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Airbus’ green aviation contest puts UPM students on cloud nine

By Kuah Guan Oo
Pic by Hasrul Hamdan

SERDANG,  10 July (UPM) – Although they missed the two grand prizes by a whisker, the four Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) students were more than happy to be among the five best teams to take centre stage in France  to argue their case at  a worldwide contest on green aviation last month.      

That stage was at the home ground of Airbus Industries in Toulouse, France,  the organizers of the “Fly Your Idea 2013” contest which drew entries from over 600 teams comprising more than 6,000 students from 82 countries. 

For Tan Kai Jun, 23, Ong Thiam Chun, 23, Koo Teck Hock, 23 and Teong Chee Khoon, 22, all third-year students of aerospace engineering of the Engineering Faculty of UPM, the experience and the stay at the headquarters of Airbus at Toulouse for the final presentation before the “top guns” of the aviation industries from 9 to 19 June,  was simply “priceless”.        

“How many people can have the chance to visit the Airbus factories where we were taken for a study tour and treated like their employees,” said Ong and Koo.

“Compared with the first two prizes, the experience is priceless,” said Tan, the leader of the team who had called themselves “Team Embarker” in their entry for the competition that pitched them against some big league universities.

The other teams in the final are from the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil), Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (Australia), the Technical University of Milan (Italy) and an Indian university.

The Brazilian team who devised an air-cushion system of unloading cargoes took home the grand prize of 30,000 Euros (more than RM120,000) ,while the Australian team who worked out a system of mixing jet fuel with methane (from cow manure) won the 2nd prize of 15,000 Euros.

The UPM students had worked out a system of harvesting body heat of passengers in an aircraft using a special nano polymer fabric to power up reading and other cabin lights.     

Tan,  a childhood friend of Ong who had both studied at SMJK Kwang Hua before joining the Klang High School for their sixth form, said they stumbled upon the idea of
harvesting body heat by accident.

They were sitting down brain-storming for ideas last September when, after several hours later, Koo complained that his butt was “on fire” for sitting too long. 

“That was when we talked about harvesting body heat, and that was when our lecturers and mentor proved to be very helpful in guiding us through the project,” said Tan, referring to the supervisor of the team, Dr Fairuz Izzudin Romli and lecturers Dr Norkhairunnisa Mazlan and Dr Yazdi Harmin.

For this 3rd edition of the biennial contest this year Airbus Industries has, as in the two previous competitions, challenged the students to come out with ideas for a green or sustainable aviation industry for the future.

Tan said their proposal was actually clean, sustainable energy with no by-product. “When you are talking about harvesting body heat from 500 passengers sitting in a plane for a 10-hour flight, the savings can be considerable in the life span of the aircraft,” he said, referring to argument that the heat tapped from individual human body is minuscule.

“Maybe they cannot see the significance of it now but in future when the cost of aviation fuel becomes too high,  the project can be profitable,” he added.

Ong, who is a Public Services (JPA) scholar like Tan, said their idea was simple and “doable” enough, and it could prove to be beneficial to the industry in future.

Teong, who had studied at SMJK Chung Ling in Butterworth before going to  Matriculation College in Pahang, said while he was disappointed in not winning the first two prizes, he realized that this was not the whole point of the competition.

“I am grateful to Airbus for recognizing our idea, and to our supervisor Dr Fairuz Izzudin for guiding us, and to Dr Khairunissa, a nanotechnology and material expert, for helping us with the fabrics,” said Teong who is presently doing his internship at the Singapore Aerospace manufacturing factory, Aviatron (M) Sdn bhd at Bukit Minyak, Pulau Pinang.

Tan and Ong are now attached to Airod for their internship while Koo, who had studied at SMK Rantau before his sixth form at SMK King George in Seremban, is with the Unit Udara Polis or the air wing of the police force.

Asked what advice would they give to other UPM students wanting to join the contest, Koo said “If they have any crazy idea, they should not be afraid voice it out because it may not be as crazy as you think!”

“What seems to be impossible, can be possible with science and technology,” he said.

All of them felt that they did not have enough time to work out the full systems and details of their project, and they would advise other students to start on their project earlier.

They said they could understand why the Brazilian and Australian projects were better packaged than theirs; the Brazilian students were studying the health problems faced by the cargo handlers of their regional airlines, while the Australian students had to grapple with the by-product of their cattle industry.

Tan suggested that the UPM made green or sustainable aviation as a course project for the students to think ahead.

Dr Fairuz who supervised the students and accompanied them to Toulouse, said the students certainly enjoyed the limelight which they had worked hard to achieve.

He noted that UPM had two teams who made it to the 2nd round of over 100 teams after the initial whittling from over 600 teams. The other UPM team is from the Food Science and Technology

There were also three other Malaysian teams who made it to the 2nd round. They were from UniKL-Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology (UniKL-MIAT), the International Islamic University and Taylor’s University, said Dr Fairuz, who hails from Kangar.

A graduate in aerospace engineering from UPM, he read his PhD in Aerospace Engineering from the School of Industrial Systems Engineering of the Georgia Institute of  Technology in Atlanta where he also obtained two Master of Science degrees, one in
statistics and the other on aerospace engineering.

He also noted that Malaysian students seemed to have a certain reputation at the Airbus contest because in the 2nd edition of the competition in 2011, a Malaysian team from UniKL-MIAT was in the top five teams in Toulouse. – UPM

- kgo/agn/kam

Date of Input: | Updated: | hairul_nizam


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