Prize-winning student team to pilot patent-pending aeration system
Last fall 20 teams from universities across the U.S. came to the New Mexico State University Institute for Energy and the Environment Las Cruces, N.M., to compete in the annual WERC International Environmental Design Contest. Their trip was made possible by alumni investing in the Dean's Strategic Initiative Fund.
Only one entry showed up with both an engineering design and a business plan for bringing the innovation to market. That entry placed second and earned $500.
In spring of this year this same team presented a refined design and plan to snag first place at the 28th annual Holloway Prize: Innovation to Market Competition at the University of New Hampshire—and earn $7,500.
Meet NH DreamTech, comprised of two UNH engineering students and four UNH business students, co-mentored by Paul College professor Jeffrey Sohl and civil and engineering professor Robin Collins. Collins designed the prize-winning H2Air water aeration system.
Team spokesperson Will Taveras, a senior mechanical engineering major from Salem, N.H., said H2Air addresses new federal regulations for removing carcinogenic compounds from municipal systems.
“Trihalomethanes, or THMs, are actually a byproduct of chlorination. Today, around seven million Americans are exposed to these cancer causing compounds,” Taveras said.
DreamTech’s innovation removes THMs by trapping them with bubbles that are expelled through an exhaust system at the point of origin. Uniquely, H2Air can be locally targeted, bypassing costly outlays required to renovate central water treatment facilities. The team’s strategy is to run low cost pilot projects in communities required to meet regulations and build a record of success.
“The business plan was developed in a series of conversations we had within the team; throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what would stick,” said Paul College senior Brianna Leclerc. “Municipalities are notoriously difficult to sell to, so we needed to find the most plausible way for our startup to turn a profit.”
Tom Bergeron, a principal at the Amesbury Mass. business incubator InventiveLabs, has attended “pitch competitions” throughout New England. He thinks DreamTech would “stand up very well” in these professional contests.
He also praised the team’s marketing strategy. “The positive news for DreamTech is the water treatment community is very tight knit,” says Bergeron. “If they show success in the pilot communities, word will spread quickly of their success in cost effectively treating THMs.”
Collins, whose research on the aeration system provided the platform on which H2Air was developed, was delighted by the student’s interest in his work. “They expanded our thinking about packaging the system in places where it’s most needed and in a way validated our research,” said Collins.
“I can’t tell you the hours they put in putting it together," said Sohl, who has worked with interdisciplinary student teams for 15 years. "This was a superstar team whose members worked hard to achieve a common goal. Sure they had some challenges during the initial creative stages, as with any team project, but once they closed on the concept, they really took the project to new heights.”
“I am a strong believer in interdisciplinary teams. Working in these teams is absolutely crucial, it fosters innovative thinking,” said Leclerc.“ In a university we, the students, are often put into silos. The Holloway Competition is breaking this by allowing us to expand our horizons of knowledge and work with those outside our majors.”