Carbon Reduction Challenge results announced

The winners of this year’s Carbon Reduction Challenge pose in front of the Holland Plant. Shown left to right are: Victory Ekpekurede, John Schmidt and Rohan Datta. Jason Juang is not pictured. // Photo by Alec Grosswald Student Publications

Four members of Electrify Georgia Tech took first prize last week at this summer’s Carbon Reduction Challenge Expo with their plan to electrify Tech’s Holland Plant. Members Rohan Datta, second year ChemE, Victory Ekpekurede, second year CE, Jason Juang, fourth year BA, and John Schmidt, fourth year CS, received a $2,000 prize for their victory. Additionally, the Mortenson and Delta teams tied for third place, while the team from Sam’s Club took second. 

The Carbon Reduction Challenge is a synergy involving the College of Sciences and the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business that seeks to develop new climate action leaders at Tech. Each semester, participants of the challenge work with an organization on a project that would significantly reduce carbon emissions while providing a cost incentive. Throughout the program, students work with mentors to develop advanced environmental and economic benefit analyses. 

The exposition took place on Aug. 17 over Zoom, and Drs. Beril Toktay of Scheller and Samantha Wilson of the College of Sciences co-directed the event. Participants, including various group mentors and judges, first explored the contestants’ projects in breakout rooms and then converged to attend the pitches of the four finalists. During their pitches, students had the opportunity to reflect on the wisdom they gained throughout the process. 

“As an individual, it feels like there is not much to do for climate change, but when you go through organization and work on something larger, there’s more opportunity for impactful change,” said Schimdt. 

While competitors usually partner with businesses they are interning with, the members of Electrify GT took advantage of their unique role as a sustainable impact consulting club to succeed in the challenge. The club works on initiatives to phase out carbon-intensive infrastructure at Tech, already collaborating with various staff and research organizations. In fact, the electrification of the Holland Plant had already been on the agenda prior to the challenge. 

“We submitted a team in 2022 for the carbon reduction challenge, and we won it that year for a fleet electrification project. Two of those participants were on this team as well. We’ve been working on this project for about a year. Victory was the project lead for this all of last year, and she really laid the groundwork by asking, is this feasible? Has it been done at other universities? Is the administration willing to embark on this big project? So, based on that work, we were able to synthesize it and target specific aspects that we wanted to electrify,” said Datta.  

The Holland Plant is an operational steam plant located on East Campus that heats and cools a significant portion of campus buildings and provides hot water to some showers and dining halls. 

It heats buildings with steam by burning natural gas, and it cools by removing that heat electrically and releasing it into the atmosphere. Its steam is dually used to produce the iconic class-change whistle sound that students can hear daily across campus.  

Tech is lagging behind in sustainability compared to other leading engineering schools. The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) gives colleges a platinum, gold, silver or bronze rating based on their self-reported sustainability data. Tech currently holds a silver rating, while the University of Georgia received a gold rating. 

Other schools already use a more sustainable heating and cooling system, and the members of Electrify GT utilized this to develop their data and support their argument. 

“A lot of other schools like Stanford and Princeton have done some work in electrifying their heating and cooling systems to make them less redundant and more efficient. We used those schools as an example for what we can do here at Tech, and we’re hoping to use those studies and implement them here as a case study for the South,” Datta said.  

Their pitch at the expo featured a heat reclamation system, which captures and stores the waste heat generated from cooling a building. While the change would be expensive initially, the team members are optimistic about the project’s implementation. According to Datta, the plant is nearing the end of its life span, which means it will begin degrading in efficiency soon. According to their pitch, the product has a payback period of around seven years due to energy saved. The team hopes to utilize their win to further develop their project and eventually implement it on campus. Their goal is to continue their research and hopefully get their idea featured in Tech’s Climate Action Plan, which they expect to complete by the end of this year. 

“The Carbon Reduction Challenge is a really good stepping stone. It’s a good way to get publicity on these important issues and use it as an ethos-building opportunity. The administration is now more inclined to listen to us and more willing to engage us in the execution side of this issue. We’re actually looking to work on this paper with an academic lab on campus, the SEEEL lab, to get this published in a peer review journal,” Datta said. 

All of the Carbon Reduction Challenge teams made breakthroughs in sustainability and climate action at their respective organizations. The challenge continues to be a driving force in promoting climate action at both the academic and industry level. 

For more information on how to register for next summer, consult their website at