UCD teams shortlisted for SFI's €4m Future Innovator Prize challenge

Posted 16 February, 2021

University College Dublin researchers are involved with five teams that have been shortlisted as part of the SFI's €4 million Future Innovator Prize programmes.

Competing with a view to develop sustainable solutions in the area of food waste and plastics, fifteen teams were announced as part of the Science Foundation Ireland competition by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD.

Researchers at UCD are leading two of the teams, and the University also has faculty involved with three of the other shortlisted groups.

A total of ten teams have been shortlisted under the SFI Plastics Challenge and five teams have been shortlisted under the SFI Food Challenge.

The winners of each programme will receive a prize fund of €2 million as part of the SFI Future Innovator Prize.

“The SFI Future Innovator Prize is a challenge-based prize funding programme that seeks to support Ireland’s best and brightest, to develop novel, potentially disruptive, technologies to address significant societal challenges,” Minister Harris said.

“On this occasion, it is about tackling food and plastic waste. I am really excited to see the outcome of their work and the response to these key national challenges.”

The SFI Plastics Challenge will support the development of innovative STEM-led solutions aimed at enabling the sustainable use of plastics in a circular economy, restore and preserve oceans’ health, and maximise how the Earth's finite resources are used.

UCD researchers are leading two of the ten shortlisted teams for this challenge.

Eco-labs is focused on the challenge of making sustainable lab consumables. The members of the team are Dr Nan Zhang, UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Professor Wenxin Wang, UCD School of Medicine and Professor Michael Gilchrist, UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and MiNAN Technologies - a UCD spin-out company supported through NovaUCD.

Eco-labs is aligned with UN SDG GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.

Plastic Raiders is focusing on the challenge of Removing polluting plastics from the coastal marine environment.

The member members are Associate Professor Francesco Pilla, UCD School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy, Associate Professor Jennifer Symonds, UCD School of Education and Tim Ferguson, Irish Surfing Association.

"Our approach to tackle plastic pollution in the sea has the citizens at the core. We are developing cutting edge AI algorithms for satellite imagery, a nationwide citizen science framework and innovative education tools to enable citizens to act on plastic pollutio," Associate Professor Pilla said.

“The focus at the core of our approach is not only on removing plastics from the sea, but also on educating citizens about more sustainable behaviours to achieve a long-term impact on plastic pollution.”

Plastic Raiders is aligned with UN SDG GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

The SFI Food Challenge will support the development of sustainable solutions to reduce food loss and waste across the full breadth of the food supply chain.

UCD researchers are members of three (Bluestreambio, Eye-Q and WAVA) of the five teams shortlisted for SFI Food Challenge, which will support the development of sustainable solutions to reduce waste across the food supply chain.

Bluestreambio is focusing on the challenge of addressing waste in the fishing industry – alternative uses of fish blood.

The team members are Dr Graham O'Neill, TU Dublin, Professor Paula Bourke, UCD School of Biosystems and Food Engineering and Nadine Bonner, Irish Fish Canners.

Bluestreambio is aligned with UN SDG GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.

Eye-Q focusing on the challenge of reducing premature spoilage of fruit and vegetables in global supply chains.

The team members are Dr Ultan McCarthy, Waterford Institute of Technology, Dr Anastasia Ktenioudaki, UCD School of Biosystems and Food Engineering and Jean-Pierre Emond, The Illuminate Group LLC.

Eye-Q is aligned with UN SDG GOAL 2: Zero Hunger and UN SDG GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.

WAVA is focusing on the challenge of valorising food waste into value added commodities. The team members are Dr Sushanta Kumar Saha, Limerick Institute of Technology, Dr Ajay Menon, UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science and Adam Lord, Food Surplus Management Ltd.

WAVA is aligned with UN SDG GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.

“We have seen a fantastic calibre of innovative thinking and truly novel approaches as part of the submissions, and I look forward to seeing the different solutions that develop in the areas of food waste and enabling the sustainable use of plastics, as the competition continues,” said Professor Mark Ferguson, SFI Director General, and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government.

“I would like to commend each team on their hard work and dedication, and to wish them every success in the rest of the competition.”

Further information on all 15 shortlisted teams is available here.

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