Future Innovator Prize: UCD teams compete for €5m SFI funding challenge

Posted 13 May, 2020

Four research teams from University College Dublin have been shortlisted for the opportunity to secure €5 million in funding as part of Science Foundation Ireland's Future Innovator Prize.
The groups are among 12 teams selected for the Seed Phase of the Zero Emissions Challenge and Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Societal Good Challenge.

Funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, through Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), and run in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the competition is part of Government efforts to cultivate challenge-based funding in Ireland.

The two challenges, AI for Societal Good and the Zero Emissions, each offer a prize of €2m, with an additional €1m in bonus funding available to the team that develops a negative emissions technology – one that reduces levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Six teams have been shortlisted from each Challenge and at the end of a 12 month programme two overall winners will be announced.

“Now more than ever, we need to ensure that ongoing significant national and global issues including climate change, disease diagnosis and treatment continue to be addressed. Programmes such as the Future Innovator Prize empower our innovators,” said Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD.

Minister for International Development, Ciarán Cannon TD added: “This important partnership between Irish Aid and Science Foundation Ireland enables innovative research into solutions for key global challenges, such as mitigating climate change. I am delighted that Irish Aid is co-funding four of the research projects that have reached Seed phase.”

Two UCD teams, AI_PREMie and Greenwatch, have been shortlisted for the AI for Societal Good Challenge, while their University cohorts. Farm Zero C and LiCoRICE, will compete in the Zero Emissions Challenge.

AI_PREMie

AI_PREMie is focused on the development of an AI-powered risk stratification platform for Preeclampsia.

Members of the AI_PREMie team include Professor Patricia Maguire, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, UCD Conway Sphere and Director, UCD Institute for Discovery; Professor Fionnuala Ní Áinle, UCD School of Medicine, UCD Conway Sphere, Dr Paulina Szklanna, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science; Dr Suzy Whoriskey, UCD School of Mathematics and Statistics; societal impact champion, Dr Mary Higgins, National Maternity Hospital and John Curran, Head of Technology, SAS, Ireland.

Professor Patricia Maguire said: “Preeclampsia is difficult to diagnose and kills 50,000 mothers and 500,000 babies each year worldwide. During the next phase of the SFI AI for Societal Good Challenge, we will develop a new test #AI_PREMie to better predict severity of preeclampsia and help to save lives. We are honoured to be working closely on this challenge with our partner organisation SAS Ireland, global leaders in analytics.”

Greenwatch

As a team, Greenwatch is focused on developing AI-based methods to detect greenwashing in order to improve the measurement of progress towards the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. Team co-funded by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Members of the Greenwatch team include Professor Andreas Hoepner, UCD College of Business; Dr Georgiana Ifrim, UCD School of Computer Science, Dr Yanan Lin, UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, Dr Theo Cojoianu, UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, and societal impact champion, Pat Cox, Chairman, Sustainable Nation Ireland.

Professor Andreas Hoepner said: “On behalf of Georgiana, Pat, Theo, Yanan, and the entire Greenwatch team, we are delighted to have been shortlisted for the seed phase of the SFI Future Innovator Prize challenge.” 

“Since the 2015 Paris Agreement, many corporations have been tempted to greenwash by conveying an inaccurate impression of their environmental sustainability, thereby misleading consumers, investors and policy makers.

“Our project is utilising AI methods to challenge this greenwashing temptation experienced by corporations. We are very much looking forward to the next phase of the programme and believe that Ireland is uniquely positioned to lead in this space, especially since our national tax revenues from fossil fuels are comparatively inconsequential."

Farm Zero C

The dairy industry faces the challenge of needing to reduce GHG emissions and ultimately to become carbon neutral, and the Farm Zero C project is focused on creating a carbon neutral resilient dairy farm.

There are multiple partners in the Farm Zero C project with a leadership team of Professor Kevin O'Connor, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and Director, BiOrbic SFI Bioeconomy Research Centre; Dr Fionnuala Murphy, UCD School of Biosystems and Food Engineering and societal impact champion, Enda Buckley, Director of Sustainability, Carbery.

Professor Kevin O'Connor said: “Agriculture is under environmental pressures with a negative image but I believe it can be a leader in sustainability. It will take a lot of effort but I see lots of opportunities for farmers to turn the tide so that farms are climate neutral, enhancing biodiversity and stewards of sustainability.

“That is what Farm Zero C is attempting to achieve: A new sustainable business model for farming. We are using a dairy farm as an exemplar but we believe it can be translatable to other sectors of agriculture.”

Other members of the Farm Zero C project team include; Alejandro Vergara (UCD and BiOrbic); Laurence Shaloo (Teagasc and Vista Milk); James Gaffeyy (IT Tralee and BiOrbic); Jane Stout (TCD, Nature+ and BiOrbic); Dario Fornara (Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Northern Ireland); Jean Kennedy (Devenish) and Johan Van Gran (Grassa, Netherlands).

LiCoRICE

LiCoRICE is focused on bringing lithium cobalt batteries into the circular economy, which is key to meeting Ireland’s aims of decarbonising transport by 2030. Team co-funded by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Members of the LiCoRICE team include Dr Tony Keene, UCD School of Chemistry; Dr Steven Ferguson, UCD School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering, and societal impact champion, Conor Leonard, WEEE Ireland.

Dr Tony Keene said: “The LiCoRICE team is leading the way towards Ireland's first recycled lithium batteries, using a green process to help reduce waste, provide cheaper access to electric vehicles and to ease the humanitarian crisis in cobalt mining areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

“The partnership of chemistry and chemical engineering researchers at UCD with the proven expertise of WEEE Ireland in recycling and recovery of waste materials is perfectly placed to make Ireland a leader in this field.”

Dr Ruth Freeman, Director Science for Society, Science Foundation Ireland added: “Well done to the twelve teams on their success, hard work and dedication. It is an achievement to progress this far in the Future Innovator Prize competition. The excellent standard of the projects illustrates the importance of continuing to embed competitive and challenge-based funding within the Irish ecosystem.”

Minister for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan said: “It is a privilege to support the development of these great ideas, which are being co-created by interdisciplinary teams from leading institutes and organisations across the country spanning Galway, Cork, Limerick and Dublin. Best of luck to all the teams for the next phase of the competition.”

Further information on 12 shortlisted projects is available at AI for Societal Good and Zero Emissions.

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations (with materials from Micéal Whelan, UCD Research and Innovation)