Solution Overview & Team Lead Details

Our Organization

University of Southern California

What is the name of your solution?

Chimney Cherry

Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

A self-sustaining retrofit device to filter deadly particulates from wood-burning stoves.

Film your elevator pitch.

What specific problem are you solving?

In our pilot area of Fairbanks, Alaska, wood-burning stoves are responsible for 22% of all the air pollution that is accelerating glacial melt and giving residents life-changing medical problems. Figuring out how to combat the emissions from wood-burning stoves is an important, solvable, and overlooked global problem. To put this into perspective, 17% of the United Kingdom’s emissions are from wood-burning stoves (compared to the 12% caused by all transportation). We want to expand beyond Fairbanks to the rest of Alaska, which has over half a million stoves.  We then hope to expand to the rest of the United States, which has 11.6 million wood stoves. Wood burning is theorized to account for 2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, and we won’t stop until each one is operable without producing PM2.5.

What is your solution?

Our solution utilizes electrostatic precipitation to create an electric field on top of the chimney that pushes soot and creosote (which contains PM2.5) to the walls of the chimney pipe. This buildup is to be cleaned with a professional chimney sweep service, as should be completed every winter season. The device is powered by thermoelectric generation (TEG) and begins running once the wood stove is starting up and heat is flowing against the TEG modules.  It requires about 25,000 volts and 0.00066 amps, or about 15 watts, to power.

Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

Our solution serves populations of wood-stove polluted areas by reducing carcinogenic particulate matter in the air. We are particularly interested in serving the population of Fairbanks, Alaska, which was the most polluted city in the USA as of 2021. PM 2.5 particles in the area are at a dangerous concentration -  these particulates pass into your bloodstream through your lungs and have serious negative health implications. The solution reduces emitted pollution by 90-99% when retrofitted on wood-stove chimneys. The Fairbanks Air Quality department has attributed 60-80% of pollution in the area solely to wood stove usage. Implementing our device on a significant number of chimneys would drastically improve health outcomes for the entire Fairbanks population.

How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Chimney Cherry is excellently positioned to deliver a compact and economical particle filtration solution because of our dedication to Alaskan-centered design. In the last 8 months of development, we have spent significant time in Alaska, talking to hundreds of experts, agencies, and wood burners. We’ve included our stakeholders in the product development process, allowing them to guide the solution to benefit the most people. We believe this empathetic, narrative-driven approach will guide our team to success. In the meantime, our team has been advancing in the Min Family Challenge, an entrepreneurship competition at USC, and additionally has been accepted into a Blackstone LaunchPad Summer Fellowship. We are gathering steam at the right time, and will build on these advancements to launch a successful product.

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Enable mass production of inexpensive and low-carbon housing, including changes to design, materials, and construction methods.

Where our solution team is headquartered or located:

Los Angeles, CA, USA

Our solution's stage of development:


Why are you applying to Solve?

For the past eight months, our team worked thousands of hours with one goal guiding us: to make a positive difference in people’s health and the climate crisis. We’ve been fortunate enough to have mentors that taught us that you can prototype with a roll of toilet paper and a stripped iPhone charger. We’ve learned together how important and impactful communication with our users is and conducted hundreds of follow up meetings to build relationships. Despite all of our efforts, we all understand how far we still have to go. 

By looking at existing technologies we know our product is feasible, yet much remains to be done to have a fully working prototype. Utilizing the MIT Solve network would allow us to further connect with inventors who can give us valuable technological feedback at each stage of our prototype development. Once our prototype operates successfully, we also have mountains of legal hurdles to overcome before implementation. Our solution addresses critical challenges regarding environmental risks, federal regulations, and human life and safety. Support from MIT Solve can be crucial in helping us navigate the complexities of this issue and the legal approval steps required before widespread implementation.

The Chimney Cherry is not a product designed for us to make profit or even get paid–we work dozens of hours a week paid on pure passion alone. We want to make a real difference in the lives of people now and in the future by creating a product that pushes past socioeconomic and technological challenges to truly change the world for the better.  When I look back on how far we’ve come in eight months, I am honestly amazed. Our team remains grounded in our sole purpose of helping others. Acceptance into the Solver program would catalyze our efforts, making the Chimney Cherry a possibility in not five or ten years but truly as soon as possible. Time is running out to mitigate the impacts of wood burning stoves. Children collapse on the street from the air quality while the ice caps melt at unprecedented rates. MIT Solve understands what this type of pressure means for a company and can help those of us at Chimney Cherry make an impact that will influence generations.

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

Technology (e.g. software or hardware, web development/design, data analysis, etc.)

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Sarah Gutierrez

More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?

