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AtmoSpark team nets Big Idea Challenge

AtmoSpark teamAtmoSpark, the brainchild of Tejus Mane, a master’s student in chemical engineering at Lamar University, is the winner of the university’s Big Idea Challenge.

“We are an atmospheric water generation company developing technology to bring fresh water to rural and urban communities and hard to reach areas such as offshore platforms, for disaster relief and in maritime,” Mane said.

Opportunities are on tap for the team that will participate in Rice University’s OwlSpark program and is a finalist in the Texas Rural Challenge.

Mane is the leader and inventor, but is supported in the project by Aniket Khade, a Ph.D. student in chemical engineering, Damilola Runsewe, a master’s student in chemical engineering, and Matthew Bukovicky, an M.B.A. student in leadership. The team is refining the project at LU’s Center for Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship.

“Tejus has a great idea and he has put together a stellar team,” said Paul Latiolais, director of LU’s Center for Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship. “The support they are receiving as they develop AtmoSpark is a great example of the kind of endeavors for which the CICE was created. The CICE provides a myriad of resources to help entrepreneurs bring innovation to market.”

Mane first had the idea while attending the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship graduate class taught by David Cocke, Jack M. Gill Endowed Chair of Chemical Engineering and associate director of the CICE. The class changed his professional trajectory, Mane said, from preparation to become a process engineer to a future in entrepreneurship.

AtmoSpark team in lab“In that class, I was looking into problems that I faced growing up in India and how to solve them,” Mane said. In particular, access to reliable sources of clean water, particularly in periods of drought can be a problem. “Often there’s only a limited amount of time we can get drinking water, usually just an hour or two a day. You would have to fill up your entire day’s supply within that time,” he said.

“We were looking for a way to give people independence both in rural areas and in big cities, where they can’t rely on the local infrastructure,” Mane said. “During drought seasons, the government has to pay a lot of money to transport water great distances. We’re trying to make a win-win situation for the government and the people.”

“In India and Africa there are very humid areas,” said Damilola Runsewe. “This is actually how we get our water — through the humidity in the atmosphere.” While conventional condensation technology exists, the team’s approach is “quite novel because it doesn’t require as much energy to draw out the water from the atmosphere. We are attracting the water molecules from the atmosphere and this helps us reduce the water filtration because we are actually producing 100 percent pure water.”

“We’ve built our ‘proof of concept’ prototype,” Mane said of the design with dual benefits of energy efficiency and greater effectiveness than current technology. “We’ve shown that it can produce at least 1.5 times more water than a conventional unit while using significantly less energy.”

The prototype worked effectively with as little as 40 percent humidity, “and it may be capable of producing from even lower humidity after we optimize the design,” Mane said.

The AtmoSpark process is less expensive then reverse osmosis, requires less energy than current condensation methods, and produces pure water akin to distilled water, Bukovicky said.

The team is now designing a tabletop prototype, which will be used to optimize the water output and energy requirements, and be shown to potential investors.

AtmoSpark teamAs winners of the $3,000 grand prize in the 2017 Big Idea Challenge that was open to all students at LU, Lamar Institute of Technology, Lamar State College-Orange and Lamar State College – Port Arthur, Mane and his team are well on the road toward funding as they meet with interested financial backers. They are also entering the project into the Texas Rural Challenge at UTSA, June 9-10.

This summer, the team will be participating in OwlSpark, an entrepreneurship accelerator program at Rice University. During the three-month program they will build the prototype, perform a market analysis, and build a business model around it, he said.

AtmoSpark will also compete as 2017 Texas Student Challenge finalists in the business plan competition at the Texas Rural Challenge in Waco on June 29. The competition seeks high-quality business ventures and innovative technologies that will benefit rural communities through community and economic development. The top three winners receive a monetary prize and in-kind services from Texas Small Business Development Centers.