Thornton, Andrew Delman, and Frank Miyashiro
UCI drama students Sam Thornton (left) and Andrew Delman (center) and recent UCI drama graduate Frank Miyashiro deliver the challenge in the winning video.

Inventors and entrepreneurs worldwide could soon be hard at work trying to answer Kyle Good and Bryan Le’s challenge: build an environmentally friendly device to replace batteries in products ranging from personal electronic devices to cars.

The UC Irvine students recently won the $25,000 X PRIZE Foundation’s “What’s Your Crazy Green Idea?” video contest, for which they proposed developing an “ultra capacitor,” an alternative energy storage method far greener than today’s rechargeable batteries.

The X PRIZE Foundation, an educational nonprofit, offers cash prizes to inventors who come up with the answers to crazy green idea challenges and other breakthroughs benefitting society. X-PRIZE awards have been offered for projects such as low-cost robotic space exploration and super-efficient automobiles.

Entrants in the “What’s Your Crazy Green Idea?” contest submitted a two-minute YouTube video identifying an energy- and environment-related problem that, if solved, could greatly enhance humanity. Good, a film and media studies student, took charge of the video production while Le, a chemistry major, focused on the science behind their entry, dubbed “The Capacitor Challenge.”

“I spent a couple of weeks researching ultra capacitors and found they are too expensive and not powerful enough right now,” Le says. “So I thought, ‘Why not propose a competition to advance the technology?’”

To meet Good and Le’s challenge, inventors and entrepreneurs would need to develop an energy storage device that:

  • Exceeds the energy density of the average lead-acid battery.
  • Fully recharges in less than a minute and is capable of 500,000 charging cycles.
  • Incorporates nontoxic materials and is completely recyclable.
  • Costs less than twice the average price of lead-acid batteries.

The X PRIZE Foundation chose three finalists out of 133 submissions, based on the concepts’ viability, degree of impact and innovation. Good and Le’s proposal prevailed in the final round because it got the most public online votes. More than 4,200 people voted.

“We received many positive comments on YouTube, and there was a lot of discussion about the video,” Good says. “It was nice to see the idea was fostering debate.”

Le also credits longtime friend and current roommate Diego Rosso, UCI civil and environmental engineering professor.

“He’s an inspiration,” Le says. “He pushes me to get into a scientific mentality, throwing out a number of crazy ideas to find a good one, and then researching and developing it.”

Still savoring their victory, Good and Le are on the lookout for more contests.

“Competitions are a good incentive for me to use all my critical thinking skills to provide solutions,” Le says. “I have many more ideas.”