Posts Tagged: entrepreneurship and innovation

REEDDI: Putting power in the hands of the people

Photo of Olugbenga Olubanjo holding two Reeddi Capsules, with quote "The impact it can bring really drives me."

Olugbenga Olubanjo holding two Reeddi Capsules. Photo: Phill Snel, Civil and Mineral Engineering/ U of T


A hearty “Yah!” accompanied by a fist-pump of victory, is what Olugbenga Olubanjo (CivE MASc Candidate) remembers best about Victoria Day.

While the rest of the country was enjoying an extra day off as part of the holiday long weekend, Olubanjo heard of his startup’s latest prize – an award of US$10,000 as a runner-up in the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge. This is the third award the startup has received in 2019, as well as a provisional patent.

Olubanjo and his team at Reeddi Inc (pronounced “ready”) want to bring clean, affordable and portable power to the people of Nigeria, giving them autonomy over their otherwise expensive and unpredictable energy grid.

Many new inventions are conceived in the pursuit of solving a problem. In this case, the seed was sown in 2017 while in Toronto and the frustration of often being suddenly disconnected while talking to friends or family back home by phone. He would later usually find out the disconnection was the result of an all-too-frequent power outage.

Olubanjo recalls being “at Massey College at night with light everywhere,” and couldn’t imagine returning home where it was like “going back to darkness.” Growing up in Nigeria with sometimes only two hours of electricity a day, he set out to find a solution to a daily problem faced by many back home. The MASc student’s very personal irritant was the spark, which lead to a solution for a much broader issue.

The statistics are staggering. Some 600 million Africans live without access to electricity, with 70 million Nigerians among them. Alternatives for household lighting, cooking and other needs can be dangerous and expensive. Kerosene lanterns used inside create health risks, as well as the need to travel great distances to obtain costly fuel.

Vast amounts are spent on creating electricity from polluting sources, further adding to the poor air quality in Nigeria. The patchwork energy system is simply unreliable and dirty; a better way to serve the multitudes is still desperately needed. Olubanjo had a “lot of sleepless nights.” And added what “kept me going was the possibility of having an impact on millions of lives.”

Armed with the idea to create a solar “umbrella” capable of charging mobile phones, discussion with friends and engineering colleagues led to developing something of a somewhat larger scale. The road to this point began with friends and colleagues, but also with assistance from the U of T’s Hatchery NEST. Some 3D printing, acute business questions and collaboration has driven the idea along while Olubanjo completes his graduate studies in civil engineering.

Olubanjo is clear he’s had a lot of help. Ideas, prompts, expertise and questions from friends, colleagues and faculty led to the development of the project so far. Prof. Yu-Ling Cheng (ChemE, CGEN) acted as advisor and mentor along with Bill Nussey (CEO of Solar Inventions); Prof. Ireh Iyioha, Founder of PEIFFUND; Omozaphue Akalumhe, Director Prividia Energy UK; M.K Balaji of Delloite, and Okide Ezigbo of Ontario Power Generation. The team at Reeddi includes U of T’s Osarieme Osakue (CivE MEng Candidate) as Director of Communications and Joshua Dzakah (MechE 1T9) at the post of Mechanical Engineer, along with Olamide Oladeji as Director of Strategy & Analytics, Olatunji Oladipo and Azeez Oluwafemi. 


So how will Reeddi make an impact?

A Reeddi Energy Station

A Reeddi Energy Station

With the current project proposal, a large standalone, solar-powered structure, about half the size of a bus shelter, would have interactive screens at eye-level that control the user experience and provide access to the removable Reeddi Capsules. Each watertight Reeddi Capsule, about the size of a long 12-pack of soft drinks, is comprised of an internal rechargeable lithium-ion battery (LIB) with external USB and AC plug.

Customers would pay a nominal rent of up to US$0.50 per 24 hours for a 250 watt-hour (Wh) capsule. A standard 250Wh capsule is enough to provide a combined seven hours of lighting via two 150 lumen LED bulbs, fully-charge three mobile phones (3W) and provide four hours of laptop power (30W). Capsules can also be connected and scaled up in a modular fashion; doubled-up it would create a 500Wh unit, and so on, for greater power needs such as appliances.

