than the output of the solar panels, leaving approximately 300 watts of available power to be used for electricity in the village. Financing will be done through a micro-loan program, and the team will train local entrepreneurs and continue to monitor and support the businesses they launch.

ecoMOD Home Energy and Environmental Monitoring System

University of Virginia, 2008 - $15,000

EcoMOD is an ongoing green building project at the University of Virginia in which architecture and engineering students construct affordable, modular homes that use 30-50% less energy than similar houses. They’ve built five houses so far, funded by a variety of non-profits, corporations and the EPA. The first house, ecoMOD1, has an extensive monitoring system in place to gather data on energy and water usage. While the system works well, it’s far too expensive to be a commercial energy-monitoring product and hasn’t been replicated in the other ecoMOD homes.

The team is now developing a commercial version: a low-cost, freeware, wireless home energy monitoring system that provides real-time feedback on energy use (electricity consumption of major appliances, water consumption, indoor and outdoor temperature and humidity, and carbon dioxide emissions), has the capability to adjust thermostat and ventilation settings based on whether the residents are home, and enables peak load shedding of selected appliances based on price signals from the utility. It consists of microcontrollers ranged around the house, a base station, and a web interface.

EcoMOD project website

University of California, Davis Program for International Energy Technologies (PIET)

University of California-Davis, 2008 - $47,500.00

For this project, the UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center (EEC) and Center for Entrepreneurship are creating the Program for International Energy Technologies (PIET), an interdisciplinary program focusing on getting low-cost, clean energy, and energy efficient solutions into the market in developing countries. The primary goals of the program include: 1) educating and engaging UC Davis students in energy-related issues in developing countries; 2) developing interdisciplinary student E-Teams to create, design, and distribute sustainable energy products and programs; and 3) bridging the gap between the need, existing technologies, and the market by creating dissemination strategies for appropriate energy technologies in developing countries.

Low-Cost Solar/Wind Drip Irrigation for Small Farmers in Developing Countries

University of Massachusetts - Lowell, 2008 - $46,839

The aim of this project is to provide small farmers in developing countries with an affordable solar drip irrigation method that promotes the sustainable use of water and energy.  The world’s food security relies on improving irrigation techniques for smallholder agriculture in developing countries. The common irrigation practice is flooding with seasonal water gravity fed systems or diesel/gasoline-powered pumps.  Solar pumps are clean, efficient and have lower maintenance. Drip irrigation (DI) is 40% more efficient than furrow.  Depending on the crop, DI could allow three harvests per year instead of one in the rainy season, generating enough income to pay for the system.

Solar panel for the irrigation system.

Summer 2009 update: A prototype system has been installed on a small farm in Peru; results to date are positive.


GlobalResolve: Development of a Sustainable Gelfuel Business in Rural Ghana

Arizona State University, 2008 - $45,150

GlobalResolve, a social entrepreneurship program at Arizona State University, will expand a successful project in village-based entrepreneurship that has resulted in the production of smokeless cooking fuel in the rural west African village of Domeabra, Ghana. More than 2 million children in the developing world are dying every year from acute respiratory disease caused by fumes from indoor cooking fires. To address this problem, in 2008 an Arizona State University team designed, built, shipped and installed a gelfuel production facility in Domeabra, and the project is on the verge of making dramatic improvements in public health throughout the region. The next step is helping to make this startup business successful and replicable. In partnership with the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, the Kumasi Institute of Technology, Energy and Environment, and the village chief and elders in Domeabra, this team has the primary objective to create a sustainable business model in Domeabra, Ghana, to produce, market and distribute both gelfuel and improved stoves in the region.


Clean Water and Energy Technology Enterprises for Ifugao, Philippines

Villanova University, 2008 - $49,000

Villanova engineering and business students are forming a partnership with the Save the Ifugao Rice Terraces Movement Organization (SITMo) and the Provincial Governor's Office of Ifugao to develop new technology-based enterprises for providing clean water and energy in the Ifugao region of the Philippines. An orientation program is being established to prepare for a site visit to explore potential opportunities. 

Villanova student and Louis Cabigat assessing the Abatan Micro Hydro system.

Summer 2009 update: Following the site visit, students will develop new technologies based primarily on innovative micro-hydroelectric projects, and explore potential business models for the technology transfer. The students will then return to the Philippines to work with partners to develop sustainable enterprises based on these new technologies.

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