The Chimney Cherry scales down pre-existing industrial electrostatic precipitation filtration technology to a compact and economical level. While one other company sells filtration systems using ESP technology, our solution approaches the problem from a user-centric perspective. We will succeed where our competitors failed to penetrate the Alaskan market because we understand why our users actually burn wood: self-reliance and energy independence. Unlike our competitors, the Chimney Cherry is self-contained, not requiring expensive electrical work or holes drilled in their roof that will hamstring users with increased energy costs. The unit powers itself with a thermoelectric generator, extracting power from the waste heat of the chimney. People burn wood for a reason - the high energy prices from traditional sources. Our product frees users from having to choose between heating their homes economically and poisoning themselves and their neighbors with toxic emissions. 

What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

  • Our impact goals revolve around 3 main topics: good health, sustainability and clean energy, and climate action. Our device will remove harmful particulates before they can pollute the air and harm people, all while being powered with renewable energy.

  • For the next year:

    • Design operates successfully on entirely renewable sources. It does not need to be plugged into an outlet to function.

    • Pilot on an actual wood stove in Fairbanks. Track chimney particulate emissions at ten minute intervals from one month prior to installation through the subsequent winter months.

    • Improve education on best wood burning practices. Decrease “green” (wet) wood burning in the Fairbanks North Star borough by 10%.

  • Next five years

    • Run the system through an entire winter season with renewable energy.

    • 90 % of the wood stoves in Fairbanks have a Chimney Cherry.

    • Fairbanks air quality is within Particulate Matter EPA attainment levels in the winter season.

    • 5% decrease in rates of asthma and heart disease in the Fairbanks North Start Borough.

How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

  • For the next year
    • Working standalone prototype functions to reduce over 90% of emissions and runs off of TEG when the stove is in use. 

  • Next five years:

    • Fairbanks (after a decade) is no longer a Particulate Matter non-attainment zone by the EPA. This requires ensuring that the average yearly concentration of PM2.5is below 12 micrograms per cubic meter and that the yearly 98th percentile concentration over a 24 hour period is below 35 micrograms per cubic meter.

    • Hospital admittance due to respiratory and cardiovascular conditions decreases by half.

What is your theory of change?

When we first started ideating in the problem space of poor air quality in Fairbanks, we did not immediately realize the global impact a residential ESP will have. For our company the Chimney Cherry, the theory of change would be as follows:

  1. Primary Activity: Innovating a completely renewably powered electro-static precipitator that would rest on the top of chimneys in homes with wood-burning stoves.

  2. Output: The ESP prevents the harmful PM 2.5 particles from exiting through the smoke in the chimney.

  3. Short-term Outcomes: Instantly we see little to no smoke exiting from chimneys. 

  4. Mid-term Outcomes: Within the first few months, we see (1) visibly clearer air (2) a significant reduction in the number of wood-stove owners being fined for smoke exiting their homes (3) an increase in the amount of savings set aside for other essentials.

  5. Long-term Outcomes: Significant improvement in community wide health issues related to respiratory illness. Positive affect on global cooling by redirecting soot from sticking to polar ice caps.

Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

Our product is a renewably powered Electro-Static Precipitator (ESP). Electro-Static Precipitation occurs when particulate matter passes through a strong electric field and collects on a surface (or drops out of the field). ESPs are used extensively at the industrial scale in smoke stacks (e.g. power plants) but have only recently spread to the consumer/residential market. Small-scale ESPs take a low-power input and run it through a voltage step-up module that dramatically increases the voltage differential across the field while simultaneously reducing the electric current flow. For an ESP inside of a structure (e.g. chimney), an exposed electrode is lowered inside the tube (serving as the positive cathode) and a field directs charged particulates toward the surface of the chimney (serving as the negative anode). As the particulates pass through the field, they become charged, and settle on the chimney wall. We can vary the reduction of emitted particulates based on the speed of the gas passing through the chimney and the strength of the ESPs field.

ESPs already widely exist on the industrial market and two companies have emerged on the residential market in Europe. Our product is innovative because it doesn’t require access to an outside power source. Using a set of Thermo-Electric Seebeck modules placed on the surface of the chimney, we generate power based on the differential between the chimney gas and outdoor air temperatures. Given that the ESP only requires 15-30 Watts of input power, we are able to generate necessary power using less than 20 Seebeck modules.

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Imaging and Sensor Technology
  • Manufacturing Technology
  • Materials Science

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  • 13. Climate Action

In which countries do you currently operate?

  • United States

In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • United States
Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Not registered as any organization

How many people work on your solution team?


How long have you been working on your solution?

8 months

What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?

