Chemistry for Climate Action winners develop biodegradable packaging and green energy for cooking and irrigation
May 25, 2023
By Rebecca Clear
These young scientists are creating innovative solutions for problems in the Philippines, Somalia — and beyond
Of all scientific research conducted between 2017 and 2021, 30% is directly related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with climate change the most cited research of all, according to Scopus data). This isn’t surprising given that climate change is arguably the biggest challenge our world is facing.
What might be surprising is the role chemistry can play in finding practical solutions to the environmental problems we must solve if we are to have a sustainable future. To tackle climate change, we need to harness the power of chemistry.
This is why, after five years of the Green and Sustainable Chemistry Challenge, the Elsevier Foundation has relaunched the competition as the Chemistry for Climate Action Challenge(opens in new tab/window) with a focus on finding chemistry-related solutions to the climate crisis. We’re proud to announce the winners today.
A shortlist of five finalists(opens in new tab/window) pitched their proposals to the scientific jury at the 7th Green and Sustainable Chemistry Conference(opens in new tab/window) this week, having been selected from 98 entrants from 47 countries.
Commenting on the awards, Domiziana Francescon, Director, Partnerships and Programmes for the Elsevier Foundation said,
Embracing a gender lens in climate action projects is a transformative step towards a more inclusive and effective approach for Climate justice. By recognizing the distinct experiences, needs, and capacities of women and underserved communities, we can forge solutions that address the root causes of climate change and social inequality simultaneously.
The two winners, who will each receive a prize of €25,000, and a year’s access to Elsevier's premier chemistry and cheminformatics database Reaxys(opens in new tab/window) were Dr Maria Wilvenna Añora(opens in new tab/window), Co-Founder of social enterprise AtoANI(opens in new tab/window), and Mohamedweli Mohamed(opens in new tab/window), Co-Founder and Program Manager of the Somali Social Entrepreneurs Fund(opens in new tab/window).
Biodegradable packaging to replace plastic packets
Every day, 163 million single-use sachets(opens in new tab/window) are consumed and discarded in the Philippines. This presents a massive problem for the environment: the plastic from these small packets ends up clogging waterways, causing flooding and threatening marine life. Dr Añora's team at AtoANI works to produce biodegradable packaging products as an alternative to plastic, using agro-industrial waste as raw materials. The project will ultimately reduce agro-industrial waste and decrease the reliance on unsustainable material sources, such as wood pulp and recycled paper.
The solution involves building pilot pulp conversion hubs in strategic locations in the Philippines, which will process agro-industrial waste such as rice straws, corn husks and sugarcane bagasse. The resulting products will be of higher quality than recycled paper ones and will support farming communities by providing them with an additional source of income from the agro-industrial waste.
Alternative energy sources for cooking and irrigation
Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world: more than 90%(opens in new tab/window) of the population use organic charcoal from burned-down trees. There is a dire need for renewable energy sources, like biogas and solar energy. Mohammedweli's team at the Somali Social Entrepreneurs Fund focuses on introducing a renewable energy source to the Beled-Hawa community in Gedo, Somalia. The project uses home biogas systems to produce methane gas from fruit waste and cow manure/dung. Produced gas is cheaper and cleaner than charcoal, he explained.
The project will engage 50 female-headed households to establish a biogas system for cooking and irrigation of vegetable farms, to promote inclusive economic development, improve energy security, and mitigate climate change. Additionally, the project will use bio-slurry as a beneficial manure for a solar-powered irrigation system on a cooperative farmland owned by the Somali Social Entrepreneurs Fund in the Beled-Hawa community of southern Somalia.
Commenting on the competition, Rob van Daalen(opens in new tab/window), Senior Publisher for Sustainable Chemistry at Elsevier, said:
Sometimes I have mixed feeling about the Challenge. It's sad to see that much effort is going into trying to solve the mess that we have made of our planet. But on the other hand, it makes one optimistic, and it's fantastic to see that so many young scientist are so motivated to contribute positively to the problems related to the climate crisis and the environment. The two winners this year are a good example of that and their projects will have very positive impact on their local communities.