Nicholas School team races to prize in Fuels Institute competition

Posted On:

Thursday, May 12, 2016 - 11:33 am

Four students from the Nicholas School of the Environment put their learning to use to end the academic year on a high note, earning second-place recognition in the Fuels Institute’s Future of Transportation Case Competition.

Eleanor Johnstone, Kate Buczek and Michael Denoia (l-r) in San Francisco. Not pictured: Hoel Wiesner.

Kate Buczek, Michael Denoia, Eleanor Johnstone and Hoel Wiesner, all Master of Environmental Management (MEM) candidates, will share publication credits and a $2,500 cash prize for their efforts, which culminated with a presentation to a panel of more than 80 fuel and vehicle industry experts at the Fuels Institute’s annual meeting in San Francisco on April 28.

Launched in 2014, the Future of Transportation Case Competition challenges students nationwide to "envision and create an ideal future transportation sector." With the challenge of transforming mass transit and consumer vehicle travel in mind, teams must address a raft of practical concerns, assessing the technological demands, policy implications and economic viability of their proposed system over a 30-year period.

"[The competition] gave us the flexibility of applying pretty much everything we learn in the MEM program in whatever way we saw fit to design an entirely new way of traveling in this country," said Wiesner, who also served as a graduate assistant in the Energy Initiative’s research division this year.

The Duke team developed a plan that would leverage existing electric-vehicle infrastructure in California to support the installation of a grid-powered "e-highway" pilot system that deploys wireless dynamic charging technology to power autonomous vehicles on electric roads. Their proposal notes the positive environmental impacts of a widespread shift to electric vehicles and recognizes the potential of autonomous navigation to increase road safety and ease traffic congestion in urban areas, while also addressing scalability questions and stakeholder risks through the use of economic modeling.

The competition received 20 entries from teams at 11 colleges and universities across the country. The University of California at Berkeley won with a proposal that also involved transitioning passenger vehicles to electric power. Morgan State University rounded out the prize-winners.

All four members of the Duke team are enrolled in the MEM’s Energy and Environment track, where courses such as Transportation and Energy and Modeling for Energy Systems are staples of the curriculum. (Denoia is also an MBA candidate at the Fuqua School of Business.) Like Wiesner, Johnstone jumped at the chance to flex skills developed in class.

"The MEM program had already given me some tools for understanding the link between transport and energy consumption," she said. "I was attracted to the opportunity to redesign a system that affects everyone every day, figure out how it could actually work, and run [the idea] by people who might actually be able to make it happen."


Posted By:

Bryan Koen

  • Bryan Koen
    Assistant Director for Student Experience

    Bryan’s work supports the Nicholas Institute’s educational programming, events and communications.