Inside Rensselaer
* Supporting Earth Week and the Environment at Rensselaer

The core of OroClean is a small-scale, hand-powered centrifuge that builds on proven technology for separating gold from silt.

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Team Earns Semifinalist Standing in Social Innovation Competition
A team of undergraduate students from Rensselaer and graduate students from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) are among up to 60 semifinalists in the Dell Social Innovation Competition. More than 500 students from 30 countries entered their solutions to deal with poverty, healthcare, access to potable water, and a host of important social issues.

The Rensselaer team includes Sydney Crump, Carl Liebfried, and Kyle Weichold. The Denmark team is comprised of Trine Duelund, Jakob Parslov, Jeanne Lonstrup, and Laerke Holstebroe. The team known as OroClean is proposing to eliminate up to 30 percent of the world’s mercury pollution by creating an innovative and effective mining method for artisanal miners.

“Of all the environmental problems we face today, one of the most important is mercury pollution; it travels the atmosphere, gets into the food chain, and is the most toxic non-radioactive material that exists,” said Crump, a senior majoring in management.

“One third of all mercury pollution comes from artisanal small-scale gold mining in rural areas such as South America, Africa, and Asia,” said Liebfreid, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering. “More than 15 million gold miners use mercury to extract gold from river silt, and then evaporate it into the air over an open flame.”

Defining problems that most people don’t even know exist. Inventing and patenting solutions. That’s what up to 20 seniors do each semester in Inventor’s Studio, a course developed by Burt Swersey — a lecturer in the department of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering and a member of the Product Design and Innovation faculty—to prepare students to design products and develop technologies for the 21st century.

In 2006, the project had some early-stage funding support from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance. Since the patent filed by a prior Rensselaer team had expired on centrifuge gold mining, last semester the two teams decided to begin working on the project together, while the DTU students were spending a semester at Rensselaer as part of the REACH program.

“OroClean may be a viable solution,” said Trine Duelund, a DTU graduate student majoring in civil engineering and design and innovation. “The core of our solution is a small-scale, hand-powered centrifuge that builds on proven technology for separating gold from silt. We hope to take advantage of the opportunity to create a product which not only can increase the income of rural miners, but also correct the plague that is mercury pollution.”

Established in 2006, the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas introduced the competition as a way to engage students in social entrepreneurship, encouraging the next generation of leaders to dream up solutions to today’s most pressing issues. Following the semifinal round, three teams will be invited to Austin, Texas, to present their proposal to a panel of judges for the chance to win the grand prize of $50,000 to turn their ideas into a new business or nonprofit with a mission to change lives for the better.

Along with students, citizens worldwide are invited to comment on, vote for, and discuss the ideas in the online community forum. The public’s preferences help select the grand prize winner.

For more information and to vote for the OroClean team, visit www.dellsocialinnovationcompetition.com/.
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Inside Rensselaer, Strategic Communications and External Relations
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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 7, April 16, 2010
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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