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KCAD's Wege Prize announces top five ideas in circular economy created by students from around the world

Five innovative projects from around the world targeting food insecurity, waste/pollution and resource conservation have been selected by expert judges for public presentation in mid-May in Michigan in the finale of Wege Prize.

The annual event attracts attention from leaders in education, environmental groups, and regional government to learn about the budding solutions from universities around the world.

Wege Prize, developed by the Wege Center for Sustainable Design at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University with the support of The Wege Foundation, is among the world’s most prominent competitions for sustainable, circular economy ideas, igniting game-changing solutions for the future with real-world application and impact.

“We are delighted to welcome five teams of students representing nine countries to Grand Rapids for wide public recognition of their impactful solutions and their ability to collaborate across institutional, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries to redesign the way economies work,” said Gayle DeBruyn, an award-winning KCAD professor who is also leader of Wege Prize.

Each year five student finalist teams from around the world share a purse of $65,000 and benefit from expert judges’ input throughout the competition’s nine-month program.

“For me, Wege Prize is more than a platform,” said Charles Muiruri Munga of Kenya and the finalist team Senene Farm that is addressing Tanzania’s child malnutrition with an alternative protein. “I will say it’s a testament, that young people have the power to transform the world through their ideas.”

With team collaborations united through the students varied perspectives in engineering, science, agriculture, business, and economics, this year’s participants’ real-world concepts raise the bar on products and practices for a circular economy.

For 2024, Wege Prize is showcasing five of the nearly 60 entries from teams hailing from 38 counties across five continents. Several of the expert-reviewed designs created by this year’s finalist student teams employ creative engineering, energy-saving and biodegradable approaches.

“To solve a big problem, a wicked problem, sometimes someone will tell you it’s impossible…but that’s not what is in my mind,” said Blaise Shema of Rwanda, who, with his finalist team, Huuzagro, is addressing plastics pollution. Shema adds, “You will reach what you want when you don’t stop…and when you have a good team and good mentors, when you have all of that, you can make it.” 

The teams competing for $65,000 in total cash prizes will present their solutions to a public audience at 10 a.m. on May 17 at KCAD and streaming live online at WegePrize.org.

This year’s multidisciplinary teams include:

  • EcoFeed Pioneers

Evolving the animal feed landscape to reduce reliance on the import of scarce crops like soybeans and corn, this team of conservation agriculture, biochemistry, and engineering students from two universities in Rwanda is integrating protein-rich alfalfa with innovative biorefinery techniques to create a sustainable food supply for both humans and livestock.

 “Our solution is an environmentally friendly eco-friendly type of production– something that is viable for small and medium scale farmers,” said team leader Mabano Trésor.

  • EcoCycle

This team of biomedical, physics, business, biochemistry, and economic students in China, Denmark, Germany, and Norway is assisting small-scale farms in reimagining organic waste management by using microbial engineering and enzymes to turn agricultural waste into organic fertilizers, cutting costs and minimizing environmental impact.

“Globally, our solution has the potential to be a game-changer in regions such as Asia or Africa, where the overuse of chemicals fertilizers and pesticide poses significant environmental and health risk,” says team member Yansi Wu.

  • FruiFresh

Alleviating post-harvest losses for tomato farmers in Rwanda and retailers is the priority for this Rwandan team of conservation agriculture, agricultural economics, biotechnology, and animal production students from three universities in Rwanda. Their work involves building large, naturally evaporative charcoal cooling facilities crafted from locally available materials and using little to no electricity to store produce prior to customer purchase.

“We keep saying, ‘this is our beginning. We have to keep pushing,’” said Kamanzi Claudine of the team.

  • Huuzagro

To address plastic pollution in Rwanda this student team in Poland and Rwanda studying law, conservation agriculture, software engineering, environmental sciences and crop production are transforming industrial and household food waste into biodegradable packaging paired with a circular collection system that uses Black Soldier flies to break down residual waste into eco-friendly compost and larva protein feeds.

“Diversification in the team makes the team strong,” said team member Blaise Shema. “When you are working on a big project, you need diversified ideas. Those will come from the background of the team members.”

  • Senene Farm

Taking on child malnutrition in Tanzania by increasing the production of the Senene—a protein rich longhorn grasshopper and alternative protein source—this multidisciplinary team of university students in Costa Rica, the United States, and Tanzania studying agricultural science and natural resource management, medicine, and civil engineering is developing a groundbreaking rearing facility using vertical farming to cultivate sustainable feed sources and create a more circular production cycle.

“At the global level we want to contribute to be part of the solution that is working to make sure that we are ensuring food security,” said the team’s Anthony Ilalio Mbunju.

Guided by an international scope of experts in design, sustainability, academics, and economics, the team’s solutions were selected from among 58 entries devised by 290 students across 107 academic institutions.

With the input from Wege Prize’s pool of expert judges, the five finalist teams’ research, market analysis, real-world prototyping and testing helped advance their informal proposals into robust and feasible solutions.

“These teams know that collaboration and design thinking are keys to resolving the world’s critical issues,” DeBruyn said. “By working in stepped phases with our judge’s guidance over nine months, the teams are confronting wicked problems with viable solutions.”

Wege Prize engages student teams in solving complex, layered problems with a diverse, collaborative approach. The competition’s aim for developing new, tangible solutions to producing and consuming essential goods in sustainable ways looks at how the innovations can be applied and used after the competition ends.

(Images provided by Ferris State University).


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