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Meet 2020's Cleantech Challenge Innovators
Meet 2020's Cleantech Challenge Innovators

The PSU Cleantech Challenge is an exciting competition for campus cleantech innovators and entrepreneurs with inspired solutions to today's most pressing environmental problems. Through the Cleantech Challenge, these innovators have taken their concepts from ideas to reality. Learn more about this year's finalists below.


Theory Parking

Theory Parking

The days of circling the lot for a parking spot are no more. With Theory Parking, users save time finding parking by receiving the exact location available parking spots. 

So how is this possible? Theory Parking uses sensors installed at parking spaces that collect data in real-time, which is analyzed and stored on the company's servers. The app provides information to the user that is easy to navigate and read. The software uses machine learning to predict the occupation, duration of occupancy, and estimates of when parking spaces will become available. 

Founded by civil engineering student Omar Waked, the idea for Theory Parking came about when Waked, running late to a chemistry final, was searching for a place to park. Waked was eventually joined by fellow team members Aaron Price, Anthony Bruno, Austin McKee, and Sean Krivonogoff.

Theory Parking's mission is to eliminate time spent searching for a place to park and reduce vehicle emissions. The app will benefit the environment by reducing CO2 levels related to transportation and vehicles. Cities and enforcement will also benefit through the data released by the app, allowing modifications to the pricing or designation of specific parking spots. Commuters, in particular, will enjoy the ability to travel to any destination without worrying about using excess energy to look for a parking spot.



According to the City of Portland, recyclers will not accept plastic utensils because these items are too small to be sorted from other recyclable materials. The Echo-ArchiTech team has a solution for these wasted plastic items: turn them into something useful for communities. 

Anahita Khodadadi, founder and assistant professor of PSU's School of Architecture, started this project with the goal of using plastic utensils to make canopies or pavilions and distribute them throughout urban spaces. This project could help the cities by providing small homeless shelters and other structures on public lands such as transit stations.  

The project expands upon available building materials and provides a solution to the problem of wasted plastic garbage.

"There are different alternatives to employ plastic utensils as structural elements and create the base module of a lattice dome," said Khodadadi. "The plastic modules can join to one another, creating cover for several individuals."

The Echo-ArchiTech team consists of Khodadadi's architecture students. By collecting, cleaning, and connecting plastic utensils to create various structures, these students are giving new life to waste materials. The team will perform tests to analyze the structural behavior of the collected plastic and produce several design alternatives.



Landfills leach toxic chemicals, cause environmental degradation, and can compromise drinking water. EnviroPlasma is trying to tackle the problem by working to develop a closed-loop plasma gasification system that could serve as an environmentally friendly alternative to landfills.

Keith Male, a graduate student studying environmental engineering, leads the team. Ana Tijerina Esquino, a senior civil engineering student, is also on the team. EnviroPlasma's system can be beneficial for businesses, governments, and other organizations looking for an environmentally friendly waste management system for hazardous, non-recyclable, and non-compostable waste in any market. 

"We hope to be able to supply this system to areas without any waste management so they have a safe, clean way to handle their waste rather than burning it or releasing it into the environment," said Male.

The EnviroPlasma system will be able to break down waste through plasma gasification with byproducts of inert vitrified class, recyclable molten metals, and syngas that can be used for energy production or fuel. The system could eliminate much of the environmental degradation associated with landfills. The project's goal is to eliminate the need for landfills and significantly reduce the amount of garbage that causes damage to the environment. 

"Developed nations produce enormous amounts of toxic waste," Male said. "This system can benefit the environment by reducing much of that waste."


Open-Source Rocket Academy (OSRA)

STEM students across the nation are increasingly participating in amateur rocketry. And while participation increases, the amateur rocketry community is restricted to using solid rocket motors made from hazardous chemicals that cause skin and eye irritations, among other serious health risks. 

To promote health and sustainability, the Open Source Rocket Academy (OSRA) team hopes to make it easier for students to learn how to use and operate liquid-fuel rocket engines. These engines produce water and CO2 as a byproduct and are more sustainable than solid rocket motor engines.

The team consists of Jennifer Jordan, an electrical engineering and physics major who is an Electronics Prototyping Lab manager. Other team members include Risto Rushford, a systems engineering graduate student and program manager of the Portland State Aerospace Society; Kathleen Joslyn, a mathematics major and chair of the PSU student branch of the American Institute of Aeronautics; and Teresa Nguyen, a second-year mechanical engineering major of PSU's Maseeh College of Engineering.

"By reducing the learning curve of using liquid-fuel engines for university students and amateur rocketry hobbyists, we will shift amateur rocketry's reliance on one-time use solid-fuel rocket motors to more environmentally friendly and reusable liquid-fuel rocket engines," Jordan said. "This will reduce the impact of solid rocket motor exhaust pollution to the environments around launch sites and improve the sustainability of the activity as it grows in popularity in America."

Organic Carbon Capture.

Organic Carbon Capture

With a team of three engineering students and one botanist, Organic Carbon Capture is on a mission to capture carbon dioxide at scale in a portable system for use in urban areas.

The team consists of electrical engineering students Jon Seeboth, Philip Velichko, Brain Bach, and Ohio State graduate Micheahl Ruben with a degree in botany. 

Organic Carbon Capture plans to reduce excess atmospheric carbon dioxide by designing a portable autonomous system that exploits the natural ability of plants to strip carbon from CO2 during photosynthesis by adjusting soil condition, humidity, temperature, and light to achieve peak CO2 absorption. The system would ideally be independent of the grid, running on solar power. 

The team hopes that their idea will help slow climate change by facilitating cap and trade systems of monitoring and reducing CO2 in the environment.


Carbon Negative Basalt Fiber

The team at Carbon Negative Basalt Fiber plans to use basalt fiber as a cost-effective, carbon-negative alternative to fiberglass insulation. The team is developing methods of carbon dioxide sequestration by forming carbonate deposits on high surface area basalt fiber. If adopted at the industrial scale, it could assist in the reduction of atmospheric CO2 to pre-industrial levels, thus causing less damage to the environment. 

Jacob Brauer, a chemistry student, and entrepreneur, is the team leader. Other team members include junior mechanical engineering student Matthew Bradbury; chemistry and physics student Karelly Ramirez Gonzales; Matt Moradi, a former software developer; junior mechanical engineering student Jonathan Hegeberg, and graduate research assistant Jagir Charla.    

Basalt fiber is an insulation material and alternative to fiberglass. The basalt fibers Carbon Negative Basalt Fiber produces has a smaller carbon footprint and is more cost-effective than fiberglass, making it a viable alternative for insulation markets.



Infections and food-borne illnesses are a serious problem for the health and food industries, but fear not, there may be a solution. 

The team at UVM is developing a doormat that would sanitize the bottom of shoes using ultraviolet light for use in food preparation and in medical settings. This would help kill germs and reduce contamination, therefore, creating a cleaner environment for hospitals and food processing companies.  

The team is led by computer engineering student Jon Baird, math major Tommy Phung, and electrical engineering students Yudi Bao and Yikun Wang

UVM’s ultimate goal is to keep food and health care industries as clean and sanitized as possible and create an overall safer environment for hospital patients and workers in the food preparation field.

Cleantech Challenge

By Jennifer Vo-Nguyen, Research & Graduate Studies