Africa Prize for Engineering innovation Year 6 shortlist factsheet (2019/2020)
Innovator: Adrian Padt
Country: South Africa
DryMac is a containerised drying system that uses biomass to dry crops without using electricity.
Biomass waste products, like maize stalks, grass or wood chunks, are burnt to create heat and gas. The drier has ducts, which control airflow to and from the furnace. This ensures that heat is distributed evenly throughout the drier, so that the product – which is fed through the container on rollers – is dried uniformly.
The drier replaces traditional methods of crop preservation like refrigeration and dehydration, both of which use large amounts of energy.
Before developing DryMac, mechanical engineer Adrian Padt had designed and sold more than 120,000 natural draft stoves across Africa. After massive post-harvest losses in Malawi due to frequent power outages, a local organisation asked Padt to develop something that would dry agricultural produce using the same concept.
A DryMac installation in Malawi is being used to dry groundnuts and tobacco, while two South African DryMacs are being used on rosehip to extract oil to make cosmetics and skincare products. Padt is also adapting DryMac to dry macadamia nuts in South Africa.
Padt hopes to expand to various African countries, specifically those where electricity is limited or unreliable, and climate conditions are unpredictable.
Pull quote: “DryMac is perfect for drying and preserving large quantities of agricultural and other produce in areas where there is little or no electricity. No fossil fuels are needed, it combats waste, and there are very little harmful emissions.”
Innovator: Aisha Raheem
Farmz2U is a digital platform that prevents food waste by helping farmers plan their crops.
Farmers tell the application how much land they have, what crops they want to grow, what their budget is, and even their target profit.
Farmz2U calculates how many seedlings the farmer should get, what fertiliser and pesticides to use, and provides training guides and videos for certain crops. Farmers can also find out where there is demand for their product, track orders and invoices, and find storage locations. Farmz2U even allows users to access financing, insurance, and receive weather reports and warnings.
Strategy consultant Aisha Raheem developed Farmz2U after a health scare prompted her to eat more healthily, which in turn exposed her to the challenges faced by the food industry. She became determined to reduce food waste and improve the nutritional intake of other people.
Farmz2U is already being tested by two commercial farmers, and Raheem and her team are using their feedback to improve the platform. Raheem has also partnered with the Nigerian ministry of agriculture’s farmer support programme to access their network of smallholder farmers.
The next Farmz2U app will include a nutrition management platform for health-conscious consumers, who can create meal plans and shopping lists. Users will be able to buy fresh produce directly from farmers who are registered on the Farmz2U farm management platform, creating additional markets for local farmers.
Pull quote: “Farmz2U is the planning tool that no farmer should be without, from pre-planting to market. By giving farmers information and creating new networks, we plan to help farmers improve the nutritional value of Nigerian crops, and reduce food waste, while increasing their revenue.”
Innovator: Bernice Dapaah
EcoRide are bicycles made from naturally occurring bamboo, sisal fibre and other sustainable parts.
Marketing specialist Bernice Dapaah recalls how she often had to stop to fix her bicycle on the way to school from her grandfather’s house, on the outskirts of Kumasi in Ghana. Dapaah wanted to help her community and was inspired to make the bicycles after seeing bamboo products online.
Bamboo is harvested, treated to remove its sugar content and air dried before the best pieces are selected and cut to size. These are glued and wrapped with epoxy and sisal fibres before the frame is sanded down, sprayed and fully assembled. Wheels, gears, brakes and handlebars are mostly second hand parts, refurbished by the EcoRide team. EcoRide plants ten bamboo trees for each one they harvest.
Dapaah started out using cassava paste for the joints, but her first bicycle fell apart when she rode it. With the help of engineers, she improved the design, and now produces reliable road and mountain bicycles. Since then she has trained more than 60 young men and women, and employs 25 full time staff. Her goal is to employ 200 people in her community and she has become an activist for bicycle lanes on new Ghanaian roads.
The EcoRide bicycles are currently 75% bamboo, and Dapaah is looking for ways to increase that percentage. She is also working on a wheelchair design.
