Carbon Neutral Efforts Fuel Students’ Start-up Solution for Tailgates
When Caleb Buaful, ISE ’22, and his fellow members of Smart Campus attend Ohio State football games, the sounds of cheering fans are not the only loud noises they hear coming from around Ohio Stadium.
As members of the student-driven organization whose mission is to develop “innovative solutions through collaborative efforts and project-based teams to improve the Ohio State community,” the students were taken aback by the roar of gas-powered generators being used to power the numerous tailgate parties on game day Saturdays.
“Identifying the problem was easy but developing an efficient solution that could be easily integrated was a bit more challenging, especially considering the barriers in cost and other resources,” Buaful says. “That’s when we came up with the ‘energy when you need it’ model. By bringing energy to people when they need it, you can incentivize them to adopt and become more comfortable with the sustainable alternative.”
As a result, Electrion was born. Anita Nti, a Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) student, is CEO; Danny Freudiger, a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering and founder of Smart Campus is chief technology officer; Jacob Buaful, Caleb’s brother and a CSE student is chief information officer; and Caleb serves as chief security officer.
“Not only does this project align well with my passion in sustainability, there are so many use cases where we could make a large impact in our community,” Caleb Buaful says. “So, the potential of where it could go and who it could impact has always been my motivating reason to become a start-up.”
The founders submitted a project proposal and received an $89,000 Ohio State Sustainability Fund grant in January 2020 “based on the idea of energy storage as a service in the Ohio State tailgate community,” Buaful says.
“We developed a research plan on what exactly we would be testing and how we would be testing this product in the community,” he says, “while a large portion was focused on how much CO2 we could help divert in the effort to replace gas diesel generators. However, one of the most important aspects was how we hoped to bring societal change with our education and outreach programs. Our vision is to educate the larger community as they are using our service and also educate future generations on how to take initiative on bettering their communities when it comes to sustainability.”
The funding helped launch a proof-of-concept project, which led to connecting with MegaJoule Ventures, an investment firm that shares the Electrion founders’ “passion for sustainability,” Buaful says. In turn, MegaJoule invested $250,000 in the company to accelerate the marketing of Electrion products as well as help with the design and engineering of a wide range of battery chemistries.
Through the Electrion app, customers have mobile access to order batteries, which are delivered directly to their location. The company’s employees return to retrieve the battery packs after use. The founders call it Energy Storage as a Service, or ESaaS.
Buaful says many of the concepts he has learned in his ISE classes he has been able to implement in the company. In addition to serving as CSO for the start-up and attending college, Buaful also serves as a teaching assistant.
“My overall journey at Ohio State has taught me so much, but my ISE pathway in particular has taught me the value of perspective,” he says. “Specifically, looking at the overall picture and putting the right pieces in place in order to achieve that goal and achieve it efficiently.”
He also gives a nod to the Ohio State alumni and facilities. “Having this large-system community is something like no other,” Buaful says. “You have so many people across the world rooting for you and encouraging you just based solely on where you attended school.”
Buaful says the team hopes to go to market with its products this fall and has already caught the attention of Forbes magazine.
“Having a team of young minds leading Electrion is one of our greatest assets,” he says. “Trying to change the lens by which the world views portable energy storage isn’t going to be an easy process, but we are ready to tackle it. Being on a college campus in the middle of a city like Columbus, there is no shortage of events every season. From tailgating to music festivals, the use cases to provide people with sustainable energy are endless. Each event has its own energy requirements and being able to fulfill the need is what Electrion is here for. We have different energy storage devices depending on what the need is.”
Story by Nancy Richison