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Westport Teen Wins Gault Energy Essay Competition

WESTPORT, Conn. -- Westport-based Gault Energy recently announced that Staples High School junior Shelby Cataldo won the company's latest essay competition.

Cataldo won the "What's Next?: Energizing the Next 150 Years" essay competition with her essay focusing on the possibility of mimicking photosynthesis to produce clean, renewable energy. Her essay was selected from more than 50 essays submitted into the contest.

Culminating Gault Energy & Stone’s year-long 150th Anniversary celebration, the company’s online essay competition asked Fairfield County teens to share their visions of energy sources for the next 150 years and "why it’s important that we focus today on energy solutions for tomorrow," representatives said in a release.

Finalists included runner-up Stephen Gaylas, a senior at Norwalk’s Brien McMahon High School; Jordyn Patterson, a senior at Staples High School; Graham Bonnell, a sophomore at Fairchild Wheeler Multi-magnet High School; and Nathalie Pacheco, a sophomore at Fairchild Wheeler Multi-magnet High School.

The judges said that "while all of the essays submitted were impressive, Cataldo’s winning essay was truly inspiring," according to the release. Cataldo believes that it will be possible for future technology to create processes to harness and distribute renewable energy.

“Shelby’s idea of mimicking photosynthesis to produce clean energy really fascinated me,” said The Westport Library’s Chris Timmons. “While I was really intrigued with all the essayists' takes on 'What's Next?' and heartened by their informed and thoughtful comments, I was really impressed with Shelby’s take on recent experimental research, her nicely written essay, and the compelling information she shared about how this process is now being explored and its future potential.”

Cataldo said she was inspired to learn more about the possibility of mimicking photosynthesis to create energy when she learned that scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a glucose fuel cell designed to be implanted in the human brain to power sensors that move prosthetic limbs.

“The scientists use platinum as a catalyst to oxidize glucose and produce a significant amount of electricity, similar to the function of the brain cells around it,” said Cataldo. “If we were to modify the process in such a way that the reactants could be produced by an artificial photosynthetic process, we would effectively be imitating the cells of photosynthetic organisms to directly produce clean energy.”

Sam Gault, Gault Energy & Stone president, said the essays point to a bright future for energy solutions.

"If these essays are any indication of tomorrow’s leaders, when it comes to bringing innovative energy solutions to market, we’re in very capable hands,” said Gault. “When my great, great grandfather Robert Gault founded our company in 1863, electricity had yet to be invented and our primary energy sources were wood, water, whale oil and coal. Today, while fossil fuels continue to power the vast majority of our homes, businesses, industries and cars, we have seen a vast improvement when it comes to energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions. If we fast forward 150 years, I fully expect that the bulk of our energy will come from clean, renewable sources, and that Gault Energy will be supplying that energy.”

Cataldo received a $1,500 scholarship from Gault Energy for her winning essay.

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