EcoRide bicycles, which sell for $200 to $400, are currently sold in Ghana and internationally, with some bulk purchases made by non-profit organisations for Ghanaian school children.
Pull quote: “Reducing carbon emissions can become a reality with bicycles made from sustainably farmed bamboo, while creating jobs for women and youths in rural communities.”
Innovator: Catherine Chaima
Cathel is an anti-bacterial soap created from natural agricultural waste and local ingredients using indigenous knowledge.
The daughter of farming parents, Chaima grew up in rural Malawi, where groundnuts, cassava, banana and rice are popular crops. Cassava peels and groundnut shells, however, pile up around farms as they are not seen as powerful composting material. While banana leaves have many applications, the sheer volume of waste produced by this crop means mounds of dry leaves pile up.
As a chemical engineering student, Chaima focuses on re-purposing waste. During her final year, she turned her attention to the hidden properties of these agricultural by-products. When she discovered that the leaves, shells and peels her parents threw away could be used to produce potassium hydroxide, the idea of Cathel soaps was born.
Cathel soap – named after Catherine and her co-founder Ethel – also uses alternative anti-bacterial ingredients. Several commercial soaps in Malawi rely on Triclosan, which not only kills harmful bacteria, but also bacteria required to maintain healthy skin. For Cathel, the pair relied on indigenous knowledge to identify natural ingredients such as Moringa, which has anti-bacterial properties as well.
Chaima hopes that the process she uses to make the soaps could establish an industry for agricultural waste to become a valuable commodity in Malawi.
Pull quote: “Cathel started out as a final-year chemical engineering project, but has turned into a product with so much potential to create extra income for farmers, harness indigenous ingredients, and provide Malawian families with affordable, hygienic soap.”
Innovator: Charlette N’Guessan
Innovation: BACE API
BACE API uses facial recognition and artificial intelligence to verify identities remotely. The software can be integrated into existing apps and systems and is aimed at financial institutions and other industries that rely on identity verification when providing services.
While facial recognition software isn’t new, BACE API can use live images or short, five-second videos taken on phone cameras to detect whether the image is of a real person, or a photo of an existing image. It then matches the picture or short video to either a pre-saved reference photo, or the person’s government-issued identity documents. The process is quick, secure and efficient.
Tech entrepreneur Charlette N’Guessan and her cofounders developed the software after research they did during their studies revealed that Ghana’s banks have a significant problem with identity fraud and cyber-crime. The research estimated that approximately $400 million is spent annually by Ghanaian financial institutions to identify their customers.
The BACE API software uses a phone or computer’s built-in camera and does not need special hardware. Existing verification methods include memorising passwords, two-step verification systems (where a one-time pin is sent to a user), and biometric or DNA identification.
In partnership with a government service provider, BACE API has access to Ghanaian passports and identity documents to use during its verification processes. The software is already being used by a local farmer investment organisation to verify their customers’ identification before paying them.
N’Guessan also hopes to partner with universities to create a database that helps students who don’t have government issued identification, to access financial services.
Pull quote: “Cutting edge identity verification technology doesn’t always require costly hardware. BACE API is a quick and secure solution for identity fraud that only requires access to a mobile phone camera.”
Innovator: David Tusubira
Remot is both a hardware and software system that monitors and manages the performance, usage and health of solar photovoltaic (PV) panel installations.
Created by Tusubira and his team mates, the system gives solar companies more than just data about their customers’ energy use. Remot also examines the system itself for inefficiencies and potential problems.
Battery health, for example, is crucial to PV installations but, despite manufacturers’ guarantees, they fail without warning. Remot monitors battery health to give solar companies more control over the lifespan of their installations, and help prevent power outages.
Manufactured on site at their offices in Kampala, the hardware device is nicknamed ‘Davix’ after the co-founder. Tusubira met his colleagues in school before they studied together at Makerere University. They then started a business training and re-selling electronics to engineering students, but the team repeatedly came across challenges in solar energy – complex systems, mismanagement and corruption, and a lack of monitoring and evaluation.
