Semifinalists announced by KCAD for Wege Prize 2022, a design competition
with teams of students from 17 countries including Zimbabwe, the Philippines, India, and Canada, advance innovative proposals to address global problems in ways that transform the economy

Grand Rapids, Mich. – Addressing everything from hunger and climate change to social equity and pollution, the solutions advanced by 15 teams of students around the world offer a glimpse of the impact and benefits of Wege Prize, the competition they are vying to win this year.

Wege Prize, the international student design competition to create circular solutions to today’s “wicked problems,” is an agent of change for these lofty ambitions. For its 2022 edition, the judges for Wege Prize — organized by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) — have completed multiple rounds of feedback to narrow down its original field of 30-plus teams to 15 worthy semifinalists who now advance into the competition’s third phase.

At this point in the competition, the teams have received extensive feedback from expert judges and have further developed their innovative ideas, including plastics-degrading microbes, mobile hydroelectric generators, agricultural waste streams captured to boost community health, and aquaponics systems that save water and support ecological health and biodiversity.

Details on all the semifinalist teams follow below.

The advancing teams have emerged from a global field of students in almost 100 areas of academic study at 70 universities and colleges from an astounding 29 countries. “In addition to their global makeup, we are very pleased with the strength of their concepts that hold real potential to power a transition from our current linear economy—in which we take, make, and dispose—to a circular economy that’s regenerative by design,” says Gayle DeBruyn, KCAD professor and Wege Prize leader.

“The quality of entries for Wege Prize has increased substantially in recent years, and this year’s field is the strongest yet,” says Colin Webster, a returning competition judge based in Edinburgh, Scotland, and an education program manager for U.K.-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation, known for it work to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.

Adds Martha Meiers, program coordinator for Wege Prize, “We’re impressed with the international, collaborative and cross-disciplinary nature of the student teams under consideration as semi-finalists, hailing everywhere from the African Leadership University in Rwanda, to top U.S. schools like Brown and Yale, to Eastern Michigan University, right here in our home state.”

About Wege Prize

Wege Prize was established in 2013 to solve the most complex, layered problems. The competition requires teams of individuals capable of working across the barriers that too often divide us — to drive systems-level change. “KCAD’s prize offers a powerful and accessible platform for any college or university student in the world to develop tangible solutions that often find real-world acceptance and application after the competition concludes,” says DeBruyn, who speaks frequently on design thinking.

Examples from recent Wege Prize teams have included Rutopia, whose ideas for eco-sensitive tourism were covered by top editors at Forbes, among others, and who continued on from Wege Prize to win the prestigious $1 million Hult Prize. Another Wege Prize team, Hya Bioplastics, brought its process for making disposable food packaging out of waste to a prominent incubator that advanced their business.

Teams for Wege Prize 2022 accepted into the next phase of competition include:

  • AquaPro

Tackling water pollution with an innovative aquaponics system to grow Tilapia fish, vegetables and duckweed, reducing fertilizer application in growing organic crops, slashing water usage by 90% and maximizing crop yield – while cutting water pollution – to contribute to the circular economy.

  • CirCon

Delivering an alternative solid waste and agricultural produce drying method with the use of renewable energy (solar concentrators) in an innovative new drier design.

  • CleanFire

Growing plants primarily using waste from various processes as their nutrients, then harvesting the plants and generating energy with waste streams.

  • Decarbonize Our Built Environment

This team addresses climate change and the building and construction industry by reinventing the mass timber supply chain.

  • Decomp

An organic plastic waste disposal solution using proprietary plastic-degrading microbes to facilitate the degradation of plastics in weeks, as opposed to the hundreds of years that plastics take to naturally degrade.

  • Dir Innovation Hub (Hulubeje)

A hybrid and movable hydroelectric generator that can produce 5 to 10 kW electricity by using small rivers and streams for a rural community.

  • Footprint

Making good use of discarded fabric – without downcycling — by using large-scale hyperspectral imagery to sort blends and colors, remove buttons and zippers, and more.

  • Green Promoters

Reducing the effects of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, the team is creating an organic product that is both a pesticide and a fertilizer.

  • Neocycle

Rare earth elements in laptops and catalytic converters are recycled and captured in a novel and sustainable synthetic biology approach for circular element extraction, recovery and usage.

  • PlasticFree Squad

This team is replacing single-use plastic containers with biodegradable containers made of bagasse, a byproduct of the sugar industry abundantly available in India.

  • Robust

Processing banana fiber waste into affordable and environmentally friendly textiles and paper bags.

  • Scup Aquaculture

Launching a technological innovation with multiple-use platforms to support offshore wind farms, aquaculture possibilities, and fish biodiversity.

  • Tizu Organics

Producing inexpensive organic biofertilizer, made with mountain microorganisms and food wastes from local Tanzanian markets — otherwise wasted tomatoes, spinach, cabbages and more.

  • Waste to Power

An organic waste disposal system designed to cut 70% of methane gas emitted to the atmosphere – caused by simple mismanagement of solid waste – creating organic fertilizer and affordable energy.

  • Wild Fruits Powered (WFP)

Utilizing tamarind fruits otherwise left to rot, the concept creates nutritious natural juices and funds a community project using tamarind pulp residue to make fertilizers and support local reforestation.

Thanks to the continuing financial support of The Wege Foundation, Wege Prize 2022 has opened these unique opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students around the world and has helped advance the ideas and solutions behind the circular economy.

More details about Wege Prize 2022 will be revealed in the coming weeks on wegeprize.org.

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