What did University of Washington senior Trevor Crain do for spring break this year?

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What did University of Washington senior Trevor Crain do for spring break this year?

Along with his team of undergraduate students, he worked on a prototype and accompanying business plan for an electric drive system that can replace gasoline engines and be scaled to fit all vehicle sizes.

“When you come home at night you actually just plug it in, and when you get up the next morning you can drive it to work,” explained Crain, gesturing to the device embedded beneath the hood of a Honda Accord.

Crain, a mechanical-engineering student, is the president and founder of Voltaic Drive Systems, a business composed of UW students.

Voltaic’s electric drive system won the group $10,000 Thursday in a competition against 16 other student-created clean-technology projects.

The UW Environmental Innovation Challenge, run by the Foster School of Business, asks undergraduate and graduate students from state universities to identify a clean-technology problem, engineer the solution and create a business summary for the product.

Voltaic’s business plan focuses on electric-vehicle markets that are projected to increase in the coming years, such as those of the United States, China and India.

Even hours before Voltaic was awarded the grand prize, Crain insisted that his team had already gained a lot from the competition.

“With the experiences that we’ve got, our team now knows how to design and build prototypes — and design and build electric vehicles — so we’ve got so much potential beyond this point,” he said.

The teams were judged by more than 90 representatives from a multitude of private and public groups, including Boeing, Siemens and Sound Transit.

The $5,000 second-place prize went to a UW team called PotaVida that developed a reusable, solar-powered water-disinfection indicator.

The competition is now in its third year, and organizers say students’ innovations are getting more sophisticated.

“The projects are better thought out, the prototypes are farther along, and the student teams get the connection between creating this thing that you think is going to be a solution to a problem, and thinking about how [to] introduce this to the marketplace,” said Connie Bourassa-Shaw, director of the UW business school’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “That connection has been made between just playing with something cool and creating a company that does good.”

The grand-prize winner for the first UW Environmental Innovation Challenge in 2009 was a team that developed an acoustical sensor that could detect leaks in household water systems. Last year its technology was acquired by electronic company Belkin International.

Joanna Nolasco: 206-464-3263 or jnolasco@seattletimes.com