The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the winners of the Cooling Solutions Challenge prize competition. The winners were each awarded funding, which totaled $195,000, for their innovative and creative ideas that sought climate-friendly cooling solutions to protect people in extreme heat conditions. In September 2021, DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, announced a new series of prize competitions focused on strengthening nationwide resilience to climate change.
The Cooling Solutions Challenge was designed to find groundbreaking solutions to protect the public against extreme heat, the nation’s leading cause of weather-related deaths. The challenge sought innovative ideas to help first responders, individuals, households, or displaced populations keep cool during extreme heat events, which have become more common across the United States with increasing frequency, intensity, and duration.
“Extreme heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the country, often hitting underserved communities the hardest,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. “That is why we must bring together and empower bright minds with bold ideas to solve one of our nation’s most dangerous and complex climate challenges.”
“All of the DHS prize competition finalists deserve recognition for the innovative and creative solutions they brought to the table to combat climate change,” said Kathryn Coulter Mitchel, DHS Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for Science and Technology. “Our grand prize winner’s submission was a standout that will have a real-world impact on energy consumption and the effects of extreme heat on the public.”
Winners were selected by a judging panel of experts in climate change, resilience, and emergency management using specific selection criteria to identify solutions that will help combat extreme heat events.
The Grand Prize Winner is Zephyr Innovations, Inc. (Jacob Miller, CTO), of Somerville, MA. Zephyr Innovations will receive $50,000 for the Ultra-Efficient Air Conditioning via Liquid Desiccant Dehumidification and Evaporative Cooling solution. Zephyr Innovations’ solution is a cooling system that uses a compressor-free/refrigerant-free technology to significantly reduce energy consumption and the associated carbon emissions. The cooling solution scored the highest in all judging criteria.
For the “Runner-up,” now renamed the Most Innovative Solution, the judges awarded $25,000 to Small World Sciences LLC (Don Chernoff), Morrisville, NC, for its Improved Cooling Textiles for Clothing, Solar Shades, and Temporary Structures. This unique concept will develop fibers with heat reflective and emissive properties based on biomimicry (mimicking the behavior) of animals that have evolved to survive in extreme desert conditions, for use in clothing and building materials to reduce heat stress and save energy. Essentially, the concept takes a page out of nature and is based on how ants cool themselves. The judges were incredibly impressed with the innovative solution and decided to change the category and add another $5,000 to the original $20,000 in this category.
Four “Use Case” Category Winners will each receive $10,000:
- TAC Jacket Cooling Solutions (Nanohmics, Inc., Austin, TX), for first responders’ personal use or helping survivors who are at risk from heat-related stress.
- Hybrid Cooling Wrap (Team: Young Ko, Evelyn N. Wang, and Jeffrey C. Grossman, Cambridge, MA) for personal use and helping cool individuals in indoor or outdoor environments.
- Fuel-Flexible Ultra-Efficient Air Conditioning System for Improved Resilience (Micro Nano Technologies, Gainesville, FL) for household, group quarter or multi-person use as an alternative to conventional air conditioning or built-in cooling solutions.
- Radiative Cooling of Structures (Hal Greenberger, Better Stuff LLC, Natick, MA) for use in indoor/outdoor venues to cool homeless or displaced populations in public settings.
The judges also designated an Honorable Mention for Creativity to CalidGear: Wearable Thermoregulatory Device (Tayyaba Ali, Wilmette, IL), which will receive $5,000.
S&T along with FEMA and its government partners plan to continue working with the providers of the most promising Challenge solutions and provide mentoring and follow-on opportunities.
DHS uses prize competitions to crowdsource innovation and harness the creativity of the American public to solve critical homeland security challenges. DHS established the first-ever Climate Change Action Group (CCAG), which is comprised of senior officials from across the Department, to focus on promoting resilience and addressing multiple risks, including flooding, extreme heat, drought, and wildfires. The CCAG oversees the implementation of the Climate Action Plan and guides the Department’s approach to managing the climate crisis.