Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award (SISCA)

SISCA 2013 Award Winners. Credit: Nancy Johnson, ME Department
2013 winners Chen Zhang & Ke Li with Professor Zongxuan Sun and their Free Piston Engine Hydraulic Pump
Credit: Nancy Johnson, ME Department

Graduate students: Are you up for a challenge? The Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award (SISCA), a program of IonE and the Dow Chemical Company, recognizes and rewards students and universities for innovation and research that encourages and promotes sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing social, economic and environmental problems.

See the Challenge Rules for guidelines for submission.

Applications for 2015 are now under review. Check back soon for updates!

Submission Criteria

A winning submission must

  • exhibit potential for solving world challenges in alignment with the spirit of Dow’s 2025 Sustainability Goals
  • be interdisciplinary (applied sciences, engineering, economics, public policy, social studies, business etc.)
  • involve innovative thinking and excellence in research

Award Details

Awards include a $10,000 grand prize and a $2,500 runner-up prize.


For more information contact Fred Rose ( or visit the challenge website.


Dow launched SISCA in 2009 to promote forward thinking in social and environmental responsibility. See the most recent University of Minnesota results.


To ensure a more sustainable future, it’s essential we promote and cultivate fresh ideas, innovative thinking and sustainable practices that balance environmental, societal and economic decisions. SISCA advances sustainable development, helping further our commitment to create positive change for tomorrow. Key areas of research may include but are not limited to climate change, energy efficiency and conservation, human health and environment, product safety, circular economy, breakthrough innovations, sustainable chemistry, chemical technology.


Applicants must be enrolled graduate students at the University of Minnesota. Former SISCA winners are not eligible to participate. SISCA acknowledges the energy, commitment and enthusiasm of University of Minnesota students and the professors, sponsors and facilitators who support their sustainability innovations and efforts in continued excellence.


SISCA is an annual competition that begins in the fall term.  Final presentations and announcement of winners will occur December 3, 2015 at the Institute on the Environment, St. Paul Campus, University of Minnesota.


2014 Dow SISCA Competition

Project to create sustainable magnets wins $10K prize

Summary of Finalists

A Compact, Portable Compressed Air Power Supply for Human Assistive Devices

Dustin Johnson, MS Mechanical Engineering

A compact, portable device that converts hydrocarbon fuel directly to compressed air energy using a tiny free-piston engine.

Sustainable Routes to Industrial Chemicals: Furan-Modified Dehydration Catalysts

Christoph Krumm & Katherine Vinter, PhD Chemical Engineering

The potential to transform the chemical industry toward bio-renewable-based consumer plastics, commodity chemicals and fuels has necessitated the development of novel technologies for upgrading of products from processes, such as biomass pyrolysis and fermentation. A major cost-prohibitive step in this process is the efficient dehydration of these feedstocks to reduce the oxygen content – a requirement for value-added products. Using a novel furan-modified solid acid catalyst, this team has achieved ultra-high efficiency and selectivity for the dehydration of these feedstocks.

Rare Earth–Free Permanent Magnets

Md AI Mehedi, PhD Chemical Engineering and Material Science

This project described magnets composed of a noble material based on Fe and N that are free of rare earth elements and have the ability to give the same or better magnetic performance than rare earth–based permanent magnets.

Reducing Fossil Fuel Use in Water and Space Heating: Thermotropic Materials for Low-Cost Solar Thermal Collectors

Daniel Nigon, MS Mechanical Engineering

One approach to reducing the high cost of commercial solar thermal collectors is to replace the expensive copper and glass in a typical solar system with low-cost polymers. When using polymers to absorb solar radiation, it is necessary to protect the absorber from excessive temperatures that can occur. A solution to this problem is the use of thermotropic materials that will undergo a change in optical properties to reflect radiation rather than transmit it when the absorber nears the material temperature limit.

Large Scale Cultivation of Phytoplankton via Novel Photo-Bioreactor Technology

Georgiy V. Vozhdayev, MS Microbial Engineering

Microalgae production has the potential to be a sustainable form of aquaculture that produces essential feed for fin fish and shellfish industries, as well as several high-value nutraceutical compounds. However, current methods of large-scale production are limited by many technological issues. The reactor system described here redefines closed system photo bioreactors in terms of process reliability, efficiency of resource utilization and overall biomass productivity.

Novel Thermal Energy Storage Approach With Application to Solar Energy and Waste Heat Recovery

Chao Zhang, PhD Mechanical Engineering

An approach is described that uses a combination of phase change materials and a novel heat exchanger that is capable of exchanging 4.5 times the amount of heat of a conventional strip-fin plate-fin heat exchanger for the same flow rate condition.