Geothermal energy and drones take top honors

Davide Cucci and Melis Sütman won the jury award and the audience choice award. © Greg Eaves / ENAC 2018

Davide Cucci and Melis Sütman won the jury award and the audience choice award. © Greg Eaves / ENAC 2018

Melis Sütman, an EPFL post-doc in civil engineering, and Davide Cucci, an EPFL post-doc in environmental engineering, have won the audience choice award and the jury award, respectively, at the 2018 Pitch Your Impact competition.

At the second edition of Pitch Your Impact competition, which is run by Innoseed ENAC, an innovative geothermal energy system that can cut energy use drastically won the audience choice award, while the jury award went to a novel drone design that can improve the safety of hydropower plants in the mountains. In the run-up to this year’s event, the seven participants took a two-day workshop on how to assess the benefits that their research could bring to society and how to explain this to people in laymen’s terms – in just 120 seconds.

“The workshop was a fantastic experience because it let me see my research under a different angle,” says Melis Sütman, a civil engineering post-doc at EPFL’s Laboratory of Soil Mechanics (LMS). “And winning the audience choice award showed me that people are interested in geothermal energy. That will definitely encourage me to continue developing my technology, which could be applied on a large scale and have a major impact. The competition was also a great opportunity to meet other participants and learn about the wide range of research going on at our school.” Sütman’s project involves installing a new type of geothermal system in buildings, tunnels and subway lines, for example, so they can be heated and cooled with renewable energy.

The competition’s jury gave their award to the project by Davide Cucci, an environmental engineering post-doc at EPFL’s Geodetic Engineering Laboratory (TOPO). His invention is a two-drone system with one flying on top of the other; the top one is linked to satellites and the bottom one to the top one. That means the drones can be used to monitor sites with no GPS coverage or sites that are hard for conventional drones to get to, such as hydroelectric dams at high altitudes. “I’m used to presenting my research to other engineers, including at conferences. But in the workshop, I learned how to explain it to a broader audience, which I hope will help me win over investors,” says Cucci. This year’s competition also included a presentation of EPFL’s Social Impact Initiative, which was launched on 10 December 2017. The Initiative’s manager Beatrice Scarioni discussed its main goals.

Innoseed ENAC – the competition organizer – aims to promote innovation, technology transfer and entrepreneurship among ENAC’s researchers. Its next seminar, Protect Your Idea, will be held on 26 April 2018 in association with the Technology Transfer Office (TTO).

The seven candidates of the 2018 competition. © Greg Eaves / ENAC 2018