Duke Start-Up Challenge: Clean Energy Track

Refresh Innovations wins the prize

The Duke Start-Up Challenge is an entrepreneurship competition started by Duke students in 1999. The competition, organized by the Duke Global Entrepreneurship Network (DukeGEN) and now in its 15th year, spans the academic year with the Elevator Pitch Competition each fall and the Grand Prize Competition each spring.

To participate in the 2013-14 competition, you must fill out and submit an Idea Summary by Oct. 30.

The winner receives $50,000 and participants are eligible for a variety of track prizes. The 2013 winner was Refresh Innovations, creator of the Contact Lens Refresh Card.

The Energy Initiative sponsors the Clean Energy Track for energy-related start-ups. Refrackt, who pitched a new solution to water safety issues posed by hydraulic fracturing, won the $10,000 track prize for 2013. Refrackt also was among the finalists of the separate $100,000 ACC Clean Energy Challenge.

Team Refrackt at the ACC Clean Energy Challenge

Refract's pitch summary: Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is the process that gas companies have been using to extract oil and natural gas from “tight” reservoirs, and it has been a primary driver of North America’s recent natural gas boom. Still, many are concerned about hydraulic fracturing technology’s environmental impact, especially water consumption and contamination. Using vacuum membrane distillation technology, we will be able to safely and economically separate water used in fracking from dissolved solids, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and organic compounds on site. Our mobile system will provide drillers with the ability to clean their water on site and either recycle it to cut costs or release it back into the municipal water system.

Team members (pictured above, left to right):

  • Mark Panny, Nicholas School of the Environment, 2014
  • Judith Winglee, Pratt School of Engineering, 2016
  • Daniel Chow, Nicholas School of the Environment, 2014
  • Victor Smith, Nicholas School of the Environment, 2014

Five additional teams made it to Round 2 of the challenge's Clean Energy Track in 2013:

  • Hybrid Conversion Kits for Scooters: We will produce hybrid conversion kits at a retail cost of $200 each for India’s crop of 100cc scooters. These scooters make up a significant portion of the 10 million two-wheeled vehicles that pour onto the market each year. The plan has the potential to halve each scooter’s rest-of-life running costs. If applied to one percent of the 67 million two-wheeled vehicles sold in India between 2005 and 2012, it could cut CO2 emissions by 140,000 tons a year and save 22 million gallons of fuel, 70 percent of it imported. This idea could also be implemented in other developing countries where two-wheelers are heavily used.
  • POWERTRENZ: We intend to place solar electric generation on every house in America.  By combining existing solar technologies and market needs for homeowners, we can provide supplemental electrical solar power energy at competitive costs with local providers without having to invest in infrastructure.
  • Shamsi: Over 1.3 billion people, or about 20 percent of the entire population of the world, currently live without access to electricity due to lack of grid connectivity. Another 1 billion have access to the grid, but suffer massive brownouts and blackouts. Shamsi proposes using ultra-high efficiency, patented High-Concentrated Photo Voltaic (HCPV) technology, to create a micro-grid generation business, which will install small-scale power-plants capable of meeting power demands at the local level.
  • Smart Metals: When Duke’s spring semester ended in 2012, computers, microwaves and refrigerators were tossed in dumpsters or left outside apartments and dormitories by departing students.  How can we encourage the Duke community – and, eventually, Durham – to become more engaged in recycling products with significant metal content? Our solution uses an innovative economic model that incentivizes the community to recycle by creating a financial dialogue between Durham businesses and their customers.
  • The Books, Not Energy Fund: The Books, Not Energy (BNE) Fund provides crowd-sourced funding for energy efficiency improvements in K-12 schools.

One Alumni/Faculty/Staff team also was in the Clean Energy Track for Round 2:

  • CPS Biofuels Inc.: CPS Biofuels and its product – CPS Powershot (Glyceryl tert-butyl ether) – were developed based on the need to replace MTBE (methyl tert-butyl ether), which is added to gasoline to raise the oxygen content. MTBE is extremely toxic and EPA has essentially outlawed its continued used for transportation fuels. CPS Biofuels has developed processes and products for producing glycerol tert-butyl ether, or GTBE, an environmentally friendly, non-toxic fuel additive that is now being domestically produced under the name CPS PowershotR.

Duke StartUp Challenge

Each year you can participate in the Start-Up Challenge:

  • As a competitor, by entering your team's start-up proposal in the fall.
  • By voting for your favorite team in the People's Choice balloting that begins in March.
  • By attending the grand finale to hear the finalists' pitches and vote for your favorite.
  • By following the Duke Start-Up Challenge on Twitter @DukeStart and on Facebook.