A CLEANR wash

David Dillman, Chip Miller and Max Pennington ’22 run CLEANR from a work bay on the 7th floor of Sears think[box].

A CLEANR wash

By Hannah Jackson '24

Thanks to campus startup resources, young engineers find themselves at the cusp of a new market.

Like homework and labs, laundry is a fact of student life—and that’s just fine with a new campus startup. The founders of CLEANR are using dorm laundry rooms to test a filter they’ve design for washing machines.

 

As students complete their weekly laundry, the young engineers are gauging the strength and effectiveness of their device. But what are they trying filter out of the wash? The answer is nearly too small for us to see: microplastics.

 

Microplastics are tiny particles of plastic that have infiltrated our ecosystems and our drinking water. Unbeknownst to many, washing machines are the single largest source of microplastics in the environment. Clothing fibers and dies are speckled with the tiny plastics, which come out in the washing machine wastewater.

 

Starting about two years ago, engineering students Max Pennington ’22, Chip Miller and David Dillman found themselves thinking constantly about this overlooked form of waste. But they did more than worry about the problem, they resolved to find a solution.

 

“We know that 94.4% of our tap water has plastic in it,” said Pennington, who pulled his two classmates into the quest. “We learned that laundry machines were the number one source of microplastics in water, so we developed our product around it.” 

 

Their product is an attachable filter for washing machine hoses that catches microplastic.

 

“Studies show that 8 in 10 people have microplastics in their blood,” said Dillman, a fourth year mechanical and aerospace engineering major. “We want to prevent the plastics found in washing machines from getting into places plastic shouldn’t be.”

 

Their timing is good. Several states and nations, including California and France, intend to mandate washing machine filters to capture microplastics.

 

The trio designed a filter using biomimicry technology. It mirrors the process of natural filtration found naturally in ecosystems.

 

The students began their entrepreneurial journey at Sears think[box], where they designed and constructed their first prototypes. The campus innovation center also provided a free workspace on the seventh floor, where the company is headquartered.

 

They were able to tap other campus resources to build a company. CWRU LaunchNet and the Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship helped them get ready for testing and pitch competitions, to apply for patents, and to incorporate in July.

 

Michael Goldberg, the Executive Director of the Veale Institute, has watched their journey and thinks they have what it takes to succeed as a startup.  

 

“They have the right combination of curiosity and hustle,” Goldberg said. “They don’t take no for an answer.”

 

Through a class offered by the Veale Institute, Technology Management and the Startup Trek, Pennington said he gained insight into developing a product and attracting investors. The class was taught by Goldberg and tech entrepreneur Ram Fish ’95, MS ’95, who took the students to Silicon Valley to meet alumni in the tech industry. 

 

“The class really helped us and it’s actually how we met some of our investors,” Pennington said. He went to work for Procter and Gamble after earning his degree in chemical engineering but recently returned to campus to work full time at CLEANR as its CEO.

 

Dillman and Miller have taken a break from their degree programs to also work full-time for CLEANR, which has been winning pitch competitions and attracting startup capital. After many iterations of their product, the young engineers landed on their final prototype, which is fully functional and under review for four conditional patents.

 

This fall, they began a partnership with Case Western Reserve to try their filters on campus washing machines. It’s been eye opening.

 

“Students don’t do laundry like the typical consumer,” Miller observed. “Just the first week, we learned how much dirt can show up in someone’s wash. But it’s been a great way to stress test the device.”

 

They hope to make some final design adjustments before approaching washing machine manufacturers with a finished product.

 

 

Learn more about CLEANR through our podcast, Think[box] Radio. Their episode will air beginning December 15 at https://casealumni.org/thinkboxradio/

The founders sat down for a taping of think[box] Radio, the podcast of the Case Alumni Association

The company recently bought its own 3D printers to speed prototyping.

Washing machines and filter systems help the CLEANR team design and test their devices.

“People were starting to say that what we were doing was impossible, so that’s when we knew that we really had something."

The CLEANR team credits Sears think[box] for access to equipment and resources that helped them develop a product and launch a company.

SEE OR LISTEN TO THE PODCAST INTERVIEW WITH CLEANR

Season 2 EP. 4: A CLEANR Wash

We’re back for the fourth episode of season 2 of think[box] Radio. In this episode, we sit down with three young Case engineers as they aim to clean up microplastics in our drinking water. The number one source of this problem may surprise you!

Read More »

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Washing machines and filter systems help the CLEANR team design and test their devices.

The company recently bought its own 3D printers to speed prototyping.

The CLEANR team credits Sears think[box] for access to equipment and resources that helped them develop a product and launch a company.

SHARE THIS STORY!

Facebook
Twitter
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Email