Students win award for device that reduces lawn mower emissions

By |  November 2, 2015 0 Comments
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The NOx-Out team receives its award with their advisor, Kawai Tam, and Reza Abbaschian, dean of the Bourns College of Engineering. Photo: Golfdom

A team of University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering students won a national sustainable development award last month for creating a device that reduces emissions from lawn mowers.

The team their advisor and the university will receive $43,000 for winning the Odebrecht Award for Sustainable Development. Team members Alyssa Yan, Priyanka Singh and Anna Almario received the honor at an Oct. 8 award ceremony in Miami, accompanied by Kawai Tam, their advisor and lecturer at the school, and Reza Abbaschian, dean of the college.

“This win is a testament to our college’s commitment to hands-on undergraduate research that can be applied in the real world,” Abbaschian says. “With a single device, these students can significantly improve our air quality and have the potential to revolutionize an industry that has been around for more than 100 years.”

The team was one of three finalists for the award. The others teams represented Duke University and the University of California, Berkeley.

The students developed the device — a cylindrical stainless steel unit that attaches to the lawn mower where its muffler was — because small engine devices produce significant harmful emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a gasoline powered lawn mower emits air pollution equivalent to a single car driven for 45 miles for each hour of operation.

This unit can also be attached to other small engine devices, such as generators, and reduce nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds from entering the atmosphere.

The team, which calls itself NOx-Out — NOx is short for nitrogen oxide — believes there is a market for the device for lawn mower manufacturers and current lawn mower owners.

They expect the device, which also reduces noise from the lawn mower and the smell of gasoline, would sell for about $80 for its current scale of production. This price would substantially be lower at a larger scale of production.

“To be recognized by prestigious industry leaders validates that our idea has innovative merit toward sustainability,” Tam says. “With this award our team will be continuing our efforts toward commercialization.”

The device can be thought of as a three-stage system. First, a filter captures the pollutants. Then an ultra-fine spray of urea solution is dispersed into the exhaust stream. The urea spray primes the dirty air for the final stage, when a catalyst converts the harmful nitrogen oxide and ammonia into harmless nitrogen gas and water and releases them into the air.

Testing by the students has shown that the device eliminates 93 percent of particulate matter emissions. Tests using a previous version of the device found it reduced carbon monoxide emissions by 87 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 67 percent.

Several teams of former Bourns College of Engineering students have worked on the device in recent years.

Launched in 2012, the United States edition of the Odebrecht Award for Sustainable Development is awarded to applicants that demonstrate innovative technologies and business models for sustainable development. The Odebrecht Organization seeks to reward projects that are environmentally sustainable, profitable, produce quantifiable results, and have the potential to be scaled up and replicated for broad applications. Odebrecht and Braskem, Brazilian companies in the fields of engineering, construction, chemicals and petrochemicals, are looking for ideas that can be implemented in various real-world ventures.

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