The Max Tech and Beyond Design Competition: Inspiring Energy Efficiency Research in the Nation’s Universities

The Max Tech and Beyond Design Competition: Inspiring Energy Efficiency Research in the Nation’s Universities

March 26, 2013

Addressing the challenge of climate disruption requires a new generation of highly creative efficiency-minded engineers and continuous innovation in appliance and equipment efficiency. That is the vision behind the Max Tech and Beyond Appliance Design Competition for Ultra-Low-Energy-Use Appliances and Equipment. The competition supports faculty-led student design teams at universities and colleges across the United States as they compete to create the most cost-effective ultra-efficient prototypes.

The competition is in its second year, and is managed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's (Berkeley Lab's) Energy Efficiency Standards Group with support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Emerging Technology Program. The chosen teams receive up to $20,000 to implement their proposals over the course of the 2012/2013 academic year.

A panel of Berkeley Lab and DOE sector experts selected eight teams following a solicitation at more than 90 universities. The eight teams are from the University of Maryland, Cal Poly Pomona, Tufts, Ohio State, Santa Clara University, the University of Nevada, Stony Brook University, and the University of California, Berkeley. The teams, consisting of undergraduate or graduate students, or a combination of both, are prototyping an ultra-efficient hybrid air conditioning and water heating system, a thermosiphon-based refrigerator, and automated space-conditioning window shades, among other devices. The student teams have completed their design and procurement phase and are working on adapting and applying their technologies, building prototypes. They will be entering into the testing phase soon.

The competition culminates in a national webinar on May 23, 2013, in which the student teams will demonstrate their prototypes. The event is open to the public. The achievements of all of the teams will be reported on the Max Tech Design Competition website, with the winners announced in August 2013.

The winner of the 2011-2012 competition, a team from the University of Maryland, devised a way to improve the efficiency of an air conditioning system substantially by separating latent and sensible cooling, using a desiccant wheel to provide the latent cooling. Compared with best-on-market wall-mounted air conditioners, tests of the prototype in a climate chamber showed a reduction in energy use by 30%. The runner-up team, from Marquette University, developed a hybrid gas-powered clothes dryer and water heater. Their hybrid system only needs one modulating burner that can be shared between the two appliances, cutting the overall appliance energy use by more than 20%.

Dr. Yunho Hwang, from the University of Maryland, and lead Faculty Advisor for the winning team last year, says:

"Max Tech and Beyond Competition opened the opportunity for engineering students to draw their imaginations and visualize their ideas. I was asked by many of the engineering students, 'When is the next Max Tech And Beyond Competition to be held?' I am very excited that we are returning to Max Tech and Beyond Competition for the second year because it provides such a core engineering educational opportunity to our students."

Berkeley Labs Dr. Robert Van Buskirk, one of the original initiators of the Competition, had this to add:

"The Department of Energy recognizes that innovation in energy efficiency technologies will play a very large role in mitigating climate change over the long term. The Max Tech competition helps harness the creativity of the nation's young scientists and engineers to help meet this very important global challenge. A year of effort by a dedicated team of students today has the potential of seeding those new technologies and devices that could save the country and the world billions of dollars in energy and climate change costs during the coming decades."

Stacy Pratt