PhD students win prize with weight-saving shipping containers

30 May 2014 08:58:48.087

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A team of University PhD researchers have won first prize in national competition, the Energy Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (Energy YES) with their idea for a cheap, light weight composite material to replace heavy steel used in the walls of shipping containers.

The winning team are Heather Parker, Emily Hayward, Stephen Wood, Will Mahy and Jon Wagner from the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies at the University of Bath. Under the team name Absol Composites, they developed an idea for a light weight composite material that would also have good strength without being brittle. A key benefit of a lighter weight shipping container is a reduction in fuel consumption as approximately 12 per cent of the weight of a fully loaded steel shipping container is made up of the container itself. There are other benefits to not making containers out of steel including the new composite being more resistant to corrosion and also easier to x-ray at customs using a low powered soft x-ray.

Energy YES is a national competition which aims to develop the entrepreneurial skills of researchers whilst also helping to solve some of the most serious challenges facing the energy industry. The competition is organised by The University of Nottingham’s Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (HGI) and the Network of Energy Doctoral Training Centres and is aimed at energy research PhD students. Alstom Power provided the use of its premises in Rugby for the three-day workshop and competition final as well as supplying guest speakers, mentors and judges.

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With a prize of £1000 for the winning idea, a total of 50 researchers from around the country took part in a workshop to develop business plans for their energy sector-specific idea before pitching their plan ‘Dragons' Den’ style, to a panel of judges.

Professor Simon Mosey, Director of HGI at The University of Nottingham, said: “It was great to see Energy YES doubling in size from last year. It was extremely valuable learning experience for the students to interact with experts in the energy industry based at Alstom. The large number of real life experts enhanced the creativity of participants and it was fantastic to see new business ideas ranging from an app to allow drivers to pass through green lights all the way through a city to the development of new enzymes to improve bioreactors.”

Emily Hayward of the winning team said: “Energy YES was a fantastic opportunity to gain an insight into the world of entrepreneurship and the challenges associated with setting up a new business. The mentors, from a range of different companies and areas of expertise, were enthusiastic to hear our ideas and to share their own knowledge and experiences with us to help us develop our business model. We were challenged at every step to make sure that our plans were as strong as they could possibly be.

Winning was a real surprise to us all as the competition was tough. So many teams had very strong ideas and presented their business plans well, and it was fascinating to hear the wide variety of different proposals. Overall it was great fun (and hard work!) and we are obviously thrilled to have won, however the experience of learning about how small companies are built, the challenges they face and how they can be overcome was far more valuable.”

Iain Rutherford, Unit Managing Director for Alstom Rugby, said: “Rugby is the spiritual home of R&D for Alstom Power in the UK where we have been inventing and designing products for the Energy sector for over 150 years, so it was great to see so many bright and enthusiastic students gathered together on the site participating in the 2014 Energy YES competition.

The UK needs to encourage more young, innovative and passionate engineers and scientists if it wants to meet the social, economic and environmental challenges of the future and we hope that in hosting the event we have been able to encourage more young people to consider careers in the power industry.”

The winning team are now taking their ideas to the Energy YES sister competition, Engineering YES which takes place on June 18 2014.

For more information about Energy YES visit the Energy YES website.

Photo: L-R Lucy Littlewood (Alstom), Richard Miranda (Alstom), Stewart Swatton (ETI), Emily, Stephen, Heather, Will, Jon, Steve Collier (EU Skills), Caroline (Potter Clarkson) and Simon Maycock (Alstom)

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottinghamhas 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain’ (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also the most popular university among graduate employers, the world’s greenest university, and winner of the Times Higher Education Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development’. It is ranked in the World's Top 75 universities by the QS World University Rankings.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from Kelly Cookson, Communications Officer at The University of Nottingham’s Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, on +44 (0)115 846 6860,; or Jonathan Smith, Head of Media Relations at Alstom UK, on +44 (0) 1788 545602,
Kelly Cookson - Communications Officer
Phone: +44 (0)115 846 6860
Location: Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

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