Student teams narrowed from 29 to seven countries debut innovative approaches to address global challenges in ways that transform the economy
Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA — Offering new ideas that can positively impact nations worldwide, five student teams are advancing as finalists for Wege Prize, the international student design competition with a $65,000 USD total purse to create solutions for “wicked problems” such as hunger, waste, pollution, and climate change.
Announced by its organizer Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD), the 2022 edition of Wege Prize will showcase the finalists’ work in a May 20 streaming presentation with global attendance, at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time. The finalists selected this month are drawn from a global field representing 70 academic institutions in 29 countries with students active in almost 100 areas of academic study.
The finalist teams, says DeBruyn, include participants from universities in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and North America — everywhere from Canada to China and Mozambique to the United Arab Emirates. The team names and their varied innovations are:
- AquaPro, a super-efficient aquaponics system to grow fish, vegetables and duckweed
- Neocycle, a plan to recycle valuable rare-earth elements from electronics waste.
- ROBUST, a method for transforming banana fiber waste into textiles and paper bags.
- SCUP Aquaculture, an ocean platform concept benefiting fish biodiversity and allied industries.
- Green Promoters, a team creating an organic pesticide fertilizer to replace chemical products.
Wege Prize is a widely acclaimed and globally recognized competition serving as an agent of change for these disruptive concepts — and lofty student ambitions. It has drawn participants from the best academic programs at leading universities worldwide, from U.S. Ivy League schools to national science and technology universities in India, Ghana, China, Japan and Chile.
The solutions Wege Prize teams create have gone on to make real-world impact. The 2018 winner Rutopia’s eco-sensitive tourism concepts, covered by top editors at Forbes, gained funding and support. Others, like 2020 Wege Prize winner Hya Bioplastics and the 2021 team The Chilensis, have advanced to prestigious businessincubators that have further strengthened the groundwork to implement their prizewinning ideas.
“With climate change and so many other pressing global issues coming to a head, the world needs people who can work across boundaries to solve problems now more than ever before,” adds KCAD’s DeBruyn. “Every Wege Prize team is advancing a thoughtful and creative approach for helping transition our linear economy of taking, making and disposing, into a circular one that’s restorative by design.”
Addressing the wicked problem of water pollution with an innovative aquaponics system to cultivate Tilapia fish, vegetables, and duckweed, AquaPro has shown how to reduce fertilizer application in growing organic crops, reduce water usage by 90%, maximize crop yield, and contribute to the circular economy. Most importantly, their concept reduces the contribution of agriculture in polluting water bodies as the sources of pollutants are either eliminated, such as chemicals used in farming, or kept in the loop through the reuse of uneaten fish feed and their excreta, making this an unusually sustainable approach to aquaponics farming.
– Team members from Ghana, Mozambique, China, and the United States
Rare earth elements (REEs) are ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives and essential in many modern technologies from personal laptops to catalytic converters in vehicles. As the demand for REEs increases exponentially, it has become apparent that the current supply chain is unable to meet global demands. Neocycle aims to utilize electronic waste, a massively untapped source of REEs, to develop a novel and sustainable synthetic biology approach for circular REE extraction, recovery, and usage.
– Team members from Canada
Team Robust is creating an approach to process banana fiber wastes into affordable and environmentally friendly textiles to make banana fiber bags, with the remaining residues used to produce banana fiber paper bags. The team’s proposed solution consists of fiber bags and papers that stand to replace plastic bags as well as provide proper management of banana waste, a challenge in many countries. The Robust approach also delivers eco-friendly, recyclable, and biodegradable products useful for a large market and preferable to the many synthetic and chemical textiles used today. Their concept also helps reduce dependence on the importing of textiles, while also ensuring proper banana waste management to assist in preventing banana bacterial wilt.
– Team members from Rwanda and Ghana
This team’s solution is a technological innovation that captures untapped, zero-input resources to build a more circular economy in the blue sector of the economy, which includes marine, maritime and oceanic enterprises. The concept takes advantage of multiple-use platforms based on offshore wind development to expand aquaculture possibilities and thereby serve as a tool for bettering ecological health, expanding upon fish biodiversity, and creating a social currency between multiple sectors that are competing for ocean space. In the process, the team is creating a system that improves aquatic health for all users.
– Team members from the United States
The team Green Promoters group aims to reduce the effects of the chemical pesticides and fertilizers by developing and marketing an organic pesticide fertilizer called EZA Two-in-One. The product can be used as a pesticide and fertilizer at the same time, and it is shown to be environmentally friendly, safe, and affordable. The new product and processes benefit the challenges of waste and idle resources in various communities, while creating new opportunities. The introduction of EZA Two-in-One promises to reduce the costs of imported inputs, while also promoting safety in agricultural production.
– Team members from Rwanda and the United Arab Emirates
More information about the Wege Prize finalists for 2022 can be found here.