Announcing the 2023–2024 JUMP into STEM Challenge Winners

Nationwide Building Science Student Competition Awards Teams Addressing Energy, Climate Change, and Sustainability Solutions

The next generation of building scientists is responding to the challenges of climate change with solutions for a more sustainable planet. The 2023–2024 JUMP into STEM Challenge asked college student teams from across the country to develop ideas to optimize energy utilization for affordable thermal energy storage, to access high-quality and affordable envelope remediation or construction technologies, and to develop an innovative solution for reducing carbon emissions from US buildings.

The annual student competition is sponsored by the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Building Technologies Office, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

“This was another successful year for receiving high-quality submissions,” said Dr. Yeonjin Bae, ORNL’s JUMP into STEM program manager. “The student teams not only showed strong commitment but also presented truly impressive ideas for crafting holistic and innovative solutions. Their initiatives are geared toward ensuring the accessibility of cutting-edge building energy technologies to diverse communities, with the aim of overcoming adoption barriers and paving the way for a sustainable future.”

Dr. Kim Trenbath, NREL’s JUMP into STEM program manager, offered congratulations to all the winners, saying, “The 2023–2024 competition was one of the best yet. We received many well-written and innovative submissions. Participants experience first-hand what real-world building science work is like”


2023-2024 JUMP into STEM Challenge Winners

Keepin’ it Cool (or Hot)

1st place

Energy Save Solution: Mini-Split Thermal Energy Storage System

Jared Williams, Gianluca Borgese, Martin Rosales, and Spencer Marinac – Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University

Shifting towards a predominantly renewable energy grid is pivotal for decarbonization and sustainability. An increase in energy storage capability is needed to combat the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources. In the building sector, thermal loads consume a significant amount of electricity through heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. Electrochemical batteries are the most common form of energy storage used on the grid today. A slightly less utilized variety of energy storage is thermal energy storage (TES). TES has the advantage of being vastly more price competitive compared to electro-chemical battery storage. This endeavor focuses on implementing thermal energy storage with existing HVAC systems, specifically mini split style heat pumps. Our team designed a modular TES system that works in tandem with a variety of mini split heat pumps without modifying the unit. This TES design allows for rapid deployment of the system into the consumer market space. Once installed the system reduces customers’ energy consumption from the grid at peak hours, decreasing their electricity bills. Additionally, this system adds resiliency to consumers’ homes. In the event of a power outage the home can be conditioned without grid power for a fixed amount of time depending on the space’s thermal loads.


2nd place

Reducing Barriers to Achieve an Energy Efficient Lifestyle for Low-Income Families in the United States of America

Andreas Hoess, Aaron Farha, Levi Premer, and Rebecca Lu – Purdue University

In residential buildings, 32% of the electric energy use is based on space heating and cooling demand. This makes heating and cooling appliances a major contributor of carbon dioxide emissions for the residential sector. To combat climate change and achieve the CO2 reductions targeted by the Paris Agreement, an electrification of the residential building industry is indispensable. The support of low-income households in existing or newly built subsidized housing to access weatherization programs and retrofitting conventional HVAC systems with high-efficient heat pump technology and thermal energy storages will be a key measure to accomplish this task.

Our project “OneGrid” seeks to provide an affordable thermal energy storage-heat pump combination that is optimized for communal use in low-income or subsidized housing. Following the Justice40 program guidelines of the U.S. government, the product will close adoption barriers in underserved communities while transitioning to an electrified society. With easy installation, retrofit options, a smart control system and the implementation in a Microgrid, not just the users but also the power grid benefits from the installation.


3rd place


Rebekah Shields, Matthew Lydon, Timothy Rinaldi, and Phillip Cass – Worcester Polytechnic Institute

This proposal focuses on conceptualizing, developing, and implementing a thermal energy storage (TES) system to optimize energy consumption and minimize costs. The report is divided into two parts: the first delves into understanding the theoretical foundations and operational mechanics of the TES system, while the second proposes a practical solution involving modification of high-temperature kilns using refractory bricks submerged in sand. It discusses economic feasibility, implementation strategies, stakeholder engagement, and highlights the system’s potential in energy conservation and cost reduction, emphasizing its positive environmental impact by reducing dependency on fossil fuels. This proposal offers a cohesive narrative detailing the conceptualization, practical implementation, and potential impact of the novel TES system, providing insights into its benefits and its relationship with energy efficiency and economic feasibility.


That’s a Wrap!

1st place

Detecting, Contracting, Sealing (DCS) – The Community Envelope

Israel Bryant, Maddax Frye, Sophie Kudron, and Ema Horner – University of Nebraska Lincoln

Low-income housing is an important aspect of any society as it supports the growth of citizens who do not have large incomes. It serves people of all age brackets, races, religions, places of origin, gender, sexuality, and everything in between. Individuals in low-income housing disproportionately find themselves in buildings that may have extensive air leakages and are unprotected from the elements. As of today, there are few organizations that work to protect the building envelope, and there are none that do it the way we propose.

