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Environmentally Friendly Roofing Design Using Old Water Bottles

Student and faculty entrepreneurs from New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) plan to give new life to old water bottles with an environmentally friendly roofing design for developing nations or for emergency shelters in disaster-stricken areas around the world.

The Soda Bottle Interface Bracket system at the heart of the project. Source: New York Institute of Technology

The team has devised a plan for Home 2O,("Home-Two-O"), a business to distribute an aid package consisting of water bottles delivered on specially designed plastic shipping pallets. At the center of the idea is a technology known as SodaBIB or Soda Bottle Interface Bracket System, invented at NYIT and awarded a provisional patent last year. The SodaBIB technology allows crushed plastic water bottles to serve as shingles when they are nested and screwed into the the pallets. The durable pallets are easily assembled as roofing sections for shelters. The concept is an example of "upcycling," which transforms garbage into a useful product.

“This is one way architecture can do something good for the environment,” says Jason Van Nest, an assistant professor at NYIT's School of Architecture and Design and one of four faculty advisors on the team. “We're making plastic, a material that's detrimental to the environment, somehow sustainable. If this can raise the bar and contribute to an expectation that consumer goods are supposed to have at least two lifecycles, we’d have quite a victory on our hands.”

A two-member interdisciplinary team of NYIT undergraduate students will present the idea at the finals of the New York State Business Plan Competition on April 26 in Albany.

“It took a lot of research and development on both the technology and business sides,” said William Yu, 21, an architecture major, describing the hours of meetings to prepare for the regional competition held earlier this month at NYIT Auditorium on Broadway. “We had to put in the time and effort, and we knew our concept inside and out.”

Competing against MBA and Ph.D. students, Yu and teammate Dhruv Patel, 19, a business management major, presented the plan and were grilled by judges acting as "angel investors." They won first place in the “Energy/Sustainability” category, a victory that gave them the right to move on to the finals.

The Home 2O business plan promotes an aid package that relief organizations can distribute to areas hit by disaster. The package consists of 1,728 water bottles delivered on plastic pallets redesigned using the SodaBIB technology. Once the bottles are empty, they are combined for the roofing systems with the pallets. Van Nest, Assistant Professor Farzana Gandhi and Associate Professor Michele Bertomen have worked with students on the concept since 2011.

In a student-led architecture and design/build exercises, students tested roof designs with sophisticated computer software, researched roofing issues, and built models to demonstrate the project’s feasibility. They later determined that the idea would be most feasible if the pallet manufacturers would incorporate the SodaBIB technology to replace single-use wood or plastic pallets.

Most recently, Georg Fuerlinger, an adjunct professor from the School of Management, joined the team as an advisor. One of the students presenting the plan says the dual expertise in business and architecture makes the team a formidable competitor.

“By having team members from very different majors, we have a much wider scope of view and consideration that touches all aspects of our presentation,” Yu says. “When we are so focused on our majors, we tend to start thinking in a vacuum and get a sort of tunnel vision.”

Patel, who hopes to be a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, says the competition will gain exposure for the business idea and give him real-world experience presenting ideas to potential angel investors.

“We’ll get feedback on how we can make the business better,” says Patel.

The project was a finalist last fall in the United States Green Building Council Volunteer Impact Award contest.

If they win the grand prize at the New York State Business Plan Competition, the team will use funds to construct a full-scale on-campus model to demonstrate the efficacy of the roofing system, and to generate interest among pallet manufacturers around the world. They are also seeking grant funds to finance the demonstration model.

"Building a full scale mockup will not only aid in perfecting the design, but also optimize manufacturing processes and associated costs such that a clear financial and operational plan can be developed,” says Gandhi. “With different disciplines represented at the table, our team conversations are multi-layered and are just the kind of creative thinking that will allow the project to mature into the next phases of viable real-world deployment.”


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