Grant: Connect Ecology

A small 2016 Innovators Internship grant to support an intern for a project in green chemistry went to Connect Ecology, a Minnesota company which acts as a catalyst for client companies or partnerships to design products which reduce life cycle environmental impacts.

Intern Nicole Zywiec makes her final presentation at E-Ride Industries.Nicole Zywiec, B.S. in Industrial Design from the University of Wisconsin at Stout, worked on a pair of projects from May through August 2016 that involved product design, material selection, and production process design, including comparisons of hazard and overall impact associated with different design and material choices. Mark Apfelbacher, principal owner of Connect Ecology, provided guidance.

  • The CD3 Station (Clean-Drain-Dry-Dispose) is a waterless unit for control of invasive species at boat landings, of interest to state and local natural resource agencies and associations. For this all-new product, Nicole worked on prototype design, development and lifecycle costs/feasibility assessment using green chemistry principles; 3D modeling and material sourcing; and negotiation of vendor and manufacturing options. The CD3 cleaning station is now being sold in Minnesota and other states.
  • For E-Ride Industries (Princeton, Minn.), a client of Connect Ecology, the project looked to redesign components of an electric vehicle currently used by the U.S. military. Nichole worked through 3D prototype design, development and lifecycle costs/feasibility assessment using green chemistry principles; assessment of materials and additives for plastics thermoforming and manufacturing material sourcing that are consistent with green chemistry principles; and design of components and parts, feasibility analysis with manufacturing vendors, and quality control.


The business partners were happy with the outcomes of the process and will test the green chemistry material options the intern identified for plastics and frame materials. Ultimately, the implementation of the recommended materials will need to be proven out and cost-effective. Further, they intend to use the positive environmental attributes/outcomes as a sales tool.

Nichole was also positive on the experience: "During my internship with Connect Ecology I learned a lot, not only about using my industrial design skills but the business side of things as well. I have learned to apply my design process timeline to the business work plan to meet the time constraints of the project without hindering the design side of product development. The material and manufacturing research using green chemistry principles and life-cycle assessment information was a valuable experience. With both of these projects I have gained better professional communication skills and time management tactics as well."

Nicole went on to apply her new knowledge at the University of Minnesota as a teaching assistant in the College of Design’s Product Manufacturing program.