A student engineering entrepreneur team from the University of Central Florida won the top prize of $100,000 and a summer trip to the White House in a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.
The team won the $100K ACC Clean Energy Challenge, a competition of student business plans for companies focused on renewable energy and other “green” energy solutions. UCF’s team bested nine other southeastern regional finalists, including teams from Georgia Tech, Duke and the University of Virginia.
The UCF team will now compete in the National Clean Energy Business Plan Finals in Washington, D.C. June 12-13.
Their winning business plan for a start-up company, Mesdi Systems, Inc., founded by Brandon Lojewski, a graduate student in UCF’s Department of Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering (MMAE), centers on the use of electrospray technology to vastly improve the manufacturing process for making lithium ion batteries and other products to ultimately reduce production costs and increase product life. For example, an electric car battery made with the UCF process would be able to travel for hundreds of miles on a single charge.
Many products and parts, such as solar cells and batteries, are made with coatings or particles that require materials to be uniformly distributed, or sprayed, during the manufacturing process. The technology that produces the spray can dramatically affect the end product. Current technology uses pressurized gas to spray the liquid resulting in large non-uniform droplets and significant manufacturing waste.
Electrospray technology uses electrical charge to create uniform, ultrafine droplets with precision control. The technology can be applied to making batteries, photovoltaic solar cells, as well as medical devices, pharmaceuticals and much more.
And UCF is taking electrospray technology to levels never seen before, due to the pioneering research of Weiwei Deng, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UCF. Deng is renowned for his work in “multiplexed” electrospray techniques, which use thousands of tiny spray nozzles on a single chip. The patent-pending platform results in superb droplet deposition uniformity and high throughput spray production capable of meeting manufacturing demands.
Deng is the technical adviser for Mesdi Systems. He brought the multiplexed electrospray technology from Yale University. His work is an extension of the Nobel Prize-winning electrospray work developed at Yale by the late Professor John Fenn.
“We see huge potential for this technology and the great value of student entrepreneurship,” said Suhada Jayasuriya, MMAE department chair. The MMAE department sponsored the team with $1,000 to participate in the competition.
“We plan to invest our $100,000 prize money to help raise more money to launch our production facilities, hire a highly trained staff and garner our first customers,” said Lojewski, president of Mesdi Systems.
The company’s goal is to sell the multiplexed electrospray equipment to manufacturers and offer maintenance and servicing contracts.
Mesdi Systems’ launch in 2011 was a result of competing in a similar clean energy business plan competition, Megawatt Ventures, sponsored by DOE and UCF. In that event, Mesdi Systems won $10,000 as a finalist. The winning business plan was developed from tools that Lojewski learned in Tom O’Neal’s Technology Entrepreneurship class offered by UCF’s College of Business Administration.
As part of the Obama administration’s effort to support and empower the next generation of American clean energy entrepreneurs, the Department of Energy selected the ACC Clean Energy Challenge and five additional regional competitions in the U.S. as part of its inaugural nationwide network of student-focused clean energy business plan competitions during the next three years.