CITRIS names 9 rising entrepreneurs as UC Berkeley Climate Innovation fellows

By CITRIS and the Banatao Institute 

The CITRIS Climate Innovation Fellowship program, a CITRIS Tech for Social Good offering at the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS), will support nine student entrepreneurs from the University of California, Berkeley, in their journeys to help create a more sustainable world.

Launched in January 2024 with a one-time award from the state of California, the program invited applications from UC Berkeley undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers interested in developing innovative climate-related technology solutions.

The cohort of nine fellows — comprising five undergraduates, three graduate students and one postdoctoral researcher — will receive $10,000 each to advance projects that address urgent environmental challenges, including carbon emissions tracking and reduction, water scarcity, and wildfire mitigation and management.

With a focus on cultivating ideas, enhancing business skills, mentorship and networking, the fellowship will provide the participants with co-working space, weekly workshops, guidance from advisors and connections to investors. By the end of 2024, the CITRIS Climate Innovation fellows will have prepared comprehensive plans and compelling pitch decks, moving them several steps closer to translating their ideas into tangible products and services that promote climate resilience.

“We are excited to pilot a new model of supporting student innovation,” said Jill Finlayson, managing director of the CITRIS Innovation Hub. “We are eager to engage UC Berkeley students and postdocs in ventures aligned with the CITRIS Climate initiative. These stipends will help them focus on building startups, which will accelerate deep tech and interdisciplinary approaches to solve big climate challenges.”

The following UC Berkeley innovators were selected:

Paul Bryzek: “Streamlining Carbon Accounting With CarbonSustain”

Recent MBA graduate Paul Bryzek is developing CarbonSustain, an intuitive web-based platform to help small and medium-sized businesses track and analyze their carbon footprints. The tool offers custom recommendations and strategies to help companies comply with emerging regulations and adapt to evolving sustainability standards, aiding in the global move toward corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship.

Prerana Gambhir: “Enhancing Wildfire Management With Pyronaut”

After witnessing the destructive effects of the 2018 Camp Fire in Northern California, aerospace engineer and second-year MBA student Prerana Gambhir was inspired to launch Pyronaut, a wildfire assessment service designed to reduce risks to communities and emergency responders. The platform uses artificial intelligence (AI) analysis of satellite images and drone footage to accurately identify wildfire risks and inform both short- and long-term action plans. By integrating with local systems, Pyronaut aims to ensure coordinated and effective wildfire prevention and response efforts. 

Aishi Gulati: “Enhancing Clean Energy Project Approvals With Innovative Technologies”

In the United States, new clean energy projects must carefully document and minimize potential harmful effects on nearby ecosystems before breaking ground — leading to a significant backlog of proposals in the approval queue. Aishi Gulati, a fourth-year student studying economics and data science, is committed to accelerating the approval and implementation of clean energy work and will explore different innovations to address conservation concerns, such as smart sensors to pause wind turbines when migratory flocks are detected and new ways to expedite the adoption of clean energy.

Bear Häon: “Autonomous Swarms for the Clean Energy Transition”

Bear Häon, a master’s degree candidate in robotics and autonomous systems, aims to build resilient autonomous systems to inspect and maintain clean energy infrastructure located in extreme environments, such as offshore wind turbines and desert solar farms. Driven by machine learning (ML), a swarm of uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) would perform common maintenance tasks, reducing human involvement and operational costs that can account for up to 31 percent of the total lifecycle expense.

Youngseok Jo: “Automating Methane Emission Measurements for Environmental Safety”

Youngseok Jo, a postdoctoral researcher collaborating with geotechnical engineer and CITRIS researcher Dimitrios Zekkos, is developing an autonomous flux chamber to monitor methane emissions from landfills more effectively. By integrating sophisticated sensors and solar power, this technology has the potential to deliver more precise data, bolstering efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while marking a significant advancement in real-time environmental surveillance.

Kayla Leung: “Advancing Sustainable Practices With SeaWipes”

Kayla Leung, a fourth-year student majoring in molecular and cell biology, has created an eco-friendly alternative to synthetic fiber-based wet wipes, which are harmful to the environment. Made from seaweed bioplastics and cellulose, SeaWipes decompose quickly, preventing microplastic pollution and the formation of fatbergs, or dense masses of waste matter in sewage systems formed by the combination of nonbiodegradable solids with fat, oil and grease deposits.

Ayush Panta: “Innovating Water Purification Through Carbon Nanotechnology”

A fourth-year student majoring in computer science and data science, Ayush Panta is working to address potable water scarcity with a novel carbon nanotube (CNT) filtration system. By applying an electric current to target and isolate contaminants, this technology offers an affordable, scalable and efficient solution for water purification, potentially improving access to clean water for communities in need. The water treatment process also captures byproducts such as nitrogen, which can be used to improve soil for farming.

Chao Tang: “Empowering Mobility With Portable EV Chargers”

Chao Tang, a second-year student majoring in business administration and philosophy with a minor in journalism, confronts the challenge of limited electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure with a versatile, portable solution. In response to the growing adoption of EVs, this tool could address the scarcity of charging stations in settings where dedicated infrastructure is lacking, and prove particularly valuable for emergency situations or remote areas with limited charging access.

Amy Tu: “Revolutionizing Water Purification With Solar Power”

Inspired by the urgency of the global water crisis and driven to engineer sustainable remedies, Amy Tu, a third-year student studying data science and economics, is creating a compact, portable, solar-powered device that removes contaminants, pathogens and salts from water, ensuring it is safe for drinking and cooking. Tu’s innovation could improve health in remote communities and boost economic development in rural and disaster-stricken areas.