The team of student entrepreneurs from MSU who comprise the start-up team Black Pine Engineering recently won the $100,000 U.S. Department of Energy Student Challenge Prize at the 2014 Clean Energy Challenge held in Chicago, Ill.
"Black Pine Engineering is a startup founded by MSU graduate students, and we are excited to get recognition for our efforts,” Zack Hoyle, a member of the Black Pine Engineering team, said. “We feel that winning this prize shows there is substantial potential for the technology and our team's ability to commercialize it. Ultimately, our efforts are focused on developing relationships with our customer but by participating in these events we can bring attention to this MSU technology and MSU innovation in general. We will be using the $100,000 prize to develop prototypes which will be used to validate and improve the designs the engineering team has developed.”

Black Pine Engineering competed against five other student-led start-ups. The six teams represented five states from across the Midwest and featured many innovative clean energy technologies. Black Pine Engineering took the top prize with an MSU technology developed in the laboratory of Prof. Norbert Mueller, the Woven Wheel System, an advanced turbo-machinery system composed of carbon fiber and used for retrofitting geothermal power plants.

“Black Pine Engineering is one of many student-run start-up companies that found its roots in The Hatch,” Paul Jacques, director of Student and Community Engagement at Spartan Innovations, said. “The Hatch is a co-working space for college students, which are prospective, creative, and innovative entrepreneurs, to develop their business ideas. Winning this this competition is a huge accomplishment for these students. I am very proud of the work they have done and for the trail they are blazing for other student-run start-ups in The Hatch.”

Geothermal power plants waste a portion of well steam due to steam compressors that remove harmful gasses. The Black Pine Engineering system replaces the current plan equipment with their advanced modular compressors, eliminating steam loss. According to Black Pine Engineering, this technology can boost power generation at geothermal plants by eight percent and increase revenue by over $280,000 per year as well.

“The Woven Wheel is the core component of the compressor we want to sell to geothermal power plants,” Hoyle said. “Geothermal power plants use steam to generate power. All geothermal power plants must remove harmful gases; however, current technology wastes steam to do so using a device called a steam jet ejector. The Woven Wheel design allows for our team to manufacture a system which removes these harmful gases in a much more efficient manner at low cost to the customer, but does not waste valuable well steam. By incorporating the Woven Wheel compressor into their geothermal power plants, geothermal operating companies can expect, on average, eight percent more power output. The system which uses Woven Wheel technology to remove the harmful gases increases the efficiency and power output of geothermal power plants.”

The Clean Energy Trust awarded a total of $500,000 to seven Midwest innovative clean energy start-up companies at this fourth annual competition.

Black Pine Engineering competed for an additional $100,000 prize at the third annual National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition in Washington D.C. on June 11 and 12.