The co-founders of the company come from diverse backgrounds. We are a team composed of students from 4 different schools at USC, with majors ranging from engineering, economics, public policy, and film production. Members of our team belong to a variety of ethnic identities such as Asian, South Indian, Middle Eastern, and Spanish Filipino. We took steps to understand bias and build awareness by encouraging every member to review and analyze their own personal assumptions about not only our team, but also the customer base and target users. We encourage our team members to share their feedback by filling out anonymous forms to get a better understanding of how people are feeling about their teammates and to pinpoint any interpersonal conflict that may be arising. This allows each one of us to make smarter decisions and eliminate any patterns of biases. In addition, we are aware and acknowledge a variety of upcoming religious and cultural holidays. When closing out a team meeting, we often ask people how they plan to celebrate the holiday and invite each other to the event. We also made sure to be flexible when scheduling meetings for those days.

Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

Our team’s key customers are the libertarian wood-stove owners within the Fairbanks North Star Borough of Alaska. Fairbanks, Alaska had the worst air quality of every city in the United States in 2021 (and 2018). The EPA has cracked down on the local and state governments to bring the locality back to “attainment” status. This has resulted in massive wood-stove “change out” funds to incentivize residents to switch to fuel oil or alternative sources of heat, “no-burn” notices during particularly smoggy days, and fines to those who burn wood excessively. Alaska’s state motto is “The Last Frontier” and many residents move there to live independently. Approximately ⅓ of Fairbanks’ residents burn wood to heat their homes and our user interviews have demonstrated that many of them have no intention of changing their behavior, regardless of demands by government agencies or environmental groups. We seek to neutralize this customer segment’s perception of government overreach and prevent them from getting fined with our product.

Our product is a device that is installed on top of a chimney and reduces emitted pollutants by 90-99%. In the interest of protecting our customer’s privacy and safety, the installation process doesn’t require our team to enter their home or breach their roof in any way (a design integration derived from discussions with many users). Using a Thermo-Electric Generator that is powered by the temperature differential between the heated gas in the chimney and the cold Alaskan winter air, the device generates its own source of electricity without having to plug into home power. As such, this product will satisfy our customers’ desires to not be hassled by the government without having an increase in their bills nor disruption in lifestyle. Simultaneously, our beneficiaries (the public institutions of Fairbanks) are able to reduce the locality’s airborne emissions.

Our product is provided after a one-time purchase. We will facilitate installation and offer a complimentary cleaning going into the first winter season to ensure safety protocol is maintained. We will train technicians and contract chimney sweeps to perform maintenance. We are still conducting surveys to determine pricing, but it will be in the $500-$750 range. We will be contracting local manufacturers in the Anchorage metropolitan area (e.g. TriJet) to produce our product and ship to Fairbanks. We have made preliminary agreements with users interested in testing our ESP and stores interested in selling them.

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)

What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?

As a social enterprise, we value having a strong internal structure that can provide a continuous stream of work to create the Chimney Cherry’s intended impact of reducing 60-80% of the air pollutants in Fairbanks and similar areas. In alignment with the goal of social impact, our sustainable business model would generate both social value and revenue for our company to operate towards pushing our goal forward. 

One of our first priorities would be researching the essential manufacturing needs of the renewable powered ESP to identify the minimum-viable product that we need to build in hopes of essentially subsidizing building expenses. Our second-most priority is financial organization. We use the envelope method to set aside our budget in three specific categories: one for R&D, one for internal operation, and one for external outreach. Once we run out of funds in a specific category, we can identify exactly why we need to raise more money and what it would be used for. 

Our primary source of revenue would be at first selling the Chimney Cherry product direct-to-consumers with wood-burning stoves. Although the Chimney Cherry (ESP) itself is a one-time purchase, we will offer cleaning and maintenance services at a recommended 2-3x per year to each household. Once the product gains more recognition, we will partner with local trusted wood burning stove suppliers (such as The Woodway in Fairbanks who have already agreed to carry our product in store) to form a licensing agreement that can allow us to sell a Chimney Cherry with each woodstove. Why would the suppliers work with us? We found that suppliers truly care about the environment and want people to properly take care of their woodstoves. Having our renewable ESP installed, consumers start to care a lot more about wood burning stoves because it offers them free heating with no concern of fines from the EPA. With a bigger emphasis back on cheap wood burning stove heating, there is an incentive to train customers on the importance of burning dry wood so their chimney doesn’t get clogged in soot and catch on fire.

Share some examples of how your plan to achieve financial sustainability has been successful so far.

The USC Viterbi Innovations in Engineering & Global Design program has provided $3,000 in funding plus two fully funded trips to Alaska for user research and prototyping. Additionally, we are finalists in the Min Family Entrepreneurship Challenge incubator and will be competing in their pitch competition for $45,000 in April. Most recently we have been selected for the Blackstone LaunchPad Fellowship which provides $5,000 for continued work on the project alongside workshops and mentorship. We were chosen for this prestigious experience out of hundreds of teams.

Solution Team

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