McGill students take top prize in sustainability competition

Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2011

McGill Chemical Engineering students David Morris and Omer Dor won the $20,000 first prize in the annual TD Go Green Challenge. / Photo: Daniel Francis Haber

Greenhouse project chosen out of 132 entries

By Julie Fortier and Jim Hynes

The idea of two McGill students to redirect and transform energy from a campus powerhouse to a rooftop greenhouse was awarded first prize in the TD Go Green Challenge, an annual competition organized by the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation (TD FEF).

David Morris and Omer Dor, students in the Department of Chemical Engineering, won the top prize for their proposal for the Integrated Energy and Food Greenhouse. Not only did they receive $20,000 and a paid internship with TD FEF, but the Foundation also awarded $100,000 to McGill toward the greening of its campus. The pair’s submission was chosen from a total of 132 projects submitted from 59 post-secondary schools.

The annual TD Go Green Challenge is a national competition inviting Canadian students to explore and offer solutions to sustainability issues. This year’s competition focused on sustainability and environmental stewardship on-campus.

The Integrated Energy and Food Greenhouse imagined by Morris and Dor would redirect greenhouse gas emissions from the Ferrier powerhouse, which provides heat and hot water to McGill’s downtown campus. Wasted energy would be transformed to help grow food crops year round on top of the Ferrier building and produce carbon-neutral biodiesel fuel.

Morris and Dor starting working on their proposal back in November 2010, brainstorming for a few months before borrowing a camera from the McGill School of the Environment to film the video required of each entry. Along the way, the pair received constructive feedback from Dennis Fortune, Director of McGill’s Office of Sustainability, and from their faculty sponsor, Alejandro Rey, James McGill professor of Chemical Engineering. The project’s biofuel element was inspired by an elective graduate-level course in alternative energy both Morris and Dor took with Prof. Rey last semester. After a few last minute adjustments to the video and the accompanying material, the submission was finally ready to go.

“Like all good students, we waited until the last day to submit the video,” Morris said.

On Feb. 28, the team received word from the contest’s organizers that they had won.

“Our initial reaction was a combination of shock, excitement and gratitude,” Dor said. We were very happy to hear that our project was chosen. I have always been confident in my abilities and very aware of David’s talents, and I knew that once we put our minds together we could accomplish some really great things. I am very proud of our accomplishment; it serves as a proof of our ability to influence change in an area that is becoming increasingly more relevant.”

Both the winning duo and the University accepted their prizes at an official ceremony held at McGill on March 16.

Accepting on behalf of McGill was Jim Nicell, Associate Vice-Principal (University Services), who spoke about the University’s various green initiatives, including the current sustainability policy, established in May 2010.

“Our sustainability policy is very important because it’s a reflection of what we as a community see ourselves committing to over the long run. It is a firm statement of how we wish to advance sustainability in the day-to-day-operations, the education of our students, the research that we do, and really enshrine ourselves as an example of what can be accomplished if you put a whole bunch of minds together who are dedicated to a common cause,” Nicell said.

“But a policy is a policy, and it has to be translated into action. And this is where actions speak far louder than words. And so what you also notice when you come to visit McGill University, or visit our website, or talk to our students, is an incredible growing commitment that has been translated into very specific actions.”

Indeed, the winning project is only the latest example of how McGill and its students have contributed to the development of a culture of sustainability on the University’s campuses.

David Morris is the current director of Gorilla Composting, which promotes organic waste composting. The group teamed up with McGill’s Office of Sustainability to purchase an industrial-size composter in 2010.

And McGill students voted overwhelmingly in 2009 to contribute 50 cents per credit of coursework in support of sustainability projects. With matching funds from the University, this will generate $800,000 per year for the Sustainability Projects Fund, launched in 2010 to help finance student and staff-initiated projects.

Other recent sustainability initiatives at McGill include eliminating all but essential vehicle traffic on the lower campus and turning McTavish St. into a pedestrian zone, as well as a multi-year plan aimed at reducing McGill’s energy consumption by 14 per cent by 2012-2013.

A video describing the winning project can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=94i4Hg56Ouc

For more information about sustainability at McGill visit: www.mcgill.ca/sustainability/

For more information about the TD Go Green Challenge, go to www.fef.td.com/gogreen/

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