Reeddi Capsule features include 250Wh/Capsule, power output of 220V/50HZ AC and 5V DC. Each capsule has an expected lifespan of eight years.

Reeddi Capsule features include 250Wh/Capsule, power output of 220V/50HZ AC and 5V DC. Each capsule has an expected lifespan of eight years.

The capsule(s) can be returned within the rental period, or when depleted before the return period. As an incentive, when a return is made on time the customer is awarded points to be used towards future exchanges .

“The impact it can bring really drives me and makes me excited,” said Olu. The very clean, affordable and dependable power would give households stability of their power needs, as well as provide scalable options.

As proof of concept, Reeddi created a mock-up prototype of one capsule in December 2018, then created a working prototype for a capsule as a contest entry. They are on track to running a micro-scaled pilot with five Interactive working Reeddi Capsules prototypes by August 2019 in Nigeria.

Some investments will be required in running a pilot test for the innovation making it possible to deploy working capsules to the field. A long-term plan for Reeddi would see the project expanded for medium power uses as a dispatchable power source for e-scooters, electric motorcycles and tricycles and large power uses (full home needs).

The idea has potential for use in Canada, and North America, as well. Whether for hikers taking trips to remote sites, or where disaster has disrupted power grid. Anywhere there’s a need for getting clean and affordable power into the hands of the people is a potential market.

Since January 2019, Reeddi has been internationally recognized for its innovative technology and business model. In February 2019, it won the North American Regional Award for the Best Emerging Startups in Decentralised Energy Track at the IEEE Empower a Billion Lives Challenge held at Georgia Tech, and in April, Reeddi Inc was won the MIT 2019 Clean Energy Prize (National Grid Energy Delivery Track).

Olugbenga Olubanjo (Olu), the founder of Reeddi started the company when he arrived in Toronto. Prior to starting Reeddi Inc., Olu was a Winner of the 2017 University of Toronto Hult Prize Competition representing UofT at the Regional Finals  . He was also awarded the RBC Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (People’s Choice Award) for VECO, the company that transitioned into Reeddi Inc. Olu is also a Junior Fellow at Massey College. His MASc thesis, Embodied Emissions in Rail Infrastructure: A Critical Study, is supervised by Professor Shoshanna Saxe. He expects to graduate the fall of 2019.

By Phill Snel


From smart cities to smartphones, U of T Engineering celebrates industry partnerships

CivMin industry partner EllisDon takes home the 2018 Corporate Academic Citizen Award.

Over 180 representatives gathered at the annual Industry Partners Reception on Nov. 14 to recognize strong academic-industry collaborations. (Photo: Paul Terefenko)

U of T Engineering recognized three key industry partners at its annual Industry Partners’ Reception on Wednesday, Nov. 14.

More than 180 industry leaders, government partners and faculty members gathered at the Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship to acknowledge this year’s achievements in academic-industry collaborations.

“Tonight is our opportunity to say thank you to our partners for their continuous support, guidance and enthusiasm for collaborative research at U of T Engineering,” says Professor Ramin Farnood (ChemE), Vice-Dean, Research. “We’re looking forward to an exciting year ahead.”

The annual event celebrates the faculty’s ties with over 400 industry partners across multidisciplinary innovation clusters, including advanced manufacturing, data analytics and AI, human health, robotics, sustainability and water.

“This event is a testament to the strength of our ongoing relationships with industry, the number of new partnerships launched this year and the momentum we continue to maintain,” says Allison Brown, Director of Corporate and Foundation Partnerships at U of T Engineering.

The three awardees for 2018 are:

Professor Ramin Farnood (ChemE, left) presents the Corporate Research Partner Award to Fujitsu Laboratories Fellow Dr. Hirotaka Tamura. (Photo: Paul Terefenko)

Corporate Research Partner Award – Fujitsu Laboratories Limited

The relationship between U of T Engineering and Fujitsu Labs started with a six-week internship by Ali Sheikholeslami at the company’s headquarters in 1998.

