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University of Missouri

No Wasted Energy

Three physics majors win regional clean energy business competition.

Daniel van Hoesen, Dan Paterson, Benjamin Bolin

In addition to their work in the classroom, physics students Daniel van Hoesen, left, Dan Paterson, middle, and Benjamin Bolin also work out of a garage on a thermoelectric generator they’re developing. The trio started their own company, Imagine Labs LLC, and has won nearly $11,000 in prize money from three business pitch competitions.

Benjamin Bolin, Daniel van Hoesen and Dan Paterson were freshmen physics majors when living on the honors floor of Schurz Hall. As sophomores, they decided to start their own company. As juniors in January 2014, they won the Missouri Clean Energy Challenge in St. Louis and a $10,000 prize. Now incorporated as Imagine Labs LLC, they competed at the Clean Energy Trust Regional Clean Energy Challenge April 3, 2014, in Chicago. Although they didn’t place, they were invited to bring their idea back in 2015.

The trio developed a thermoelectric generator, a device 2.2 inches square that converts waste heat into electricity. It works on any hot surface but is most efficient on pipes that are consistently hot. The entrepreneurs are testing prototypes at two Columbia facilities and have two patent applications pending.

thermoelectric generator

The heat given off by a steam pipe or boiler represents wasted energy. A thermoelectric generator, like the one above developed by Imagine Labs LLC, turns that waste heat into electricity.

The students started competing on the business pitch circuit in 2013. They were finalists at a Jefferson City, Missouri, competition and placed third in an MU competition, earning a combined $700, which they invested in research equipment.

“I’ve never been a big charity guy, never been a big service guy,” Paterson says. “But I do want to improve the world, and I want to leave my mark. I think [this] is how I can affect the most people.”