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Smart city designs earn ASU sustainability students Verizon grants

Aerial view of Downtown Phoenix

Three ASU sustainability students have been awarded grants for their ideas generated in the Smart City and Technology Innovation Challenge.

September 18, 2015

Last fall, ASU’s School of Sustainability teamed up with Verizon to offer a groundbreaking new course — the Smart City and Technology Innovation Challenge.

Students spent the semester learning about the latest in smart technologies, and brainstorming how they could be applied to cities for the benefit of urbanites. They molded their ideas into business propositions, which were carefully considered for generous grants from Verizon.

Now, the judges have spoken and the challenge’s three winners have been announced.

First-place winner Alex Slaymaker is in her second year in the School of Sustainability’s Master of Sustainability Solutions program and has a passion for eliminating waste.

“Cities of the future will view sending waste to the landfill as an outdated inefficiency that hurts their bottom line and reputation,” she said.

Slaymaker’s waste-reducing proposition, PHXflow, is a vibrant online waste networking platform created for small- and medium-sized businesses interested in selling, donating, purchasing or exchanging unwanted materials with other businesses in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

“Picture a for all different kinds of waste, from wooden crates to leftovers,” Slaymaker said.

In Phoenix alone, enough waste is generated in one year to fill Chase Stadium seven times. Although recovered materials account for one stadium’s capacity, the Brookings Institute estimates that over $500 million worth are exported from the Phoenix metropolitan area each year. Half are sent across the world to Asia, where they are transformed into new products that are sold back to the United States.
The remaining six stadiums of waste are sent to landfills, even though 50 percent is compostable, 15 percent is recyclable and 23 percent is recoverable.

PHXflow aims to correct this by allowing companies to inject by-products back into the regional supply chain so that others can create wealth from what would otherwise be waste - a matchmaking proposition now backed by a $5,000 grant.

Christopher Frettoloso, the second-place recipient of $2,000, conceived BetR-block, LLC.

BetR-blok, pronounced “better block,” manufactures sustainable, low-cost building materials from recycled paper and other cellulosic materials. The company designed and built low-cost, energy-efficient equipment to pulp, mix and press recycled paper, cardboard, straw, palm fronds and other regionally-available plant material into affordable construction blocks.

Given the skyrocketing costs of materials and construction along with the pressing need for low-cost, sustainable homes, the company — which joins Edson’s cohort of 2015 start-ups — sees it as a matter of time before BetR-blok becomes a construction material of choice.

Alex Cano is the challenge’s third-place recipient of $1,000 and the innovative mind behind BISTEG-USA. His proposition tackles the aesthetic concerns associated with current solar technologies, which are often relegated to out-of-sight places like rooftops.

The technology Cano is researching takes advantage of recent advances in thermocouple materials that generate electricity from temperature gradients. The devices he envisions are constructed of glass blocks or small window panes — materials that are easier on the eyes and provide a wide range of display options.

Amit Jain, director of Verizon Corporate Strategy, is pleased that the Verizon grants will support such smart and sustainable endeavors.

“I was impressed by the enthusiasm of everyone involved in this course, from instructor Colin Tetreault to his talented cohort of students,” Jain said. “Verizon is committed to accelerating the pace of innovation, making this partnership with the School of Sustainability very much worth our while.”

Perhaps the real winners of the Smart City and Technology Innovation Challenge are the city dwellers who benefit from the future outputs of these savvy student ventures.