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Students win 1st prize in Go Green Challenge

 

Two McGill students were recently awarded first prize in the fourth annual TD Go Green Challenge. David Morris and Omer Dor, both U3 chemical engineering students, beat out competition from 59 schools, winning $100,000 for sustainability projects at McGill, $20,000 in cash, and paid summer internships at the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.
To win first prize, Morris and Dor produced a video detailing how they would turn the roof of the Ferrier Building into a greenhouse that would harness the building’s heat and greenhouse gas emissions. Their plan, called the Integrated Energy and Food Greenhouse, would grow food for use on McGill campus and could also house biological reactors containing microalgae which could be used to produce carbon-neutral biodiesel.
Morris explained that he met Dor last semester during CHEE 595, a graduate-level class called “Energy Recovery, Use, & Impact.” Taking the class as undergraduates, the two became fascinated with technologies that could be used to increase sustainability in energy projects.
Dor said that sometime in November, he and Morris started “throwing out ideas … and from there we just came up with a better idea and innovated it.”
Morris also explained that the pair wanted to try to create something large-scale, because McGill already has several small sustainability projects.
According to Mary Desjardins, executive director of the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, a selection committee of about six or seven people went through the 132 entries to determine the winner and award the prize money.
“We know that [the $100,000 prize is] going to be used from something really great here,” Desjardins said. “[McGill] already [does] some great things and I think they will be able to do even better with that gift.”
Jim Nicell, associate vice-principal (university services), who has a leading role in McGill’s sustainability projects, said he was excited about the possibilities ahead.
“Ultimately, to create a culture of sustainability at McGill, everybody has to be engaged in it,” Nicell said. “McGill University could be a living laboratory for the exploration of ideas. Things like the sustainability projects fund make that a reality.”
After approximately two months of work that included research, planning, and the actual filming of their entry video, Dor said the pair had arrived at something that “wasn’t just an idea, but one that’s unique and also practical.”
But while the video mapped out a seemingly practical strategy for the implementation of this project, there are a number of problems that might make the realization of Morris and Dor’s idea impossible.
“It can’t happen,” said Jonathan Glencross, a U3 environment student who was instrumental in the creation of the university’s $2.5 million Sustainability Projects Fund. “What’s amazing about it is how creative and intentional it was and how it demonstrates to people the type of solutions that are possible. It’s just that for that specific context, it’s not [possible.]”
Glencross explained that besides the structural issues involved in building such a structure on top of the Ferrier Building, such a greenhouse would also need a dedicated staff.
“This as an idea for the downtown campus would be, I think, a challenge for a number of reasons,” Nicell said.
Because of McGill’s central location in the city of Montreal and next to Mount Royal, Nicell said, certain building restrictions exist for structures over a certain height. Furthermore, though the greenhouse would produce a lot of food, food growth isn’t McGill’s “primary service,” meaning that this project would add more functions to the university’s portfolio that it isn’t necessarily equipped to handle. Nicell said that that this kind of project could have a place at Macdonald Campus, however, which is about to undergo a process of renovation and updating.
“We have a completely outdated system out there, and here’s a good opportunity to think about recovering the heat, recovering the CO2,” Nicell said. “We also have a strong interest in biofuels out at Macdonald campus, so the question is: can we wrap this kind of idea into that larger project?”
Glencross echoed this sentiment, saying that the project is highly transferable and “gives a concrete example to people who don’t really think systematically about where fuel comes from, what you can do with the byproduct, how it can be used for an essential service like food.

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