Fuel cell prototype takes first prize at PSU Cleantech Challenge

The six-student team, Gener8, wins a $1,500 prize for its innovative ethanol fuel cell

PSU Cleantech Challenge 2021 logo


Team Gener8 won the Portland State University (PSU) Cleantech Challenge on Friday, taking home a $1,500 top prize for an ethanol fuel cell prototype that the students hope will bridge the gap to a sustainable energy future.

Spearheaded by Jacob Brauer, a first-year master’s candidate in mechanical engineering at PSU, the Gener8 team also won a $500 prize for best prototype. The fuel cell company designed and prototyped a cutting-edge ethanol-based generator that, according to the team, boasted several times the efficiency of an internal combustion engine.

Placing second, Monserrat Vazquez Fonseca and Living Education Center, a sustainably designed educational facility, also took home a $500 prize. Fonseca, a master’s candidate in architecture in her final year, designed the building to mimic the appearance of a caterpillar on a leaf and implemented numerous systems to make the building more livable and energy efficient.

Fashion in Action, a business that sources textile waste and processes it into reusable spools, won a $500 prize for People’s Choice, selected by the audience.

Regener8 and Living Education Center will advance to represent PSU at the Invent Oregon Collegiate Challenge in June, which draws competitors from higher education institutions across Oregon to develop and pitch their ideas. In addition to three months of mentorship and development, Regener8 and Living Education Center have earned an additional $2,500 grant to further develop their prototypes.

The 2021 Portland State University Cleantech Challenge, an annual competition in its ninth year, challenges student entrepreneurs to develop solutions and build prototypes that address the social, environmental, and economic challenges of the Pacific Northwest. It is an important link in the inventor pipeline that helps Oregon cultivate entrepreneurship and build the state economy for the 21st century.

Each team of competitors receives a $1,500 grant for prototype development. This years’ finalist teams spent three months developing a prototype of their invention, meeting with mentors and industry experts, and honing their pitch to potential investors.

The five competing teams represent PSU programs in mechanical engineering, environmental sustainability, architecture, and business. In addition to the winning teams, other competitors included:

  • Flux: a sustainable, eco-kinetic, open-air marketplace
  • Timber Recycling: an alternative construction fastener that preserves wooden building materials

“We are proud of the innovations that each of these teams has brought to Cleantech 2021,” said Juan Barraza, Director of Student Innovation. “Each prototype represents the hard work of our students building a greener, more sustainable future for all. These are the kinds of ideas that will lead Oregon toward a brighter, better economic future.”