HCC Students to Present Groundbreaking Capacitor Innovation at National Competition

HOUSTON (June 7, 2024) — Students at Houston Community College (HCC) are preparing to fly to Washington, D.C., to defend their paper on a capacitor that could significantly reduce pollution and decrease the cost of capacitors by 90%.

Nineteen-year-old Raghad Al Gharrawi has been tirelessly working with her team, refining a paper she will help defend at the 2024 Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC). The paper, titled “MaxCap Supercapacitor,” has the potential to revolutionize the way electric vehicles and medical devices are powered worldwide.

“We experimented extensively with the design, and when integrated with lithium-ion batteries, we’ve extended their lifespan so that the battery can be used for its entire intended life,” Al Gharrawi said. “Conventional energy sources degrade over time, but our supercapacitor continually regenerates energy.”

Currently, a capacitor for an electric vehicle can cost up to $4,000. However, through their research and innovations, Al Gharrawi and her team have managed to reduce this cost to just $31—a 99% reduction. This groundbreaking concept has attracted interest from Tesla, leading to discussions about a potential licensing agreement with her team.

This is not HCC’s first time at the CCIC. In 2023, HCC won first place with a hands-free app that enables firefighters to see through heavy smoke and flames using an iPhone 14, lidar, and ultrasonic sensors integrated into the firefighter’s helmet.

The inspiration for developing a better capacitor stemmed from a list of sustainability issues released by the United Nations and intellectual patents accessible to students through NASA. The HCC students not only conducted the research and tested their theories but also wrote the paper and will compete against 10 other community colleges. It also came with mentoring and encouragement in the classroom from HCC Chemistry Professor Sujit Mondal Ph.D..

The HCC team will meet with members of Congress and the National Science Foundation (NSF) before presenting their ideas to an independent panel.

Participating in this challenge teaches the students valuable research, presentation, and networking skills, which are beneficial when transferring to a four-year college. Ravi Brahmbhatt, Ed.D., the director of student innovation and entrepreneurship at HCC, has been instrumental in guiding the students through the entire process of preparing the paper and competing in the CCIC.

“We use project-based learning by presenting students with real-world problems, often inspired by the United Nations’ 17 sustainability goals. We show them the global challenges and targets set by the UN and ask, ‘How can you address these issues in the classroom?’ Students are encouraged to leverage their faculty and community mentors to develop solutions. This approach engages students and offers a transformative learning experience,” Brahmbhatt said.

The CCIC is overseen by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in partnership with the NSF. According to the CCIC website, its goal is “to enable community college students to discover and demonstrate their capacity to use STEM to make a difference in the world and to translate that knowledge into action.”

The challenge will be held in Washington, D.C., from June 10-13. The winner of the challenge will be announced on June 13. The winners will receive $3,000 for first place and recognition certificates from the NSF and AACC. The winning educational institution will receive a plaque acknowledging the achievement.

Al Gharrawi and her teammate, Hassan Khan, are forgoing their HCC graduation to represent HCC in the challenge—a choice driven by their dedication and passion for the project. Both Al Gharrawi and Khan have been accepted to the University of Houston. Al Gharrawi will major in biology before pursuing medical school, while Khan will also be pursuing medical school.