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Renewable Energy Engineering Students at Oregon Tech Win Portland State Cleantech Challenge

KLAMATH FALLS, OR – The Cleantech Challenge, a clean technology competition run by Portland State University and funded by Wells Fargo, awarded a team of Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech) students with the top $10,000 prize on September 10. The competition brings together clean technology innovators and entrepreneurs from campuses in and around Portland.

This year, Portland State opened up the challenge to seniors, undergraduates, graduates, postdocs and faculty from Portland-area schools and invited them to compete for a total prize pool of up to $40,000. At the beginning of the summer, six teams were selected as semifinalists and given $2,500 to develop prototypes of their ideas. The teams selected included students from Oregon Tech, Reed College, Portland State University, Catlin Gabel and University of Portland.

Over the span of two days, six semi-finalist teams pitched their cleantech solutions and showcased their prototypes to a panel of judges during Oregon BEST FEST, Portland's annual cleantech summit. Waste2Water, a team comprised of Oregon Tech renewable energy engineering students Nick Carew, Nicholas Babcock, Michael Bettis, and Elliott Weinberg, won the top award for their water purification process. The group from Oregon Tech’s Wilsonville campus created an anaerobic digester that can desalinate and distill waste water while reducing methane emissions normally associated with water cleaning devices. "We're proud of the visibility this award gives to the REE program at Oregon Tech,” says Nick Carew. “This achievement reinforces that we are a leader amongst clean tech educational institutions in the Pacific Northwest."

Waste2Water’s project first began in their biofuels class, under the direction of Dr. Claudia TorresGaribay, assistant professor of Electrical Engineering and Renewable Energy. The team decided to use the prototype to produce clean water for developing countries or emergency situations and presented their work in the two-minute “pitch” that each team was allowed to give and showcased the project to judges and the general public as they came by to talk to each of the teams about their work. The display included the actual prototype of the system, as well as a sample of Willamette River water before treatment and the crystal clear result after it had been through the team’s water purification system.

Dr. H. J. Corsair is an assistant professor at Oregon Tech in the Electrical Engineering and Renewable Energy department and program director for the Master of Science in Renewable Energy Engineering who watched the team in action at Oregon BEST FEST: “I couldn’t be more pleased for them. The group worked very well as a team, and leveraged their group’s strengths rather than relying too heavily on faculty guidance. They designed and built a great project that was created to help people without access to basic water and sanitation; it has the potential to save thousands of lives. I can’t wait to see what Oregon Tech teams will come up with to compete in next year’s Cleantech Challenge.”

Waste2Water’s team plans to take their project on a humanitarian effort to Peru with the next trip Solar Hope makes and implement it in the field. "I can't believe that we won,” states Nicholas Babcock. “We're really excited to improve our prototype and implement it abroad next year through Solar Hope."

The contest is funded through a $300,000 grant from Wells Fargo. The 2016 challenge will be open to student-led teams from all Oregon universities and kicks off in the spring.

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