Clean H2O

Using novel water filtration technology to clean our bodies and oceans of plastics.

Photo of Katie Lu
3 9

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Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Instagram: cleannh2o

Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Almost 7 million tons of plastic go into rivers and lakes each year, eventually reaching the oceans. Microplastics kill over 1 million aquatic animals a year and are ingested by virtually all consumers (you and me!). 94% of US tap water contains microplastics, which we drink every day. Wastewater treatment plants currently don't remove them and there is no viable system to do so. Join us in cleaning the waterways of plastic before it's too late.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Clean H2O is a multi-faceted platform aiming to reduce the amount of microplastics currently in waterways and prevent more from being introduced. The first goal of reducing microplastics in waterways is being approached through developing a prototype for the microplastic filtration technology I’ve been working on. Using a magnetic fluid containing nanoparticles, I’ve developed a method of removing microplastics from water that is almost 95% effective, almost 2x more than current methods. Additionally, the method costs only $3 per 1000 liters of water, compared to $300 million for a single wastewater treatment plant by conventional methods. The second goal of preventing more plastics from being introduced is through education for consumers. By establishing a social media presence as well as speaking at events and creating partnerships, consumers are able to make more conscientious decisions about the products they use. I’ve started on this side of the project by giving a TEDx speech and presenting at research conferences. I’m also in the process of expanding social media presence and creating a website.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

Every piece of plastic ever made still exists today. I first realized the severity of this issue when working as a team leader for Missouri Stream Team, a volunteer organization that monitors water quality. During one of my trips to Finley River in my home city, I was scooping samples of water into vials for pollution testing. Going down the given list of pollution tests to run on the water, I began thinking about all of the possible contaminants that were not included on the list. And as I stared into a seemingly innocuous clear vial of water, I started realizing how little I knew about the water I drank every single day. I researched more into water pollution and learned about microplastic pollution. After learning about the commonality of microplastic pollution, I began developing a new technology to remove microplastics from water efficiently, effectively, and economically.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

My name is Katie and I'm stepping up to make change because I believe in a future without microplastic pollution. As consumers, our overreliance on plastic has caused a worldwide crisis where you and I drink plastic every day. Join us in our mission to make our oceans and bodies free of plastic. #PlasticFree

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Because of the multifaceted approach CleanH2O has (education and research based), there are many different ways to get involved. On the education side, I had the opportunity to give a TED Talk at TEDxYouth@KC, where a young girl came up to me and said, “Thank you. I’m going to try and be more careful about my impact.” Getting involved in the initiative is as simple as this-- getting the message out to as many people as possible. Spreading the word about limiting our plastic usage is essential, and through developing partnerships, can be implemented on a larger scale. On the research side, I am always open to working with individuals or groups that would like to develop a prototype for the filtration technology. Getting involved on the research side would mostly be technical and R&D based.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

There are two key stances that separate CleanH2O from the rest of the water industry. First, CleanH2O approaches "innovation" in water technology differently. CleanH2O uses a fluid that has been known for decades, but repurposed in a different way than is presently used. Other undertakings work against current technologies while we develop already known technologies. This makes the CleanH2O technology cheaper, more efficient, and more effective. Another way that CleanH2O differs is through the multifaceted approach, as we are also focused on consumer education as well as a filtration product.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

CleanH2O has made progress in the last two years. Through hundreds of trials and hours, I have gathered data that shows the hundreds of tons of plastics that could be prevented from harming animals and humans using this method. However, in order to connect this research to tangible results, we have to bridge the gap between science and society. When I gave the TEDx speech to hopefully educate consumers and make them more aware of their environmental impacts, I hoped that even one person would maybe forego that plastic straw in place of a paper one. When I went to school the following week, multiple people told me how they were now more aware of water pollution. One of my friends said, “It’s cool that you’re spreading the word about environmental issues like water pollution.” Through the TEDxKC and other research presentations, this initiative has reached over 2,500 people nationally.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

In the next year, I have two main scaling goals that involve both sides of the project. Firstly, I would like to develop a working prototype for the filtration technology intended for wastewater treatment plants and consumer usage. Secondly, I would like to start talking to wastewater treatment companies to specify which designs would work for their needs. Lastly, I would like to establish partnerships that could spread the initiative more and develop a social media presence.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Project Plan & Strategy

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 33.3%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 66.7%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 50%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 66.7%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lily

Clean and potable water is a basic necessity. I have to agree that water not only impacts human survival but also our ecosystem. Interesting project!

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