Student Teams Awarded $38,000 for Environmental Innovations

Nova Solar Glazing wins Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation ChallengeOn a day where being green meant everything, it was a student team highlighting the orange glow of the sun that won the spotlight. Nova Solar Glazing was awarded the $15,000 Wells Fargo grand prize at the 2017 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge hosted by the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. The team of electrical engineering, business, chemistry, and industrial design students from Western Washington University developed a luminescent solar concentrator glass pane. It converts current windows into energy-producing solar windows that are both affordable and practical.

Airy wins Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge second place prizeNova Solar Glazing was one of 21 student teams looking to solve environmental and cleantech problems through innovation at the University of Washington competition. The $10,000 Herbert B. Jones Foundation second place prize went to Airy for their battery-free, wireless home security solution that uses sensors mounted on doors or windows to harvest energy. The team featured students from UW’s Department of Electrical Engineering.

Lignin Bioject wins Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge third place prizeThe Starbucks $5,000 third place prize was awarded to Lignin Biojet from Washington State University. The team of business and biological systems engineering students presented a technology that converts Lignin, a natural polymer that’s mainly a byproduct of the paper industry, into biojet fuel to produce a renewable alternative to conventional fuel.

Membrion wins Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Clean Energy prizeJudges awarded the $5,000 UW Clean Energy Institute clean energy prize, as well as a $1,000 “Judges Also Really Liked” award to Membrion. The team of UW chemical engineering students created low-cost, high-performance membranes for advanced batteries, fuel cells, and reverse osmosis water desalination applications. Membrion previously entered the EIC under the name Ionic Windows and won the clean energy prize in 2016 in addition to their second place finish. The team is an example of a growing and supported trend in student entrepreneurship where an idea is worked on over several years, validated, and submitted into competitions each year the students are eligible to compete.

Two other $1,000 “Judges Also Really Liked” awards were handed out to GreenFeed, who developed a way to convert retail food waste into a sustainable, scientifically-formulated fish feed for the agriculture industry, and UW Hyperloop, who are developing a sustainable form of accelerated public transportation that will cut travel times, congestion, and greenhouse gas emissions. More than 150 judges were on-site to score teams and share feedback to the 95 students from seven colleges and universities around the Northwest. Student teams from the University of Washington represented 22 departments in six colleges and schools. Prototype funding in excess of $33,000 was also distributed in advance of the competition to select teams who had applied.

170+ judges came out for Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation ChallengeAlaska Airlines sustainability manager Jacqueline Drumheller celebrated the hard work of the student teams by quoting Thomas Edison, who said “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Daniel Schwartz, director of the UW Clean Energy Institute, was among the other sponsor representatives who felt inspired by the student innovations on display. “We are so proud to be a part of an event which pushes environmental ideas out to the world.” Next year represents the 10th anniversary of the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge.

The Buerk Center would like to thank the other EIC sponsors including the Foster School of Business, the UW College of Engineering, WRF Capital, the UW College of Built Environments, UW CoMotion, the UW College of the Environment, Cairncross & Hempelmann, the Perkins Coie Foundation, Puget Sound Energy, Christensen O’Connor Johnson Kindness, McKinstry, the UW Department of Biology, Amazon Catalyst, and Element 8.

Competition season continues on Wednesday, April 26 as the Buerk Center celebrates the 20th anniversary of the UW Business Plan Competition. The investment round competition is followed by the Sweet 16 and Final Round on Thursday, May 25. For more details, please visit