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CO2 remediation, unmanned aerial vehicle research at Ohio University gets boost from Ohio Third Frontier Commission

By Leah Nairn

ATHENS, Ohio (June 4, 2012) Two projects at Ohio University’s Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology recently received start-up funding from the Ohio Third Frontier Commission – and one project will be licensed.

“Ohio’s institutions of higher education are on the forefront of research that can provide a sizable economic benefit to Ohio companies,” said Christiane Schmenk, Director of the Ohio Department of Development and Chair of the Ohio Third Frontier Commission. “Anything we can do to bring these life-changing technologies to Ohio start-up companies will have a direct impact on job creation and further positions Ohio as a leader in innovative technology.”

ECO2Capture, a company headed by Loehr Professor of Mechanical Engineering David Bayless with Associate Professor of Civil Engineering Ben Stuart and Visiting Professional Jesus Pagan, was awarded $100,000 for “Demonstration of Advanced Polymer Membranes for Algal Growth Enhancement.”

The team will develop and demonstrate a polymer membrane system that can significantly increase algal growth for use in the CO2 capture and biofuel markets.

According to Bayless, there are more than 2,500 known uses for algae, which makes this a growing technology in the green tech industry. Algae-based products can be an alternative to conventional petroleum based products, and the growth of algae results in a significant consumption of CO2 releasing O2 in the process.

“This funding will help move ECO2Capture to the next level by demonstrating our technology in actual production environment,” said Bayless.

A client of the Ohio University Innovation Center, the University’s business incubator, ECO2Capture will use the funds to build and deploy pilot units at commercial algae production farms with several partners already on board for this phase.

Bayless says the company’s vision is that this next phase will successfully demonstrate that the technology not only works at the commercial scale, but does so inexpensively, which would enable immediate commercial sales.

Professor of Electrical Engineering Jim Zhu’s project, “Trajectory Tracking Flight Controller by Trajectory Linearization” – in which he is developing and testing an advanced flight controlled for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – was awarded $50,000.

Zhu and his team are giving the UAVs a “brain” by developing a controller that will make the UAVs completely autonomous in flight. The technology lets users to tell the UAV where to go, while the controller or operator simply monitors the UAV’s activity.

Zhu compares the change to the shift from the time when elevators being guided by a trained operator, to now, with elevators being monitored and certified, making designated operators no longer necessary.

According to Zhu, who will use the funds to develop a prototype that can be attached to any UAV, the technology will eventually make the UAVs safer, enabling them to react in real time to situations.

“The technology is already out there but ours is more advanced,” said Zhu, explaining that the university’s role is to make the technology safe for many civilian applications such as assessing disaster site damage, monitoring large crop expanses and searching for resources in hard-to-reach areas.

The  Ohio Third Frontier Commission recommended $948,109 in funding via the Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation and Start-up Fund for 12 projects. The fund promotes the commercialization of Ohio technologies developed by the state’s institutions of higher education.

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