We propose the creation of a non-profit, called “Detecting, Contracting, and Sealing,” which will take a two-part approach to solving these problems. The first part includes physical inspection and restoration, where we will utilize industry volunteers who will enter homes to check for problems within the building envelope. The second part includes utilizing government agency funding and accounting for stakeholder needs. Using existing resources like reaching out to colleges, trade schools, industry companies, and government assistance, we plan to establish a beneficial non-profit for the community without taking away resources from them.


2nd place

Building Facade Sealing Kits

Autumn Walton and Amaya Burse – North Carolina A&T State University

We propose introducing an innovative DIY air sealant kit tailored to address the specific needs of low-income families. This affordable and user-friendly solution empowers households to increase energy efficiency and reduce utility bills by sealing gaps and cracks in their homes. The kit includes step-by-step instructions, identification techniques, and all the necessary materials, making it accessible and easy to use for individuals with limited resources and experience. By sealing air leaks, this kit not only improves indoor comfort but also grants economic relief, making it an invaluable tool for low-income families striving to create a more energy-efficient and cost-effective living environment.


3rd place

Bridging Gaps in Energy Efficiency

Gaon Ok, Vivien Zheng, and Aakruthi Karthic – The University of Texas at Austin

Our mission is to empower communities burdened by high energy consumption with accessible and cost-effective solutions that enhance the performance of building envelopes. We are committed to reducing energy inefficiency, improving occupant comfort, and addressing the needs of underserved communities through innovative kits that combine heat control window film and efficient air sealing components. Our goal is to provide an affordable and easily implemented remedy for air leakage and thermal performance issues in residential buildings. By offering solutions that are practical, sustainable, and accessible, we aim to make significant strides in alleviating energy burden and advancing the quality of living spaces for all.



You and Me, Carbon Free!

1st place

Building-Integrated Algae Photobioreactor Systems for Carbon Sequestration

Ankit Soni, Emilio Nava, Felix Ekuful, and Harriet Darkwah – University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Carbon dioxide related emissions account for 76% of greenhouse gasses. As a process to capture and fix atmospheric CO2, carbon sequestration is an important method to reduce global climate change. This proposal explores an approach to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions utilizing microalgae in a photobioreactor (PBR) system integrated with building HVAC systems. Through the process of photosynthesis, the algae efficiently sequesters CO2 from the flue gas or exhaust air of buildings, yielding fresh oxygen and biomass. Furthermore, the investigation involves researching the characteristics of Chlorella vulgaris, such as its lighting consumption and growth rate. Our literature research reveals that a single photobioreactor, with a Chlorella vulgaris to water ratio of 120g/20L, can sequester approximately 3.2 kg of CO2 per hour while producing 1.3 kg of biomass daily in optimal conditions. The PBR system can be easily scalable in terms of both the number of installations and the system size. This innovative solution offers a promising approach to sequester CO2 due to building operation and simultaneously produce a sustainable source of biomass.


2nd place

Interlocking Sun-Dried Adobe Bricks (MODIFIED ADOBE – MODUBE)

Aayusha Chapagain and Olayinka Olaosebikan – SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

The project, “Interlocking Sun-Dried Adobe Bricks (MODIFIED ADOBE – MODUBE),
aims to revolutionize the North American building construction industry with sustainable solutions. In response to the rising demand for housing and the need for carbon reduction, MODUBE, an innovative adobe brick, is proposed. MODUBE incorporates waste wood ash (WWA) for structural strength and aligns with circular economy principles. It is anticipated to meet New Mexico Earth Building requirements, providing an environmentally friendly and cost-effective housing option. The team emphasizes diverse cultural insights and sustainable practices, positioning MODUBE as a promising solution for the construction industry. The project outlines a phased approach, including technology development, market adoption strategies, and a carbon reduction analysis, showcasing the potential environmental benefits of MODUBE compared to conventional construction materials. The incorporation of waste materials and adherence to carbon reduction goals make MODUBE a sustainable choice for various stakeholders.


3rd place

Decarbonizing Interior Construction Using Mycelium Based Assemblies

Rohaan Saripella and Mason Sirianni – The University of Texas at Austin

Mycelium-based wall assemblies provide a greener alternative to typical interior partition wall assemblies for new commercial construction. Mycelium-based walls are made from the vegetative portions of fungi and propagate through a mixture of agricultural waste, recycled paper products, and fungal specimens. A transition to this biogenic wall involves the introduction of a new assembly that sequesters CO2 as opposed to carrying embodied carbon as part of its manufacturing process. The manufacturing of this new process involves a further transition from in-situ construction to pre-fabricated assembly which provides safer conditions for workers. The end result is a construction element that provides fewer biohazards, reduces carbon emissions, and reorients labor within the building industry.


JUMP into STEM finalists will be invited to present their solutions during the 2023–2024 Final Competition at ORNL in January 2024 and to compete for a paid summer 2024 internship at NREL, ORNL, or PNNL.

JUMP into STEM works closely with industry sponsors, including Johnson Controls and Clayton Home Building Group, to make this competition a success. Sponsorship funds allow for the inclusion of more student teams in the final competition and assist with costs for the reception, activities, and other benefits for final event attendees and challenge winners.

DOE supports JUMP into STEM. Visit DOE’s Building Technologies Office website for more information on energy-efficient building initiatives.


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