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Midlands energy graduates win prize for eco-friendly fridge coolant technology

A team of University energy researchers have won first prize in a new national competition, the Energy Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (Energy YES) with their idea for eco-friendly refrigerator cooling units.

The winning team was the Midlands Energy Graduate School (MEGS) comprising five researchers from The University of Birmingham, Loughborough University and The University of Nottingham. The team’s winning entry was a magnetic cooling unit which can be sold to refrigeration manufacturers for use in their products.

The unit uses water instead of chemical coolants which means greener appliances with the added bonus of low energy consumption and a longer life span. According to the charity Waste Watch, 2.4 million fridges and freezers are thrown away every year in the UK. Those not exported to developing countries have to be carefully decommissioned to extract ozone-depleting coolants. MEGS’ idea could provide the future solution to this problem.

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 Institute for Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI) and the Network of Energy Doctoral Training Centres, and is aimed at energy research PhD students.

With a prize of £1,000 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.

Mei Chew – a PhD student in her third year of research into Nuclear Waste Management at Loughborough University and one fifth of the winning MEGS team – said: “Energy YES has been so worthwhile. We’ve learnt a lot about the commercialisation of science and it has been really useful to talk to mentors such as patent attorneys that we wouldn’t usually have access to. It’s especially encouraging to hear from people who have been in our shoes as researchers and gone on to successfully commercialise their ideas.”

The University’s Pro-Vice Chancellor for Enterprise, Professor Steve Rothberg, added: “The Energy YES competition gives young researchers a real opportunity to learn about the academia-business interface and develop skills that will serve them well later in their career. We are delighted that our MEGS team performed so well, and wish them every success as they complete their projects.”