EnviroFit International Ltd., a two-year-old non-profit company created with Colorado State University technology, was named one of the top five environmental laureates by Silicon Valley’s Tech Museum of Innovation Wednesday night – only one of 25 technological advancements recognized out of a pool of 647 from 80 countries.
The Tech Museum Awards selected 25 companies and organizations from around the world as laureates for technological advancements that improve the human condition in the areas of environment, economic development, education, equality and health. EnviroFit’s environmental award was sponsored by Intel Corp.
The Tech Museum Awards were inspired in part by the American Council/United Nations University’s State of the Future report.
The award is yet more international recognition of Colorado State’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory, which is addressing and providing solutions for chronic health and environmental issues affecting billions of people in the Third World. The lab is in the College of Engineering.
The lab created a retrofitted two-stroke engine that will eliminate taxi pollution – a solution that is already being tested and prepared for commercialization in the Philippines. That unique technology evolved into EnviroFit International Ltd., which has garnered international attention.
Engineering researchers in the engines lab worked closely with the College of Business to create EnviroFit because of the complexity involved in transferring high-tech solutions to developing nations.
Now those colleges have formed a new center with the hope that it will create more companies like EnviroFit – companies that license technological advancements created at Colorado State to address the health and welfare of the Third World. The new Global Innovation Center for Energy, Health and the Environment (GICEHE) will focus on the developing world’s chronic environmental needs that often do not capture the attention of relief organizations.
"There is not money to develop technologies and business models to disseminate the technologies in the developing world," said Paul Hudnut, a founder of EnviroFit and entrepreneurship professor at the College of Business. "In the private sector, often the returns on investment are below opportunities in the developed world. So the gap is that it is hard to obtain funding to develop solutions."
Next up? A cleaner cookstove that doesn’t use solid fuels for cooking in countries such as Brazil and Nepal.
"We’re looking for problems that have huge impact," said Bryan Willson, a mechanical engineering professor who runs the Energy Conversion and Engines Lab at Colorado State. "Big needs, big markets."
Under the GICEHE model, engineering professors and students will develop the technology; business professors and students will analyze the market and develop a business plan on how to sell it. Such internal partnerships help the university reach its goal to form "superclusters" or multidisciplinary alliances of researchers working toward common, global problems such as environmental sustainability.
The venture also will help economic development leaders grow jobs in the community.
The unique nature of businesses such as EnviroFit calls for a unique business model to get products to market. The company aims to retrofit 2 million engines by the end of 2010, reducing annual emissions by 2 million tons of carbon dioxide and 500,000 tons of carbon.
Unlike for-profit companies, EnviroFit doesn’t offer investors a fiscal return on their investment, said Hudnut. The opportunity for investors is one that’s altruistic until product sales begin to pay the company’s operating expenses, he said. The company’s business plan is to use donations to develop the technology, but to then become self-sustaining as product sales increase.
"It is a hybrid model," Hudnut said. "In the beginning, we raise money as a non-profit, but in the long run, we have the same commercial pressure as other companies. We believe that private enterprise provides the best model for long term survival, and we hope that a whole microenterprise ecosystem of companies installing EnviroFit products will implement this same philosophy in Southeast Asia. "
Engineering and business students are collaborating on their next project – to develop and market an improved cookstove that reduces indoor air pollution, but also generates electricity for lights while it is being used. In the developing world, indoor air pollution from fuels such as wood and dung is the leading cause of death for children under 5 and the fourth leading cause of premature death for women.
Students working on a business plan to sell the cookstoves in places such as Nepal and Brazil must take into account everything from income levels to available materials and workforce. In Nepal, for example, many young people can’t attend school because they’re hauling wood for the stoves, which are used for cooking and lighting homes.
"We’re trying to get a working process established so these countries can build, market and sell these products all on their own," said Chaun Sims, a Colorado State senior business major who is one of four students developing the business plan in Hudnut’s "New Venture Creation" course this semester.
A big challenge, however, will be to introduce new products or methods in another culture – despite the enormous health benefits, Willson said.
"These are fairly conservative cultures," Willson said. "A technical solution on a tricycle is easier than getting people to cook differently, even if it has a huge impact on health. Change comes slowly."
EnviroFit has had success because of partners such as Bebet Gozun, the former minister of the environment in the Philippines. With the stove project, Willson and his students are working closely with professors and students from Tribhuvan University’s Institute of Engineering in Nepal.
"We have a key strategy of hiring local partners," Hudnut said. "We have to have the local cultures pulling our technology in. We can’t push it."
The Nepal partnership has already paid off: The project was one of 21 worldwide honored earlier this fall with the prestigious Mondialogo Engineering Award. Mondialogo, a partnership between DaimlerChrysler and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, honors the development of sustainable solutions in engineering and technology and global networking.
About the Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory
Through research and educational programs, the Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory facilitates the development of new technologies for reducing the emissions and fuel consumption from engines and energy conversion processes. Students have built dramatically cleaner and more efficient versions of the internal combustion engine for applications ranging from snowmobiles to buses and improved the performance of large, slow-speed engines used in the nation’s natural gas pipeline system.
Technologies created in the engines lab under Willson’s leadership that are now in production have:
– Reduced emissions by more than 1 million tons
– Saved more than 50 billion cubic feet of natural gas
– Reduced greenhouse gases by millions of tons
In October, engineers in the engines lab announced a new Distributed Power Generation Research Center to develop a low-emissions, high-efficiency engine that could improve the reliability and efficiency of the electrical power grid, reducing the occurrence of rolling blackouts. Caterpillar Inc. and Woodward Governor Company provided the initial funds to create the center, which will be run by Rudy Stanglmaier, mechanical engineering assistant professor.