Winners of the 10th Ricoh Sustainable Development Award prove sustainability and good business are entirely compatible
Derived from plants, biofuel is an environmentally sustainable approach to the world's energy needs, but its production is generally too inefficient and expensive to effectively compete with fossil fuels.
This may change with the help of two high-school student research projects presented at the recent Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in Los Angeles, earning three students the annual Ricoh Sustainable Development Award (RSDA).
The projects affirmed the truth that sustainability can, in fact, be good business. One project presented a new, more efficient way to turn corn crop waste into energy. The other showed how genetic modification can cut costs of biofuel extraction from algae.
The winners were Jonah Zachariah Butler of Sibley East High School in Minnesota, and the team of Wenjia Li of Jasper High School & Anoop Vemulapalli of Plano West High School, both in Plano, Texas. The three were awarded a total of $25,000 in scholarships from Ricoh Americas Corporation.
"These remarkably gifted students share our vision that careful use of the planet's scarce resources makes perfect business sense," said Matt Sakauchi, Vice President, Technology Marketing, Ricoh Americas Corporation. "Sustainable technologies will help us create a more resilient business climate and planet, and will be in high demand in their own right. Nurturing the next generation's ideas and creativity is an important element of our corporate social responsibility."
Butler developed a unique process to extract energy from corn crop waste. He employed peracetic acid in conjunction with fungi to release almost all of the sugars in the plant material and convert them into lipids (valuable oils) and ethanol. This method utilizes about 97 percent of the available sugars in biomass, or 34 percent to 37 percent more than any other existing process.
Li and Vemulapalli created a new way to extract energy from algae, which are the most promising long-term and sustainable sources of biofuels due to the direct use of their lipids. Traditional methods of attaining these lipids are not commercially viable, keeping algal biofuels out of the commercial market today. The students genetically modified algae to dramatically cut the cost of biofuel extractions, significantly improving its commercial viability.
More than $350,000 for 30 scholars
The annual RSDA provides scholarships to high school students whose technical innovations offer the greatest potential for increasing our ability to grow environmentally friendly and socially responsible businesses.
Since the award's establishment, Ricoh has granted more than $350,000 in scholarships to 30 young scholars in the United States and abroad. Intel ISEF is the world's largest international pre-college science competition, showcasing more than 1,700 of the world's leading high school students and their independent scientific research projects.
One of Ricoh's founding principles is that global concerns can be resolved by creating harmony between business and the environment. Ricoh established the RSDA to encourage and champion students who share those values by bringing about innovations that help reduce society's environmental impact.
Ricoh envisions a sustainable society, one that balances the three pillars of sustainability: Planet (environment), People (society), and Profit (economic activities). To realize this vision, Ricoh strives to minimize its environmental impact from resource extraction, energy consumption, chemical discharges, emissions and other activities, and to conserve the Earth's precious resources. Ricoh supports a business model that minimizes the footprint of its activities while maximizing its economic value and contribution to society.