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The 2017 PSU Cleantech Challenge
The 2017 PSU Cleantech Challenge


What can you build with $2,500 in ninety days?

That’s the question the PSU Cleantech Challenges poses to competitors at the start of every summer.

The PSU Cleantech Challenge began at Portland State in 2012 with initial funding from Wells Fargo. In 2015, it was opened up to all Portland-area high schools and colleges. With an additional grant from Wells Fargo, the competition has expanded to include teams from beyond the metro region.

The PSU Cleantech Challenge kicks off every spring when teams present their innovative ideas for sustainably addressing complex issues facing society. Semifinalists are selected in May and receive $2,500 grant to turn their proposals into working prototypes. During the summer, teams engage in a program that provides support and coaching, helping them hone their business skills as they develop working prototypes of their cleantech projects.

Throughout the summer months, teams participate in intensive workshops and weekly meetings where they learn about design thinking, rapid prototyping, and business modeling. Mentors are paired with the teams to provide individual coaching and the necessary guidance to deliver a working prototype.

The Cleantech Challenge is designed to foster an environment in which teams learn the ins-and-outs of what it takes to bring a product to market, manage workflow, and operate as an effective team. The “challenge” comes to a head at the end of the summer at Oregon BEST’s cleantech conference, “BESTFest,” where the teams and their prototypes compete before a panel of judges for a total of $50,000 in grants and prizes.

2017 marked the fifth year of the Cleantech Challenge. Finalists teams hailed from Portland State University, Oregon State University, and elsewhere for around the state.

2017 Clean Tech Challenge WinnersThe winner of this year’s Cleantech Challenge was a team that brought together four seniors from McKay High School in Salem and a PSU engineering student. McKay students, Lorenzo Alvarez, Luis Castro Castro, Saul Martinez Chavarin, and Christofer Flores, along with PSU’s Tyler Hull, won nearly $23,000 for their project “RECLYC3D,” which converts plastic waste for use as filament in 3D printers. The team’s business model proposes using a filament conversion kit to turn waste plastic generated by schools like McKay into 3D printer filament that schools can then sell to fund STEM education programming.

The team has since gone on to represent PSU in the recent InventOR competition hosted by OMSI.

“[The project] reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfills and oceans and turns it into something valuable,” said Castro Castro in an interview with the Statesman Journal. With over twelve hundred K-12 public schools in Oregon alone, the team’s project has the potential to turn a lot of trash into cash to support STEM education throughout the state.