Michael Allen Reynolds

A team of University of Utah chemical engineering graduate students has won one of the top awards in the inaugural EnergyTech University Prize, a U.S. Department of Energy challenge that asks college students to come up with innovative business plans to commercialize promising energy technologies.

The team of Michael Allen Reynolds and Matthew Robert Taylor Williams proposed a consulting firm called Future Heat that would encourage housing developers and businesses to use electrified heat pumps for heating and cooling instead of standard natural gas furnaces. The duo took first place in the contest’s Bonus Technology Prize, which asks participants to develop business models to increase the adoption of heat pumps in colder-climate regions. In addition to the top prize, there were six bonus categories, and each winning team received $25,000.

Matthew Robert Taylor Williams

On March 24, 17 student teams presented their pitches to a panel of industry judges at the virtual EnergyTech UP National Pitch Finals, hosted by Carnegie Mellon University’s Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation.

“I want to thank my parents, our advisor Dr. Kody Powell, and the Engineering Entrepreneurship Certificate at the U of U for their support in earning this prize,” Williams said.

Heat pumps are equipment that use electricity to provide space heating and cooling and are more efficient than natural gas furnaces. They also don’t result in carbon emissions as furnaces do. While older heat pumps have worked well enough in milder climates, newer technology has created pumps that work better in colder climates such as Utah.

“But they are still not very popular in our area, and that is what our business plan addresses,” Reynolds said.

The team’s plan involves launching an engineering design and consulting firm, Future Heat, that would provide energy modeling services, economic analysis, connections construction and design services, and continued post-project monitoring and verification to make sure the new heat pumps work efficiently.

“There are about 30,000 residential apartment units and homes built each year, and we believe we can influence a significant fraction of that market by building [apartments] with cold-climate heat pumps if we make the design process easier, simpler, and more streamlined,” Reynolds said.

Click here to see a list of all of the winners of the first EnergyTech University Prize.