When the TechLab: Climate Change program piloted in the winter term of 2020, the CFE was excited to partner with two companies in their goal to make a significant impact on the carbon balance of the planet. The program is an immersive learning experience for students as they work side by side with the companies on the deployment and market development of their breakthrough inventions.

This year the list of companies participating includes three new ventures, bringing the total of companies to five. The excitement around the program as a whole has grown since last year among students as well. Jonathan Fay, Dixon and Carol Doll Executive Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship says that the number of students enrolled has nearly doubled.

With an almost 50-50 (female-male) ratio split, the teams consist of majors ranging from Economics to Materials Science to Sustainable Systems to Data Science to Public Policy and more. Bringing their unique perspectives is a benefit that is often overlooked when assembling teams. Seeking innovative answers to a global problem requires participants to look at all potential angles of the problem.

“We hope the students gain an appreciation for all the different aspects of a climate change innovation project; namely: technical feasibility, environmental sustainability, economic viability, stakeholder desirability, and influencing policies,” said Jonathan. “We also hope they take away knowledge of how large companies, startups, government and academia are working together to implement these world saving solutions.”

As a co-instructor of the course, Volker Sick, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor – Mechanical Engineering, DTE Energy Professor of Advanced Energy Research, and Director of the Global CO2 Initiative, hopes that by introducing these various aspects to the student teams that creative solutions can be discovered.

“The students quickly recognize that their company-defined projects will evolve based on their contributions,” said Volker. “The climate-related learning experience in Techlab is unique for the students through dealing with open-ended problems in a team with members from different subject matter expertise, nationality, seniority, expectations, and more.”

Continuing the TechLab fellowship model, TechLab: Climate Change pairs groups of undergraduate and graduate students with emerging companies attempting to mitigate carbon in the atmosphere through various technologies. Open to students from all majors on campus, it focuses on the College of Engineering’s goal of serving the common good.

Two returning companies this year are LanzaTech and SkyBaron, both of which were selected for their pioneering work in a new carbon economy and their commitment to closely mentor students. New ventures joining this year are Svante, Gridtential, and CarbonFree Chemicals.

Svante has developed a unique nanofiltration system that is able to extract CO2 from industrial waste streams and even directly from the atmosphere.  Their technology enables CO2 capture at speed and volume that is a massive increase from what has been deployed before.

Gridtential has developed a new robust and low cost battery technology.  This technology will speed the transition from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles as well as potentially enable many more solar installations at homes and businesses.  Battery technology is a key ingredient in our shift from carbon based energy sources to renewables.

CarbonFree Chemicals converts industrial gas waste streams into common household chemicals including baking soda and bleach but also can produce limestone. This technology promises to not only clean up our emissions but also produce valuable products as a result.

With new companies involved, more students enrolled, and a growing case for helping to roll back the changes to the planet’s carbon emissions, hopefully the discoveries in these projects can help. As the fate of the planet could hang in the carbon balance.

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