Twenty years later, Sheikholeslami is now a professor in The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, and together with his long-time collaborator Fujitsu Labs Fellow Dr. Hirotaka Tamura, has worked on projects including developing ferroelectric devices, high-speed interconnect technology and creating the world’s first Digital Annealer.

In March, U of T Engineering officially launched the Fujitsu Co-Creation Research Laboratory at U of T, which is located in the Myhal Centre, to accelerate collaborative work in fields including machine learning, quantum-inspired computing, smart cities, advanced health care and financial technology.

“Fujitsu Labs is working with over 10 faculty members across three departments. We have professors from electrical and computer engineering, chemical engineering and mechanical and industrial engineering so it’s a true interdisciplinary research, and for this research, we needed a home where we could come together, hence the Co-Creation Research Laboratory,” says Sheikholeslami.

The lab is also an idea incubator that leverages the creativity of students and faculty.

“One thing I’ve found to be extremely impressive is the diversity of students in U of T Engineering, and the differences in their way of thinking. U of T has students from many different countries and cultures and this impacts how they think and how they describe things,” says Tamura. “Sometimes I give the students a problem, expecting them to resolve it in the way I would but they come up with a totally different solution and that’s very interesting.”

To date, the partnership has resulted in over 50 scientific papers and journals and led to 10 patents.

“The research with University of Toronto is very important because if a company just focuses on the business, it tends to only look at the surface level and that’s not sustainable. We need a solid foundation to keep things going and academia is a place to build this foundation of knowledge,” says Tamura.

From left: Dr. Allison Brown presents EllisDon Sustainability Coordinator Kaitlyn Tyschenko, Senior Vice President of Construction Sciences George Charitou and Senior Vice President of Aligned Chris Andrews with the Corporate Academic Citizen Award. (Photo: Paul Terefenko)

Corporate Academic Citizen Award – EllisDon

Many large-scale infrastructure projects come with an equally large carbon footprint — but Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon is collaborating with U of T Engineering to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the carbon impact.

The project focuses on developing a decision-support tool that can be used throughout the stages of design and planning to realize efficiencies that lower climate-warning emissions.

“EllisDon believes in providing the solutions for an ever-changing future and industry,” says EllisDon Sustainability Coordinator Kaitlyn Tyschenko. “Through this tool we will be able to not only receive mass amounts of region and EllisDon-specific data to better understand our carbon emissions, but also help our clients make the most applicable carbon-based decisions for their projects.”

EllisDon is also closely involved in academic-industry mentorship with U of T Engineering students.

“Student mentorship and teaching is an important part of [this] partnership we are committed to,” says EllisDon Senior Vice President Chris Andrews.

“This allows us to reach outside of our industry to connect students and leaders in academic research. It is fascinating and important to see what we can do by working together on some of the broader challenges we are seeing and to begin to find answers. Our relationship with U of T Engineering has been very important and we look forward to continuing this work with the university.”

Vittorio Scipolo, Manager of R&D Metals Division, accepts the Small to Medium Enterprise Partner Award on behalf of Tenova Goodfellow Inc. (Photo: Paul Terefenko)

Small to Medium Enterprise Partner Award – Tenova Goodfellow Inc.

With spiking demand for electronics and other devices that rely on steel production and rare earth elements, the race to develop sustainable means of producing these materials is heating up.

Tenova Goodfellow has partnered with Professor Gisele Azimi (ChemE, MSE) to develop more energetically efficient techniques for the steelmaking industry.

“The objectives of the collaborative project are multiple,” says Manager of Research and Design, Metals Division Vittorio Scipolo. “We want to investigate high-temperature materials to improve the design of Tenova furnaces and sensors for an improved steelmaking control, find innovative ways to valorise steelmaking waste material, and verify the advantages and limitations of molten metal electrolysis for the steel industry.”

Scipolo describes the partnership as “very positive,” yielding promising results across all objectives.

“We’ve gained fundamental knowledge on high temperature materials and on the actual composition of steelmaking waste,” he says. “In particular the waste valorisation portion of the project has already provided few good insights on how to better transform the waste material into a valuable resource.”

“[But] the most rewarding part of the collaboration has been to be able to create a very collaborative and friendly environment. Results and next steps are always discussed together driven by passion and a desire to do better.”

This story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News.

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