CWRU teams advance to semifinals of energy challenge; vote for your favorite

A fuel-cell bike. A kinetic battery for hybrid and electric cars. A way to turn algae into biofuel. An energy-use monitoring system.

These are the inventions created by four multidisciplinary teams of Case Western Reserve University students—and guided by our alumni—that will be showcased Jan. 29 in the semifinals of the Ohio Clean Energy Challenge. The teams include students from the Case School of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences, Weatherhead School of Management and the Cleveland Institute of Art.

Established by the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the 2013 Ohio Clean Energy Challenge is part of the National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition. Throughout the process, teams develop clean energy business plans and work with mentors to perfect their commercialization strategies and investor pitches. Then, during the Ohio competition, teams present their investor pitches in front of a live audience and a panel of expert judges, including venture capital and private equity professionals and entrepreneurs.

This year, Case Western Reserve teams comprise one-third of the entire semifinalist field—doubling the number of semifinalists from any other school in the state. Twelve teams are in the semifinals: four from Case Western Reserve, two from University of Cincinnati and from Ohio State University, and one each from University of Toledo, Cleveland State University, Wright State University and Malone University. Last year just one team from Case Western Reserve advanced to the semifinal level.

The winner of the statewide competition, taking place Tuesday in Columbus, will receive a $10,000 prize as well as the opportunity to compete for the $100,000 grand prize at the Midwest regional competition in Chicago and a place in the national competition in Washington, D.C.

In addition, all semifinalist teams have the chance to win the Viewer’s Choice Award through a Facebook contest sponsored by the University Clean Energy Alliance of Ohio, which runs the statewide program. The team with the highest number of votes for their video by Jan. 25 receives $1,500. To view the videos and vote, go to

First, though, it’s important to know more about each team and their inventions.

The teams are:

EcoSpinners – Jean Zhao, team leader; Justin Einstein; Chris Daroux; Bob Pizzola; mentors: Frank Jankowski (MGT ’85) and Ted Theofrastus, TBEIC

EcoSpinners is designing an integrated and programmable electric bike with a proprietary fuel cell range extender. The bike’s power pack is a hybrid of advanced lithium-ion polymer battery and liquid-fueled fuel cell. The critical part of the bike design is a low-cost fuel cell, running on non-polluting and recyclable liquid fuel that allows an increase in range without increasing the cost of the power pack.

FlyDrive – Kristen Brouwer; Lucas Voigt; Kristoffer Bosma; Jordan Lajoie; Adam Lauser; mentors: Gerard Daher (MGT ’00) and Lee Poseidon, JumpStart

FlyDrive, a flywheel regenerative braking system, offers a viable technology that will save money while providing performance that is commensurate with, or better than, current battery systems, as flywheels can be cycled more than 10 times faster than batteries and two times faster than super-capacitors. FlyDrive is meant for use in in hybrid and electric vehicles.

NanoHarv Technologies LLC – Justin Isaacs, team leader; Aditya Rengaswamy; mentors: Jeff Bargiel (GRS ’09) and Bill Trainor, Mutual Capital Partners

NanoHarv’s micro algae harvesting/dewatering technology provides an environmentally friendly solution that is capable of turning algae blooms into biofuel feedstock. NanoHarv’s unique solution is the result of combining micro algae harvesting nanoparticles with magnetic bar separators.

Smartility LLC – Robert Karam, team leader; Bryan Marty; Joe Fogarty; Stephen Buehrer; mentors: Ali Ahmed (MGT ’08) and Jack Harley, FirstPower Group

Smartility designs, markets and sells technology that gathers energy consumption data from electrical outlets, transmits the data to the consumer’s account on Smartility’s website and generates customized energy reports for the consumer. Smartility products allow for home energy management, in addition to providing reports and analytics, which allow users to gain an understanding of their consumption and how to sharply cut expenses.

Throughout the challenge, each team from Case Western Reserve benefited from the experience of a Case Western Reserve alumnus as well as an industry expert, who guided them through the competition process.

Dan Dean, director of alumni and student relations for the Case Alumni Association, and Mindy Baierl, commercialization program manager for the Great Lakes Energy Institute, connected the alumni volunteers with students, based on the students’ inventions and the alumni’s expertise.

“Our alumni mentors have been very engaged and supportive of the teams,” Baierl said. “Several plan to be traveling to Columbus to support their team for the live pitch event.”

For more information on the program, visit

To vote for your favorite video, go to