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Carving a niche

Engineering student turns to entrepreneurship for greener shipping

special feature: The Student Experience

Part of a special feature highlighting the student voice, student experience and the range of student supports and opportunities available at Memorial.

By Jackey Locke

Neil Woolfrey hasn’t followed the conventional path to entrepreneurship.

After playing two years of junior A hockey, the process engineering student and Corner Brook native decided to return home and enrol in Memorial University.

“It was a tough decision because I had played hockey my whole life and I loved it,” he said. “I’m also a person who loves to learn and I wanted to make a difference and I didn’t feel like I was having much of an impact just playing hockey.”

Green tech

Mr. Woolfrey chose process engineering because he wanted to do something in the area of green technology and sustainability.

Memorial’s engineering program uses a co-operative education model where, in addition to academic terms, students have to complete between 4-6 work terms to graduate.

During a work term with the Department of Natural Resources, Mr. Woolfrey says he found his true passion.

“My work term was with department’s Petroleum Engineering Division, but throughout the work term I accepted projects from the Electricity and Alternative Energy Division because I was really interested in some of the projects they were doing,” he said.

One of those projects was with diesel engines.

“That particular project provided me with some background knowledge on the exhaust system and how they’re trying to become more sustainable – especially in rural communities.”

Neil Woolfrey in the Process Engineering Undergraduate Laboratory.
Neil Woolfrey in the Process Engineering Undergraduate Laboratory.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Back in school the following semester, a laboratory experiment on carbon capture got Mr. Woolfrey even more excited about diesel engines.

“We did an experiment on adsorbing and carbon capture and I really enjoyed it,” he said. “It’s where you take a solid that has attractive forces and it will take in carbon dioxide.”

Carbon capture is predominately reversing the carbon cycle. Essentially, trying to take that carbon from the atmosphere and turn it into something useful, such as synthetic fuel.

“At this point I wasn’t necessarily looking at doing my own thing,” explained Mr. Woolfrey. “I was more interested in learning what other people were doing.”

Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship

However, by the time his final work term came around, Mr. Woolfrey realized there weren’t many companies involved with green technology.

That’s when he decided to capitalize on his love of learning to carve out his own niche in the field.

He applied to do his final work term with the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE). The pan-university centre provides inspiration, guidance, resources and an entrepreneurial community to undergraduate and graduate students and is is the starting point for any Memorial University student interested in entrepreneurship.

“Instead of soaking up the water, it will soak up the carbon dioxide.” — Neil Woolfrey

Mr. Woolfrey has spent the past semester on an entrepreneurial work term in the MCE exploring how to cut down on carbon emissions in shipping vessels.

His idea is to install a column within a vessel’s exhaust system that will lower its carbon dioxide emissions.

“The column will have a solid material inside that will act similar to how a sponge reacts with water, but instead of soaking up the water, it will soak up the carbon dioxide,” explained Mr. Woolfrey.

“I’m currently doing a feasibility analysis on the costs associated with the regulations on carbon emissions to figure out if my idea can bring in a profit or is cost-effective for a company to implement, as opposed to implementing some other solution on their ships.”

While he is still exploring the idea, Mr. Woolfrey is optimistic for his future and is excited about where this entrepreneurial idea will take him.

Recently, he won an Ignite Fund for his business idea. The fund invests in Memorial University students interested in advancing the growth of an innovative business idea.

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