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2019 PSU Cleantech Challenge: Team Mussel
2019 PSU Cleantech Challenge: Team Mussel

Automating River Cleanup


“With our business model and low-cost design, our goal is to have a global impact on improving water quality.”


Team members: Juliaan Bossuyt, visiting scholar, mechanical and materials engineering; Jili Hu, visiting scholar, economics; Ryan Scott, mechanical and materials engineering.


1. Where did you get the inspiration for your Cleantech Challenge invention idea?

Juliaan and Jili started working at PSU around the same time. They were quickly amazed by the beautiful nature in the Pacific Northwest, and especially the impressive view of the Columbia River on a trip to Astoria. However, they also noticed floating plastic bottles and other floating trash in the water. They became worried about the harm of human-produced waste to our environment. Juliaan remembered similar scenes from Baltimore, Croatia, or the North Sea, and Jili recollected a similar experience from his last trip to Shanghai. On the way back to Portland they thought about autonomous ways to clean rivers. Ryan is a colleague of Juliaan who is also passionate about the environment, and who was easily sold on our design idea. With the help of Ryan’s extensive experience in robotics, team Mussel developed a low-cost autonomous trash collector. Similar to mussels in the sea, we envision many small trash collectors to collaboratively clean large bodies of water. With our business model and low-cost design, our goal is to have a global impact on improving water quality.

2. As you prepare to pitch your idea and show off your prototype at TechFest NW in April, what are you most excited about?

We are thrilled to present our business model for cleaning trash from rivers funded by our unique partnerships around the world. We are convinced that our Mussel can be the “mussel” required to keep eighty thousand tons of trash from reaching our oceans daily.

3. Who are your Cleantech Heroes? Who do you look to for inspiration?

The Ocean Cleanup Project is our number one source of inspiration as it made us realize how committed people can be to keeping our oceans, and our environment as a whole, clean. We were most impressed by their ability to manifest a terrific idea into a solution currently undergoing testing in the Pacific Ocean. We realized most of this trash enters the oceans via streams and rivers where it comes into contact with people, wildlife, and the water table before finally polluting our oceans. It pains us to see water polluted with floating trash but we draw encouragement from the success of groups like the Ocean Cleanup Project and are inspired to help create a world where our rivers, oceans, and lives are free of plastic trash.

4. Tell us about your team: How did you meet each other and how do you work together?

We are a team of researchers, passionate about technology and taking care of the environment. Jili and Juliaan are both visiting scholars, from China and Belgium respectively, who met on the PSU introduction. Juliaan and Ryan are colleagues in the wind energy and turbulence lab at Portland State University, where they study the aerodynamics of wind energy and the airflow of forest canopies.

5. What’s the one thing you want the Cleantech Challenge judges to understand about your innovation (that will ensure your team will win the competition)?

We are not focused on a single product, we are building a framework. We are combining open source tools to create a sustainable business leveraging partnerships to clean our streams and rivers. Our goal is to provide this service at no charge by encouraging local industries to sponsor the “Mussel” and transform our waterways across the globe. Our partners will be investing in “Mussel” deployment and continuous development through funding “Mussel” credits rather than purchasing a single-use product.