Team from University of Illinois, win Judges Choice global innovation award with novel coating process to decrease greenhouse gas emissions from power plants

Three students from Illinois University have today been officially recognised as some of the brightest young minds in innovation.

Their development of a new graphene coating process, which helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by power plants, got top marks by a panel of expert judges at the final of the global innovation competition, Shell Ideas360. The coating process enhances condensers, through enabling more effective drop wise condensation of steam, to increase efficiency, reduce costs and minimise the environmental footprint of existing and future power and desalinisation plants.

Shell Ideas360 calls on young people to submit their own inventive solutions to the planet’s energy, water and food challenges, and saw the students, known as The Lean Mean Graphene Machine, beat almost 1,000 entries from 140 countries to land the first prize. The students were able to take their idea from concept to a fully fledged business case, in collaborating with some of the best minds in the world, all whilst honing their skills above and beyond their curriculum over the last year.

The finalists travelled from around the world to the Shell Ideas360 finale at Make the Future London – a festival of ideas and innovation taking place at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Here The Lean Mean Graphene Machine, alongside finalist teams from Singapore, India and the UK presented their ideas to a judging panel of business and NGO experts. These included: Alexander Moen, Vice President, Explorer Programmes, National Geographic ; Claire Ruskin, CEO, Cambridge Network; Jaco Fok, Manager T&I Excellence, Shell; Laura Young, General Manager Lubricants Supply Chain, Global Operations Shell; Mallika Ishwaran, Senior Economist (currently Acting Chief Economist), Group Strategy Shell; Pradeep Pursnani, Deputy Director – COO, Shell Foundation.

After careful deliberations the judges voted The Lean Mean Graphene Machines’s idea to be the most innovative, collaborative and potentially game-changing of all. The team will now enjoy an all-expenses-paid National Geographic Adventure of their choice from around the world.

Team member, Somak Ghosh said:

“There has been a distinct lack of innovation in power plants, with the last one built in the US in the late 1970s. We have developed a graphene coating process to be applied to condensers to improve the efficiency and lower the environmental footprint of existing and future power and desalinisation plants. Crucially our idea is also technologically and financially sound and it’s awesome that our idea has been recognised through the Shell Ideas360 competition – it’s a validation of all the hard work we’ve put into it.”

Ronan Cassidy, Chief Human Resources & Corporate Officer for Shell, said:

“With Shell Ideas360 we hope to inspire and excite the next generation of leaders and innovators to think about the pressures challenging the world’s resources in the coming decades. For these young self-starters coming up with a great idea is just the first part. Taking a concept from ideation to execution is a larger part of the challenge, and that’s why nurturing bright young minds is so important.”

“The competition provides university students, from across the world, with a unique opportunity to advance their ideas with the support of Shell mentors and subject matter experts. From increasing the world’s food production to maximising the opportunities for sea-based solar power – there have been so many incredible projects with great potential that have been revealed at the competition. It is exciting to think that one day, one of these students’ ideas could make the future.”

Shell Ideas360 is now in its third year having first begun in 2014. With over 16,000 registrations applying this season – and a rigorous assessment of ideas to assess their criteria of being novel, doable, valuable and relevant – reaching the finals was no mean feat. The finalist teams were celebrated in a prestigious award ceremony on the July 1, filled with students and academics, including senior Shell executives John Abbott, Downstream Director and Ronan Cassidy, Chief Human Resources & Corporate Officer, as well as VIP guest Dame Mary Archer, Chair of the Science Museum Group.

The five finalist teams competing in the 2016 grand final were:

  • The Lean Mean Graphene Machine, University of Illinois, USA
    Idea: develop coating process to implement graphene to the outside of cooling water pipes in condensers – to help increase efficiency, reduce costs, and minimise environmental footprint of power and desalination plants. Watch the pitch video here.
  • The SeaShrooms Project, Singapore Management University, Singapore
    Idea: taking inspiration from plankton to create independent floating solar cells to maximise sea-based solar energy. Watch the pitch video here.
  • GrowSmart, Indian Institute of Technology, India
    Idea: bring innovation to farming with a low-cost diagnostic tool, monitoring soil/plant health, to deliver 1.5 x rise of crop production. Watch the pitch video here.
  • REPiphany, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
    Idea: starter kit teaching people in the developing world how to make use of Sargassuma seaweed’s nutritious value to address food poverty. Watch the pitch video here.
  • Tri-gen, University of Cambridge, UK
    Idea: design a car roof that cools itself like a plant, by allowing heat to be carried away by evaporation of water, without using fuel or electricity. Watch the pitch video here.

The free festival, Make the Future London featuring Shell Eco-marathon, is live from June 30 to July 3, hosted in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London. Click here to find out more.