A team of engineering students with a water purification invention takes grand prize at 2018 PSU Cleantech Challenge
Author: Christina Williams
Posted: April 9, 2018

A student team of environmental engineers that invented a bacteria-powered wastewater purification system took the top prize in the 2018 Portland State University (PSU) Cleantech Challenge, presented by Daimler Trucks North America.

The team, Bio CleanTech, received $5,000 in prize money and will be advancing along with the second-place team, Biology-based team SMO Solutions, to the statewide innovation competition InventOR in June.

As part of the sixth annual PSU Cleantech Challenge, five student teams received $1,500 each to develop a prototype of their innovation, each of which addressed the social, environmental, and economic challenges of our region. The finals took place last week at TechFest NW at the PSU Viking Pavilion.

“It has been so exciting for Daimler to be involved in the PSU Cleantech Challenge this year,” said Lori Heino-Royer, Director of Business Development for Daimler Trucks North America, presenting sponsor for the competition. “As a company, Daimler is actively creating innovations that are shaping the future. Supporting students working on solutions-oriented inventions is just a perfect fit.”

In addition to the first and second place awards, the Cleantech Challenge gave the Best Prototype prize to Bio CleanTech. The Best Pitch award landed in a tie between SMO Solutions, and YIMBY, a PSU School of Business team focused on developing an inexpensive kit for building backyard homes.

Bio CleanTech is powered by team members including Bashar Al-Daomi, PhD candidate in environmental engineering at PSU, and Mohmmad Osman, Engineering Designer at Murraysmith of Portland and a PSU alum in civil and environmental engineering. Bio CleanTech developed a method of purifying wastewater by removing phosphorus and nitrogen with the use of specific kinds of bacteria. The team’s aim is to reduce the number of chemicals used in wastewater treatment plants and improve the effectiveness of the process at scale.

Emily Wolfe, a PSU biology PhD candidate, leads the second-place SMO Solutions, which is developing a new plant system—Red Alder with a nitrogen-fixing bacterium called Fankia—that does not compete with food production, can grow in inhospitable environments, and provide the biomass fuel necessary to move society away from its dependence on fossil fuels.

The next step for Bio CleanTech and SMO Solutions will be to further refine their prototypes in advance of the InventOR event in which teams from a dozen colleges and universities from across the state will compete for the statewide prize and $25,000 on June 29 in Klamath Falls, Ore.

“All of the students who participated in the competitions were winners,” said Juan Barraza, Director of Student Innovation at the PSU Center for Entrepreneurship. “They were able to take their ideas and turn them into something concrete. Now the winning teams will advance to the statewide InventOR competition where they will refine their prototype, learn how to take it to market, and interact with the most innovative and entrepreneurial university students in Oregon.”

InventOR, created by the PSU Center for Entrepreneurship, is sponsored by the Lemmelson Foundation, Business Oregon, and the Oregon Community Foundation.  

To learn more about the PSU Cleantech Challenge, visit Information about the InventOR competition can be found at