05/13/2016 04:58 EDT | Updated 05/13/2016 04:59 EDT

Austin Wang, Vancouver Student, Wins Top Prize At Intel Competition

Austin Wang beat out 1,700 other students from across the globe.

Austin Wang said his win at the Intel competition is "surreal." (Photo: Intel)

For the second year in a row, a Canadian student has won the top prize at the world’s largest high school research competition.

Vancouver’s Han Jie (Austin) Wang, 18, took home US$75,000 at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Ariz. for developing microbial fuel cells (MFCs) that convert organic waste into electricity more efficiently.

“It’s completely surreal,” Wang told The Huffington Post Canada in an interview. “I almost feel like I can wake up any moment from this dream.”

Commercial possibilities

Wang identified genes in genetically enhanced E. coli bacteria that allowed them to generate power. He believes that his MFCs could be used commercially because they generate power more efficiently than existing MFCs, and at a lower cost than solar energy.

He came up with the idea for a school science fair in Grade 9 when he learned that bacteria could generate electricity. He said he’s been working on the project ever since.

Wang, who is now in Grade 12 at David Thompson Secondary School, explained that the most immediate application for his project is in treating sewage and wastewater. He said that the MFCs could use energy from wastewater to generate power.

"Back-to-back wins showcase how competitive Canadians can be on a global scale."

The Intel competition aims to honour the world’s most promising student scientists, inventors, and engineers. Finalists are chosen from hundreds of fairs, and their projects are scrutinized by almost 1,000 judges from nearly every scientific discipline.

Wang beat out over 1,700 other students from across the globe.

Eight other Canadian students won 14 awards this year, totaling US$106,700. Intel gave out US$4 million in prizes this year.

Repeat Canadian victory

Last year, Vancouver teens won two of the three top prizes at the competition.

Raymond Wang, 17, was recognized for a device that improves air quality on airplane cabins while cutting down on the transmission of diseases, while Nicole Ticea, 16, won for creating a simple and inexpensive HIV test that can be used by people in low-income communities.

"Back-to-back wins showcase how competitive Canadians can be on a global scale,” said Nancy Demerling, marketing manager of Intel Canada in a news release.

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