UChicago students Adera Craig and Raghav Pardasani (’25) were named Regional Bonus Prize finalists in a national competition sponsored by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions (OTT). Through the EnergyTech University Prize (EnergyTech UP), 184 student teams representing 124 schools from across the country competed for a share of $125,000 in prizes. The teams worked to identify promising emerging energy technologies, assess their market potential, and create business plans for commercialization. In doing so, they connected with professionals, researchers, and potential future employers in the energy industry.
“This competition challenges students to get at the heart of what OTT was designed to do—take all of the valuable energy research that’s already in existence and find ways to bring it into the mainstream,” said Dr. Vanessa Z. Chan, DOE Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of the Office of Technology Transitions. “By funding the new National Lab Technology IP Licensing Bonus Prize, OTT is ensuring that students are taking advantage of and bringing awareness to the cutting-edge research coming directly from our national labs.”
Craig and Pardasani, co-presidents of a new Energy & Climate Club RSO on campus, were among 15 teams nationally to win the regional competitions in February. They were then provided exclusive mentorship to help them refine their ideas until a national pitch competition in April.
The students’ proposal—‘Supercharge: 5x Renewable Methane Production’—focused on a new technology developed by Argonne National Laboratory that targets landfill gas, a natural by-product of the decomposition of organic materials in landfills. Argonne’s technology would incubate landfill gases and convert them into methane, increasing methane production by 500 percent. This large amount of methane would then be enough to be used as a fuel for electricity.
The students knew, however, that the main obstacle would be convincing landfill operators to work with utilities and adopt this new technology. Fortunately, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) already hosts the Landfill Methane Outreach Program, a voluntary program that works with industry stakeholders and waste officials to reduce or avoid emissions from landfills. The UChicago team recognized that instead of treating methane as waste, the EPA program could leverage the new Argonne technology to create a viable product for the electricity market, with the potential market value possibly reaching $142 million per year in electricity production. If successful at landfills, the project could be expanded to other markets such as wastewater treatment plants, farms, and fertilizer plants.