CEMS graduate students win top Dow SISCA prize

Dec. 14, 2016 - A CEMS team that created a soap molecule made from renewable materials has won the $10,000 first prize in the Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award (SISCA) competition held December 6, 2016 at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment (IonE) in St. Paul.

The award, made possible by a collaboration between 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. The competition is open to full-time graduate and professional students enrolled at all campuses of the University of Minnesota. This year’s award was presented to Kristeen Esther Joseph, who developed the molecule, and Saurabh Maduskar, who worked on biomass conversion processes as part of the competition. Both are chemical engineering Ph.D. candidates in the University’s College of Science and Engineering.

Most detergents are made from petroleum and are not biodegradable. Additionally, they require added chemicals to be effective in hard water, some of which are hazardous to natural environments and can be toxic to humans. The new soap molecule works in hard water and is made from renewable biomass and natural oils, such as corn stover and soybean oil, respectively. They call it an oleo-furan surfactant, or OFS.

“OFS technology can help make superior, simple and sustainable detergents,” said Joseph. “The surfactant made using sustainable biorenewable resources leads to a superior molecule that works well in extreme hard water conditions and helps to reduce the number of chemicals in detergents.”

News release written by Monique Dubos (

Pictured above: CEMS graduate students Kristeen Joseph (left) and Saurabh Maduskar won the $10,000 first prize in the Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award competition for developing a soap molecule made from renewable materials.

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