Inspiring Energy Efficiency Research in the Nation's Universities

A pair of energy clamps are used to hold a piece of clear material
February 2012

Solar energy has long captured the hearts and minds of U.S. university students, with the Solar Decathlon biennially celebrating their achievements on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. But what of energy efficiency, the workhorse for cost-effective carbon emission reductions? Can we inspire the nation’s brightest minds to pursue radical efficiency improvements in the appliances and equipment that consume the nation’s energy? This is the goal of the Max Tech and Beyond Appliance Design Competition.

Designed to Advance Appliance Efficiency and Engineering Capability

The competition was initiated by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s (Berkeley Lab’s) Robert VanBuskirk and Antonio Bouza of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in 2010. In its first year, Max Tech and Beyond ranked the energy savings potential of 150 categories of appliances and equipment. Based on those results, the competition challenged university engineering teams to go beyond the current “max tech” by exploring new appliance and equipment designs that could become the next generation of ultra-low energy use appliances. That competition is now under way.

In June 2011, the Max Tech team sent a request for proposals to university and college engineering and science departments across the nation. Applicants were directed to focus on residential or commercial appliance designs that could demonstrate significant energy savings. A panel of Berkeley Lab and private sector experts reviewed the proposals and funded nine teams in August 2011. The chosen teams received up to $20,000 to implement their proposal over the course of the 2011/2012 academic year.

The portfolio of selected projects represents a broad range of appliances and technologies, and a cross-section of universities. Each team, comprised of one or two faculty members and a group of undergraduate and/or graduate students, meets a series of deliverables dates—such as providing website materials, submitting status reports, and attending teleconference meetings—throughout the academic year.

New Products Coming to Light

The competition is proceeding according to plan, and the anticipation is building. The teams have completed their design development and procurement phases and are currently concentrating on construction, to be followed by prototype testing later this winter and spring. The prototypes are expected to show energy efficiency advances in lighting, HVAC, water heating, refrigeration, clothes dryer, and cooking applications.

The competition will culminate in a national webinar on May 23, 2012, 11:00–2:30 PDT, in which the student teams will demonstrate their prototypes. The event will be open to the public. A diverse panel of experts from LBNL’s Energy Efficiency Standards Group (EES) and DOE’s Building Technologies Program will judge the teams based on their webinar presentation and final team reports. The achievements of all of the teams will be reported on the Max Tech website and in the final Berkeley Lab report. Winners will be announced in July 2012.

“This competition has been well received, and many at both LBNL and DOE are very excited about this year’s competing teams prototype designs and market feasibility, in addition to its potential growth in the future,” says Stacy Pratt, who manages the program at Berkeley Lab.

Karina Garbesi, Lead Principal Investigator in Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division (Energy Efficiency Standards Group), agrees. “It is terrifically exciting to witness the enthusiasm of the students, the evolution of the prototypes, and to promote the next generation of ultra-efficient appliances at the nation’s universities.”

Contact Information

Those interested in obtaining more information about the competition or in helping to sponsor the competition in the future should call 510-495-2100 or e-mail the program organizers at

Mark Wilson