The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a team of UR students first-place at the National Geothermal Student Competition, an intercollegiate contest hosting cutting-edge geothermal energy innovations that advance the global race for clean energy.
The competition, in its third year, explores solutions and innovations through geology and geoscience to diminish the costs and challenges of deploying geothermal energy. To this end, the contest impels America’s leading research institutions to hunt for novel solutions.
The competition selected four student team semi-finalists based on their potentially groundbreaking projects. The teams consisted of students from UR, Oregon Institute of Technology, University of South Dakota, LTEC, and California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. The competition was held alongside the GEA National Geothermal Energy Summit in Reno, Nev., from June 26-27.
Each of the four teams received $5,500 to complete their business plans. After presenting their project before a board of geothermal industry leaders, the winners, UR junior Kidus Alemayehu, Leah Sabbeth ‘13, and graduate students, David Brink-Roby and Talor Walsh, were announced.
The Oregon Institute of Technology, University of South Dakota, and California Polytechnic University, Pomona teams placed second, third, and fourth, respectively.
The UR team’s concept harnessed underground coal seam fires, which occur when a seam is ignited by a natural or man-made source as a geothermal energy source. Drawing inspiration from a coal fire in Centralia, Pa., the team conceptualized Inferno Energy, a company that would harness heat energy from coal fire, which can be then applied as a source of clean electricity.
Walsh explained that Inferno Energy builds off of existing geothermal energy technologies and that there is much more to be discovered; little to no scientific research has been done on coal fires, and the team intends to continue academic research in the field.
The team’s advisor, earth and environmental sciences professor Gautam Mitra, expressed just how remarkable the students’ work is.
“They did the project all on their own without having it interfere with their regular research work,” he said. “Plus, they beat out programs from western schools that specialize in geothermal development. It was a very impressive achievement.”
Inferno Energy has serious implications — the product could revolutionize the manufacturing industry and end the long search for a clean energy source. For now, the team of UR researchers hopes to improve its business plan in preparation of a public reveal.
Hinson is a member of the class of 2016.