Engineering students win challenge for business idea focused on clean energy for cooking in rural India

A team of engineering and business students from the University of Minnesota and the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee recently won the Acara Challenge 2010. The Acara Challenge focuses on creating businesses that address clean water and clean energy for underserved populations in India.

The team - operating under the business name BioServ - developed an affordable, weekly maintenance program for previously-installed biogas units in the community. Since respiratory illness through cooking is the eighth leading cause of death in India, the business aims to dramatically improve indoor air pollution while also providing jobs to maintenance workers in small towns throughout India.

University of Minnesota students who are part of the winning team are:

  • Anthony Jakubiak, civil engineering undergraduate student
  • Katheryn Hope, civil engineering undergraduate student
  • Charles O'Neil, mechanical engineering undergraduate student
  • Judd Eder, Master of Business Administration (MBA) graduate student

"In India, hundreds of thousands of biogas plants have been installed for home use," said Eder. "Most of the units are not being used due to a variety of maintenance issues. BioServ will be equipped to tackle these issues, and in doing so make a real and lasting impact in rural India."

The BioServ team will travel to India in June to conduct further research. In July, the team will return to the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment for an on-campus incubation period during which time they will work with a commercialization team to refine and launch their business.

"Clean energy and clean water are global issues that need local, practical business solutions," said civil engineering assistant professor Julian Marshall, co-director of the Acara Institute and faculty advisor to the team. "It's a pleasure working with motivated students and industry partners on a project that has potential for real impact."

In addition to BioServ's victory in the clean energy category, the Acara Challenge awarded the top prize in the clean water group to the team from the University of Illinois, Chicago/Vellore Institute of Technology. Their business - JAL Water for Life - plans to establish a water purification and distribution company that uses a single-basin solar still along with a basic ultraviolet system to desalinate and purify 100,000 liters of water a day.

Twenty five teams with more than 200 students from India and the United States competed in this year's challenge.

"Our expansion from three schools last year to 14 this year indicates how strongly motivated students are when it comes to solving pressing environment issues with real business solutions" said Fred Rose, executive director of the Acara Institute. "Our industry partners and mentors also played a critical role in supporting the teams in this year's challenge."

For more information on the Acara Institute and the Acara Challenge 2010, please visit: http://acarainstitute.org.