EPA Names WPI Student Teams Finalists for Prestigious ‘People, Prosperity and the Planet’ Award

To Compete on National Mall, Washington, D.C., April 20-22, as Part of National Sustainable Design Expo
April 18, 2008

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WORCESTER, Mass. – Two teams of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) students are among four New England and 54 national finalists recently awarded more than $500,000 in grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their initial designs to achieve sustainable solutions to environmental issues. The WPI teams will compete once more April 20-22 in the 4th annual National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to win the prestigious "People, Prosperity and the Plant" (P3) Award.

Earlier this year, the two WPI teams were awarded $10,000 each to put their sustainable energy-based designs into action for this month's event. Finalists were chosen from approximately 100 college teams competing from 29 states across the country. Six finalist teams will receive the P3 Award.

One of the WPI teams, advised by Mechanical Engineering Professor David Olinger, hopes to harness wind power from tethered kites as a low cost and sustainable energy alternative for developing nations. Two billion people live in developing parts of the world without access to electricity. Wind turbines are a possible renewable source, but their high cost and low use potential in less windy regions create steep disadvantages. These students hope kites will supply environmentally friendly electricity where wind turbines are much less practical; they propose to install a kite power system in Africa through WPI's Project Center in Namibia.

"The participation of the WPI Kite Power Team in the P3 Award Competition gives our students a unique chance to display their work on a new renewable energy technology," said Olinger. "Their work has the potential to impact people in developing nations by providing them with low-cost renewable energy."

The Kite Power Team members are Michael DeCuir, Max Hurgin, Christopher Colschen, Erik Lovejoy, Nicholas Simone, and Ryan Buckley, who are all aerospace or mechanical engineering-aerospace majors. Also on the team are mechanical engineering majors Peter Bertoli, Taylor Lalonde, and Mike Sangermano; Interactive Media & Game Development major Nick Urko, and manufacturing engineering and international studies major Gabe Baldwin.

The second WPI team, led by Chemical Engineering Professor Jennifer Wilcox, is working to create a nano-structured material for capturing mercury, arsenic, and selenium from the gases of coal combustion. Although coal is not a sustainable energy source such as sun, water, or wind, there is a demand for its use in both developed and developing countries. This team hopes to increase the sustainability of coal while helping to minimize its environmental impact. To take the project further, the team is working with a company on the fabrication of the material, which will be tested within the year. Members of this student team are: seniors Liz Stewart, Catie Casey, and Kate Hudon; and PhD student and team leader Erdem Sasmaz.

"The material the students are developing will advance technologies associated with making energy production from coal a cleaner process," Wilcox said. "It shows promise to capture mercury, arsenic, and selenium from both fuel and fuel gases."

The National Academies, advisors to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine, will convene a panel to evaluate and recommend the award winners, who will be chosen by the EPA. The P3 Award includes additional funding of up to $75,000 for further opportunity for student teams to develop their designs, test them in real-life, and even get them to the marketplace.

About the National Sustainable Design Expo and P3 Awards

The National Sustainable Design Expo was launched in 2004 to bring together professional scientists, engineers, and business leaders around innovations designed to advance economic growth while reducing environmental impact. The Expo showcases novel, commercially available products for green buildings and construction materials, innovative alternative energy technologies, strategies for rainwater collection and purification, and the latest in consumer products by many exhibitors.

In conjunction with the Expo, the EPA launched the P3 Award four years ago as a technical, on-the-ground response to the growing challenges of achieving sustainability in both the developed and developing world. This program has encouraged student teams to design and develop projects that benefit people by providing healthier living environments, promoting prosperity by developing local economies and creating small businesses, and protecting the planet by conserving natural resources and minimizing pollution. Through this national competition, college and university students take the lead on innovative scientific, technical, and policy solutions to sustainability challenges. Their designs help achieve the mutual goals of economic prosperity while providing a higher quality of life and protecting the planet. Current environmental, economic, and social issues are strongly considered in this award process. Support for the competition includes more than 40 partners in the federal government, industry, scientific, and professional societies.

For more information on the EPA's P3 Awards, including the current designs in progress and the competition, please visit www.epa.gov/P3.

About WPI's Sustainability Efforts

Not only are WPI students champions of sustainability and environmental preservation through their projects, but the university as a whole is as well. WPI's President's Task Force on Sustainability was formed in September 2007 to promote sustainability on campus and around the world. The panel's charge is to drive a "sustainability sensibility" into the university's academic, research, and administrative endeavors. For more information on the university's efforts on behalf of this cause, please visit title="Sustainability at WPI">www.wpi.edu/About/Sustainability/.