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Algae-Based Biofuel Project Wins Clean Energy Prize Competition in Michigan

April 06, 2009

ANN ARBOR, MI --- A plan to use algae to simultaneously treat wastewater and produce the raw materials for biofuels has won the inaugural Clean Energy Prize. 

The competition was established by DTE Energy and the University of Michigan along with sponsors, Masco Corporation Foundation and The Kresge Foundation, to encourage entrepreneurship in Michigan and the development of clean energy technology. 

Team Algal Scientific Corp., composed of business and engineering students from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, earned the top prize of $65,000. 

"We put a lot of effort in and we had tough competition," said team member Bobby Levine, who is a doctoral student in the U-M department of chemical engineering. "I think we still have a lot of work to do, but we're excited to plan the next phase." 

Gerard Anderson, DTE Energy president and COO, presented the awards and told team members and other attendees that the development of new energy technologies holds promise for a cleaner environment and a more robust economy. "With this in mind, we developed the Clean Energy Prize to serve as a catalyst for students and faculty to bring clean energy technologies from university labs to the market," he said. "We also see this prize as one of many steps toward recapturing Michigan's past spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship." 

In Algal Scientific Corp.'s wastewater treatment system, algae would take up nutrients at wastewater treatment plants in a more economical and environmentally friendly way than the current state of the art. This method uses no chemicals. Then, the nutrient-packed algae would be harvested and sent to a plant to be converted directly to biofuels. 

"We're trying to address two major global concerns: clean water and clean energy," said Geoff Horst, an ecology doctoral student at MSU who developed the technology, "and we can do that with one process." 

Other members of the Algal Scientific team are Jeff Lebrun, M.B.A./M.S., a 2008 U-M graduate; Robert Levine, a U-M PhD candidate; and John Rice, a U-M M.B.A./M.S. student. 

The U-M Ross School of Business' Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, College of Engineering's Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, along with student organizations MPowered Entrepreneurship and the Ross Energy Club, organized the competition. 

"This competition helps to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit of the next generation," said professor Stephen Forrest, vice president for research at the University of Michigan. One of the real characteristics of an entrepreneur is that one way or another you get it done. You don't wait for someone to say yes. You don't listen to people who say no. If you believe in your ideas, you just go. The young people in this competition are exemplifying that fortitude." 

Forrest, an entrepreneur himself, is the William Gould Dow collegiate professor of electrical engineering and a professor in the departments of physics and materials science and engineering. 

Open to students at all Michigan colleges and universities, the competition required teams to develop business proposals that focused on renewable energy, energy efficiency, smart grid technologies, environmental control technologies, plug-in electric vehicles or energy storage. The competition began with a field of 23 teams, which was narrowed to the three finalists through three rounds of increasingly rigorous competitions. 

The finalists presented revised business plans and investor pitches to a panel of judges including Ananth Ananthasubramaniam of DTE Energy Ventures; Larry Laseter of Masco Corporation; Mark Huang of Novus Energy Partners; Michael Gross of Beringea; and Dipender Saluja of Capricorn Investment Group.


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