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Awards / Honors

Engineering professor named in inaugural Scientific American honor roll for innovations that benefit society

May 14, 2009

Colorado State University Professor Bryan Willson, co-founder of Envirofit International and Solix Biofuels, joins President Barack Obama, Microsoft mogul Bill Gates and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the first "Scientific American 10" honor roll for innovations that benefit humanity.

The list appears in the June issue of Scientific American.

Willson's leadership recognized

"We were delighted to recognize you for your leadership of the Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory at Colorado State University, and in particular for its development of both a cleaner, affordable cooking stove and a conversion kit for improving the efficiency of two-stroke engines in the developing world," the magazine's editors wrote to Willson.

As founder and director of the Colorado State Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory, Willson helped create Envirofit International - an internationally acclaimed non-profit organization that designs, builds and disseminates efficient, clean-burning two-stroke engine retrofit kits and cookstoves in the developing world. Millions of people around the world perish every year from chronic health and environmental problems caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution - huge issues that are seldom addressed by traditional relief organizations.

Pioneering approach improves millions of lives

"Dr. Willson's pioneering approach implements technology that, on a massive global scale, helps improve the lives of millions by addressing complex issues and their solutions at a human level," said CSU Interim President Tony Frank. "He uses interdisciplinary teams to develop solutions to important societal problems, solutions such as engine conversion kits and clean-burning cookstoves, and moves these solutions out of the academic arena into the commercial marketplace where society can benefit. At Colorado State University, Bryan is well-known for involving students in his research, knowing that some of the greatest scientific innovations are yet to come. He is an exceptional teacher and innovator, and is highly deserving of this honor."

Willson, who arrived in the mechanical engineering department at Colorado State in 1988, turned an abandoned power plant in Fort Collins into a unique research/education program with emphasis on engines, fuels, smart grids, and energy conversion technology. With a focus toward market-driven solutions, products developed in the early days of the lab - in partnership with industrial sponsors and multiple spin-off organizations - remove nitrogen oxide pollution from industrial engines by the equivalent of removing more than 100 million modern automobiles from the highway. The laboratory now works globally and has grown into one of the largest university energy labs in North America.

Technology for the developing world

The launch of Envirofit International began with student research focused on reducing emissions from two-stroke cycle snowmobiles used in Yellowstone National Park and then in 2003 the lab team launched their company with an ambitious program to retrofit filthy two-stroke engines with their "direct-injection retrofit kit;" the retrofit kit is now available commercially in the Philippines.

Envirofit's history of developing technology products for the developing world next led to a massive effort to develop and distribute clean, safe cookstoves through a commercial model. Envirofit is currently selling stoves in India -with a goal of 10 million stoves, global expansion is anticipated.

In 2006, Willson co-founded Solix Biofuels to commercialize technology to produce oil from algae and turn it into biodiesel - an environmentally friendly solution to high gas prices, greenhouse gas emissions and volatile energy markets. Willson now serves as director of CSU's Clean Energy Supercluster, applying the Envirofit/Solix approach to maximize the impact of energy solutions developed in laboratories across the entire campus.

Caught the eye of Scientific American

It was Envirofit, now experiencing success on a global scale, which caught the eye of Scientific American. Candidates for the "Scientific American 10" were nominated by the magazine's Board of Editors, readers and advisers in a broad range of fields.

In an article about Willson in the June issue, editors wrote, "By helping students and collaborators apply expertise in development economics and entrepreneurship, Willson makes sure that technical solutions reach those who need them."

Willson joins a prestigious group that - in addition to Obama, Gates and Bloomberg - includes Intel's corporate environmental manager and the chief of the Infectious Disease Division of Harlem Hospital Center. Obama was named for what the magazine called his unprecedented emphasis on science and technology.

Creativity, overcoming impediments, innovative methods

"The 10 winners have demonstrated that establishing a public health program or running a green business requires more than administrative efficiency and good public relations," the magazine editors said. "Bringing creativity to bear in overcoming institutional and bureaucratic impediments to adoption of not just new technology but innovative procedural methods is crucial for improving health care and the environment."

Willson and his research team, led by Morgan DeFoort, co-director of the lab, continue their scientific work to improve Envirofit's cookstove technology. In 2007, the company received a $25 million commitment from the Shell Foundation to develop a global company and deliver 10 million stoves through a commercial approach. Envirofit plans expansions in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Willson also serves on Envirofit's board of directors and works closely with Ron Bills, the CEO and Chairman of the Board, as well as Envirofit's co-founders - Paul Hudnut, an instructor in CSU's College of Business, and Nathan Lorenz, vice president of Engineering for Envirofit, and Tim Bauer, vice president of Operations, both of whom are Willson's former students.


Contact: Jennifer Dimas
E-mail: Jennifer.Dimas@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-1543