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Pioneering water recycling technology wins MIT $100K grand prize

Every day, four thousand children die because they don’t have access to clean water. That stark fact is what drove the winning innovation at this year’s MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition on May 14. “The water crisis is only getting worse,” says Maher Damak, PhD ’17, cofounder of Infinite Cooling, the grand-prize winner. “Our mission is to help solve the water crisis and save power plants $10 billion a year.”

Nearly 40 percent of all the water drawn from lakes and rivers in the United States goes to thermoelectric power plants. Water is continuously dumped into cooling towers, where some evaporates to cool the remaining water. A 250-megawatt power plant spends $5 million on water every year and consumes an amount equivalent to 100,000 residential users.

Infinite Cooling is developing a system—based on Damak’s mechanical engineering thesis—that captures and recycles the vaporized water from thermoelectric power plants. The recycled water would be reused continuously in the plant’s cooling system

saving millions of gallons—and dollars—annually. The team estimates that its collector could capture 80 percent of the liquid water droplets in the air and cut a power plant’s water consumption by 20 to 30 percent. And the newly potable water could be shipped to water-scarce areas.

2018 Clean Energy Prize winner

Backed, in part, by funding from the MIT Tata Center for Technology and some of the country’s leading startup competitions—including the Clean Energy Prize—Infinite Cooling has developed a system that can be retrofitted on top of cooling towers, where it captures escaping water vapor. The system also eliminates the need for treating the water with thousands of gallons of chemicals before it’s recycled.

Cofounder and co-inventor Karim Khalil, PhD ’17, noted that because their device is able to collect this pure, recondensed water, “not only do we reduce the evaporated losses, but also [reduce] costly water-treatment requirements.” The startup is planning a seed round by the end of the year and a Series A in 2020. It is also exploring applications of its technology in refineries and chemical plants.

Now in its 29th year, MIT’s iconic entrepreneurship competition is run by MIT students and supported by the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and the MIT Sloan School of Management. In the final round, eight teams pitched concepts to a crowded audience and to a judging panel of entrepreneurs and industry experts. Steve Conine, cofounder and co-chairman of e-commerce giant Wayfair was the keynote speaker.

Watch the Infinite Cooling video.

Read the MIT News article about Infinite Cooling’s 100K win.

Read MIT Sloan’s coverage of the event.

Annual EmTech Conference—a window on the digital frontier

Every fall, technology, business, and culture converge at MIT for the EmTech Conference, organized by MIT Technology Review. The 16th annual EmTech, which takes place October 18-20, 2016, at the MIT Media Lab, will offer participants a look at what’s just over the horizon in the digital world. Those present will also get the opportunity to meet and network with the entrepreneurs who are poised to bring those innovations to the world stage, including MIT Technology Review’s35 Innovators Under 35”—the guiding lights of the digital frontier.

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The MIT Media Lab, venue for the 2016 EmTech Conference

 

EmTech 2016 will examine the year’s most significant news on emerging technologies in sessions such as:

The Robots Among Us

Breakthroughs in robotics are giving machines the skills they need to work side by side with humans. Find out how humans and machines can learn from one another.

The Future of Energy

Climate change, driven in part by the demand for energy, is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Find out how emerging technologies can help create and store sustainable power.

AI’s Next Leap Forward

Artificial intelligence has had an impact on every industry. Find out how collaboration— with one another and with intelligent systems—can advance work, life, and commerce.

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Leading a green gas revolution: David Parkin, SF ’12, embraces innovation through regulation

Natural gas has been a source of energy in the UK for more than 200 years. The fuel provides one-third of all energy consumed for heat, and it accounts for four-fifths of total peak energy demand. National Grid UK—a government-regulated energy monopoly—is responsible for meeting nearly half of that demand, serving approximately 25 million gas customers annually. The company’s innovation team, led by Director of Network Strategy David Parkin, SF ’12, plays a key role in helping the country meet its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

David Parkin“It’s true that regulators help shape our business model,” notes Parkin. “But the government’s mandate also explicitly funds our research and development. It’s an environment that inspires a bit of envy among our colleagues in National Grid’s U.S. offices.” Even as they work to decarbonize the existing network, Parkin and his team are developing innovative forms of natural gas that can be injected into National Grid’s existing 284,000 km of pipes—a length that could circle the Earth six times.

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Leveraging a pro-innovation regulatory environment in a major energy market

David ParkinRegulation is generally considered a dirty word in the realm of big energy. “Regulation stifles innovation,” is a common mantra throughout the industry. But David Parkin, SF ’12, has a different perspective. When Parkin worked for a natural gas startup earlier in his career, innovations related to carbon footprints and renewable sources didn’t figure into his strategic vision. “There’s a bit of irony in my current position,” says Parkin. “Here I am with the UK’s largest natural gas provider in a strictly regulated environment, and I have to be more nimble and innovative in my thinking than when I was with a startup.”

As Director of Network Strategy for gas distribution at National Grid UK— a government-regulated energy monopoly—Parkin, has to innovate within the confines of comprehensive criteria. “Our performance,” Parkin explains, “is measured by the security of the supply, affordability for consumers, and the extent to which we are minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. We have to balance all three within an eight-year price control structure. Regulators set our revenue based not on what we spend to provide natural gas service but on what we achieve for our customers on those three criteria.”

This recently established regulatory framework exerts a strong influence on National Grid’s entrepreneurial thinking. “Historically, we were driven by the same imperatives propelling most large companies—minimize expenditures and maximize revenue,” says Parkin. “Now, we have to identify and develop innovations that deliver beneficial outcomes across several performance metrics through an eight-year cycle.”

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