A 17-year-old Park City High School PC Caps student won the Edison Award last month for his bio-degradable multi-function plastic spoon, fork, knife utensil.
Park City High School Senior, Nicholas Markels says it was a surprise to learn his invention, called the sporknife, won the Edison Award grand prize for innovation and design. He submitted 3-D images, engineering designs and a photograph of the prototype he had built.
He hopes by designing a single, pull apart plastic utensil option like his corn based plastic sporknife, he will entice businesses to choose his product for its cost effectiveness and environmental benefits. He says it would take three to six months for it to decompose into the earth’s carbon cycle.
“Biodegradable utensils have existed for 20 years, but my entire idea was to change the manufacturing process because the biggest problem right now is these bio-degradable utensils are more expensive than the regular utensils. Most businesses use the regular ones and it’s creating this massive pollution because when people use the regular plastic utensils, they just throw them away and they end up in our oceans.”
Markels says he plans to research the patent process with the idea of creating a viable business. But, his primary objective with this product design is to do what’s right for the environment.
“If I do go into business, I definitely want to patent my product and technique to make sure that I’m the only one producing it. And, I will only make it out of bio-degradable plastics. They’ll definitely become cheaper than regular plastics today. That was another thing I was considering. I want to combine my manufacturing process that are currently engineered to help make something cheaper.”
Markels sporknife was a finalist this year in the Utah Entrepreneurial Challenge through the Lassonde Institute. He was a finalist last year as well but with a different product that he worked on through the PC CAPS program.
“I was in the CAPS engineering program and my project was to work with Doctors at the University of Utah to help develop a UV sensor to help them study ski cancer.”Markels has been researching plastics and how utensils are made. He says the sporknife is too large right now and he’s rescaling it to make it smaller.
“I want to go talk to some manufacturing engineers and ask them about my design because right now my design was most done off of 3D printing. And I know that map manufacturing is going to be injection molding so it’s going to be producing thousands an hour, so I need to figure out what are the best design choices.”
He thinks he has about a month of work on the design iterations. He plans to talk to manufacturing experts to learn more about mass production.
“They usually can analyze your 3-D molds and tell you what will and won’t work. More complex shapes, they’re more expensive to produce. But I learned that all that adds expense to the mold which can range from a couple hundreds of thousands of dollars. Right now, I want to have my most basic design possible.”
The grand prize includes a travel voucher to either Peru or Costa Rica. He says the organization provides the travel opportunity to expand perspective and see how other people live with the idea of creating products or services that might provide benefits on a broader scale.