April 26, 2019

Energy innovators score big in pitch competition

UCalgary students awarded $100,000 in in-kind services after pitching innovative ideas at inaugural Energy Innovators Pitch Competition
The winning teams with their supervisors, after the Energy Innovators Pitch Competition.
The winning teams with their supervisors, after the Energy Innovators Pitch Competition. Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

It was the end of a four-month journey. On April 10, a group of 70 students and postdocs in energy-related fields took a break from their regular schedules and gathered to cheer on their friends and colleagues in the inaugural Energy Innovators Pitch Competition.

Hosted by the Global Research Initiative in partnership with Innovate Calgary, SAIT and the Hunter Hub, the competition was the culmination of a 12-week workshop series that helped participants develop skills, insights and knowledge related to the commercial development of energy innovations. It also allowed participants to gain real world experience presenting ideas to potential investors.

“The Energy Innovators Pitch Competition was a great opportunity to communicate my research commercialization steps to a greater audience, and benefit from valuable feedback.” says competitor and first-place winner Ghada Nafie.

While pitch competitions have gained in popularity over the years, the Energy Innovators competition offered a different perspective on the potential of academic research. “This competition focusses on demonstrating the commercial viability of academic research. It’s not about presenting ‘cool science,’ it’s about communicating how research can create impact on business and the environment, and having a plan to get there,” says Tony Wigglesworth, associate director, science and engineering, Innovate Calgary.

Fourteen teams representing 30 students and postdocs had five minutes to pitch their ideas to a panel of esteemed judges from UCalgary and the business community.

First-place winning team representative Dr. Ghada Nafie, PhD.

First-place winning team representative Dr. Ghada Nafie, PhD.

Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

Energy Innovators pitch results

  • First Place ($45k in in-kind services): Ghada Nafie and team members Abdallah Manasrah and Nashaat Nassar
  • Nanoparticles for Energy and Environment Applications – Wastewater Treatment

Nanoparticles is a new innovative technology with many applications for energy and environment sustainability. Specifically, for enhancing fine particles settling in tailing ponds that would otherwise remain suspended for decades. Also, for removing organic contaminants from the wastewater. Nanoparticles methodology promotes dewatering in alignment to the Alberta’s government emphasis on active management of oilsands tailings and land reclamation.

  • Second Place ($30k in in-kind services): Thomas Eyre and team members Naimeh Riazi, Sahar Ghannadi
  • Advanced Simulation Environment for Induced Seismicity Mitigation and Integrated Control (ASEISMIC)

ASEISMIC is a new computational toolbox to aid in producing quantitative mitigation and response plans to reduce the risk of induced seismicity caused by hydraulic fracturing or CO2 storage. It can significantly reduce the financial, environmental and social risk, as well as potential to cause damage to local populations and infrastructure.

  • Third Place ($25k in in-kind services): Parisa (Fatemeh) Karimi and team members Amir Alihosseinzadeh and Josh Koenig 
  • CElect Technologies – Solid Polymer Electrolyte CO2 Electrolyzers

The team is working on developing a novel, efficient, and easily scalable electrochemical reactor to convert CO2, water, and renewable electricity to value-added chemicals. Their reactor has many advantages including: 1) increased compactness; 2) room temperature operation; 3) cheaper balance of plant; 4) faster response; 5) no need for corrosive liquid electrolyte; 6) less product contamination; 7) better long-term stability; and 8) design based on polymer electrolyte reactors widely used in industrial scales.

Honourable mentions were presented to two teams for their exceptional presentations: Ranjani Kannaiyan and Chongchong Wu for their project, “Biodegradable Ionic Liquids for Naphthenic Acids Removal from Petroleum-based System,” and Xuemin Huang and Jacky Wang for their project, “Separation of Water‐Bitumen Emulsions with no Solvent”.

In-kind services include consultation, prototyping, knowledge transfer and commercialization services for the selected teams to help them take their concepts to the next level. “The next steps for the award winners is to build a business plan, establish customers, generate a financial model to demonstrate that the technology they are advancing can be viable.” says Dr. Ian Gates, PhD, director, Global Research Initiative.

About the Energy Innovators Workshop and Pitch Competition

The Energy Innovators workshops were led by instructors from Innovate Calgary, UCalgary’s innovation transfer and business incubator centre. Each interactive workshop was dedicated to a specific concept of commercialization and provided opportunities for the participants to apply those concepts to example scenarios and to their own projects.

Along with learning how to develop their concepts, research the intellectual property risks and opportunities, and determine market size and competition, participants gained real-world experience honing their speaking and presentation skills by delivering a project pitch to a live audience.

Students interested in learning more about the Global Research Initiative can find information at https://www.ucalgary.ca/energy/gri.

Ian Gates, Global Research Initiative director