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Student teams score high in International E-Waste Design Competition

6/8/2010 | Sharita Forrest, Arts Editor | 217-244-1072;

[ Email | Share ] CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Although there is widespread interest in producing biofuels from algae, the high cost associated with production has been a stumbling block. But a group of students at the University of Illinois has overcome that obstacle by developing a bioreactor that not only produces algae quickly and inexpensively, it solves yet another environmental puzzle – what to do with the millions of computers that consumers discard every year.

An eco-friendly bioreactor for cultivating algae was just one of the innovative eco-friendly technologies created by student teams that took top honors at this year’s International E-Waste Design Competition at the University of Illinois.

The competition, part of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative at the U. of I., encourages people from the industrialized world to explore ideas for addressing the problem of electronic waste by re-using electronic products in innovative ways and advancing environmentally responsible product design. The competition originated in conjunction with a class on sustainability and e-waste issues taught by William Bullock, a professor of industrial design in the School of Art and Design at the U. of I., and Willie Cade, the founder and chief executive officer of PC Rebuilders and Recyclers, a Chicago company that refurbishes computers for various non-profit organizations, including the Computers for Schools program.

For 2010, the competition’s second year, it was expanded from a campus event to an international event, and drew 33 entries from across the U.S. and other countries, including Australia, South Korea and Turkey. Winners were announced April 20 in conjunction with the International E-Waste Video Festival held at the U. of I.

Entrants competed for a total of $19,000 in prize money in either of two categories: “designer/artist,” for entries that focused on the aesthetic elements and human factors of design; and the “technical/geek category,” for entries that created functional devices from electronic components.

“Port-e-garden,” an automated, outdoor urban garden created from a refrigerator, took first place in the technical/geek category. The self-watering garden can grow up to 20 plants using aeroponic technology and a compressor powered by a wind turbine. The student inventors used it to grow gourmet mushrooms and to recycle pasteurized waste such as coffee grounds, wood-based pet bedding and bulk waste paper as mulch for the crop.

BioGrow, an algae bioreactor constructed from recycled computer parts, took second place in the technical/geek category. The U. of I. student team that developed BioGrow repurposed a tower from an Apple G4 computer as a growing tank and a CRT from an Apple iMAC as a source of light and heat to stimulate photosynthesis. A modified Dell laptop computer controlled the light and temperature inside the tank by turning on specific light spectrums in the CRT at various intervals.

BioGrow would provide an economical and expedient method for cultivating algae, which consumers could grow in their homes and provide to energy companies in exchange for credit on their gasoline or diesel purchases, the student inventors said.

Students from the Rochester Institute of Technology won first place in the artist/designer category with their invention of revOlve, a mobile phone created from recycled components that users recharge by induction energy – generated by spinning the phones around their fingers.

The winners in each category:

• Technical/Geek Category

First place: Port-e-garden; U. of I. – Stephen MacShane, Wauconda, junior in rhetoric; Jessalyn Hendricks, Grayslake, junior in human factors.

Second place: BioGrow; U. of I. – Elliot Devries, Urbana, junior in industrial design; Timothy Harvey, Hollis, N.H., junior in industrial design; Megan Kenney, Libertyville, junior in industrial design; Mark Schnitzer, Highland Park, junior in industrial design/art education; Reza Shiftehfar, Tehran, Iran, graduate student in computer science/civil engineering.

Third place: The Pure Drive Home Automation and Computing System (stackable, interlocking electronic modules for high-capacity home computing systems made from recycled components); California State University, Long Beach – Studio Group 1.

• Artist/designer category

First place: revOlve; Rochester Institute of Technology.

Second place: E-volve; CSULB – eLiminators team.

Third place: eMotion (a Web-based business design system that assists manufacturers and consumers with shipping discarded electronic items to recycling centers); CSULB – eMotion team.

Honorable mentions: Personalized E-Waste Recycling Bin (electronic waste bin for elementary schools that promotes awareness about e-cycling), CSULB – ID2011 team; E-Responsibility (video promoting awareness of e-waste), CSULB ID team.

The first, second and third-place winners in each category received $5,000, $3,000 and $1,000 respectively; the honorable mentions received $500. Dell Computer and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. sponsored this year’s competition.

The jury that judged the competition included representatives from Dell; the Industrial Designers Society of America; the International Housewares Association; Motorola; Southern Illinois University, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Videos of the winning entries are available on the SEI’s YouTube channel.

More information about the competition and the SEI is available at

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