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Mekong Green Tech won both first place ($2,000) and People's Choice ($250). From left: Hannah Kates, Chris Quintero, Judge Kathleen Kurre, and James Baunchalk.
Mekong Green Tech won both first place ($2,000) and People's Choice ($250). From left: Hannah Kates, Chris Quintero, Judge Kathleen Kurre, and James Baunchalk.

Mekong Green Tech's Environmental Technology Wins Ideas to SERVE Competition

Mekong Green Tech's technology to clean up rural Vietnam's rural brick-making industry won first place in the 2012 Ideas to SERVE (I2S) Competition at Georgia Tech College of Management.

Open to all Georgia Tech students and recent alumni, the I2S competition involves innovative business concepts that could help improve society or preserve the environment. The finals were held on April 4 following a poster showcase on April 2.

Mekong Green Tech includes mechanical engineering majors Chris Quintero and James Baunchalk, environmental engineering major Hannah Kates, and industrial design major Ali Perry. They won $2,000 for first place as well as $250 in the People's Choice category.

Already Making a Difference

While some competing teams are still in the conceptual stages, Mekong Green Tech is already making its business a reality. Its technology helps solve pollution problems related to brick-making techniques in rural Vietnam through the use of simple, low-cost gasifiers. Retrofitting a kiln with this kind of gasifier eliminates air pollutants and offsets up to 300 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

The team explained that instead of using clean-burning furnaces, rural industries tend to rely on burning biomass. "This inefficient combustion produces incredible amounts of air pollution, damaging health, stunting crop growth, and wasting money," according to the Mekong Green Tech Website. "The situation is particularly bad with the brick-making industry. Worldwide CO2 emissions from brick kilns – 180 million tons yearly – are one third of the emissions of the global airline industry."

Collaboration between Georgia Tech engineers and ENTERTEAM, a Vietnamese partner organization, led to the development of a gasifier model built with local materials and expertise. This technology would save operators more than 25 percent in yearly fuel costs and ease pressure from the Vietnamese government, which has cracked down on the rural brick-making industry because of pollution.

Mekong Green Tech, which also won third place in the Georgia Tech Business Plan Competition, is working on a number of pilot installations with the goal of a widespread roll-out later this year. Marc-Antoine Pare, who graduated with a bachelor's in mechanical engineering from Tech in fall 2010, is already working in Vietnam on the project.  "In the Mekong Delta alone, over 10,000 small businesses stand to benefit," the team says.

Other Winners

The second-place winner ($1,500) in I2S was CyborFusion, which has developed a bionic glove that will function as both a myoelectric hand orthotic for those who have a disability and an affordable myoelectric prosthetic for those who have an amputation below the elbow.

Tied for third ($1,000) were Tubing Operations for Humanitarian Logistics (TOHL) and Team Power. TOHL is developing a fluid transportation system that could deliver large quantities of water over significant distances in disaster-hit areas. Team Power, which also won the Liam Rattray Social Courage Award ($500) and Best Video ($250), is developing a power generation/storage system to provide cold storage of vaccines in developing countries.

Hub Atlanta provided two service-package prizes. One worth $1,600 for Most Market-ready went to Sanivation, which aims to improve sanitation in developing countries through the collection and solar-energy treatment of human feces (for future sale as fertilizer). The other service package (worth $1,575) was for Best Idea, and it went to CyborFusion (described above).

Eighteen teams (with a total of 41 participants from multiple Colleges at Tech) competed in the preliminary round, before getting narrowed down to seven in the finals. More than 25 judges were involved in the competition, representing innovative businesses and social enterprises.

A series of workshops leading up to the competition helped students prepare, and they received guidance from business-community mentors. The competition is organized by Georgia Tech's Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship (ILE).

I2S was sponsored by Gray Ghost Ventures, HUB Atlanta, and MaRC Sustainable Design & Manufacturing as well as Tech's ILE, College of Management, and the Tedd Munchak Chair in Entrepreneurship.


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