Four years on, Remot runs in nearly 500 schools, 11 solar maize mills, and solar water pumps on office blocks in the DRC, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, with samples in use in Ethiopia. The team helps solar companies, energy consultants and energy donors – common in East Africa – run pay-as-you-go systems. These help justify investment, by showing usage patterns, and also help plan future installations by evaluating older ones.
Pull quote: “Solar installations aren’t simple – you can’t just install them, and forget about them. They require maintenance and monitoring, which overwhelms most people. But if we can make these systems more reliable and manageable, I believe we can solve off-grid energy in Africa.”
Innovator: Isaac Sesi
GrainMate is a simple, handheld meter which accurately measures the moisture content of grains to prevent post-harvest losses.
The easy-to-use aluminium probe is simply inserted into a bag of grain. The tip of the probe contains temperature and humidity sensors, which take an average reading of the whole bag to provide a moisture reading. The reading is then displayed on a detachable handheld unit after two to three minutes.
Smallholder farmers in Ghana lose up to 30% of their grain due to incorrect moisture levels. This moisture can cause mould, attract insects, and reduce the grain quality, all of which lead to loss of revenue. Most smallholder farmers can’t afford the expensive moisture meters on the market, and resort to crude testing methods, such as biting the grain or throwing it against the wall to see if it sticks.
Many farmers sell their grain straight after harvest because they worry that it will spoil if they store it. Sesi believes that with GrainMate, farmers will be able to monitor moisture levels more accurately, so they can store grain until later in the season when demand is higher, doubling their income. The GrainMate can also be used by poultry farmers to test grain-based poultry feed before purchase, ensuring poultry are healthy and lay high quality eggs.
Sesi, an electrical engineer, developed GrainMate after he was invited to lead a research project into grain moisture meters. GrainMate can currently test sorghum, millet, hard and soft wheat, chickpeas, corn, rice, soybean and groundnuts. The handheld display, which only has three buttons, was designed to be intuitive to farmers with little education and low literacy levels.
Around 800 farmers are already using 300 GrainMates, and Sesi is developing a Bluetooth-enabled model to link to a smartphone to provide data analysis to commercial farmers and warehouses.
Pull quote: “There’s no reason to watch farmers lose crops they worked hard for just because a simple technology is unaffordable to them. GrainMate can double smallholder grain farmers’ income, preventing post-harvest losses due to incorrect grain moisture levels.”
Innovator: Jack Oyugi
Aquaprotein is protein-rich animal food made from invasive water hyacinth harvested from Lake Victoria.
The water hyacinth is steam boiled, dried, crushed and fermented to make a protein-rich powder, which is then mixed with minerals and energy-rich materials like maize bran to make an affordable animal feed for poultry, dairy and fish farmers.
Biotechnologist Jack Oyugi came up with the idea when, as a dairy farm manager, he faced high animal feed costs and low milk production first-hand.
Oyugi began harvesting and testing water hyacinth after he saw animals eating parts of the invasive plant on the shores of Lake Victoria. Water hyacinth only has 14% protein, but Oyugi’s patented fermentation process uses a local fungus to increase the protein levels to 50%. His process also removes contaminants from the plant and softens the fibrous lignose that makes it tough to chew.
In a pilot study, Kenyan farmers saw a 20% increase in milk production, and 30% decrease in feed costs.
Countries surrounding Lake Victoria have been plagued by the fast-growing, impenetrable plant. It prevents fish from breeding, blocks tunnels, which leads to flooding, and clogs municipal water intakes, limiting communities’ access to water. It also curbs tourism by preventing boat rides and fishing.
Oyugi removes the plant from the lake, and plans to expand his operations to other African countries plagued by water hyacinth, including Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda.
The by-products produced in the process of making the feed are sold as fertilisers and soil conditioners.
Pull quote: “Nothing in the natural world is unusable – not even pests like the water hyacinth. Turning this invasive plant into animal feed saves farmers money, improves the quality of their products, and solves an environmental problem, all at the same time.”
Innovator: Josephine Godwyll
Innovation: Lab and Library on Wheels
Lab and Library on wheels is a mobile, solar-hybrid cart with gadgets and e-learning resources for under-resourced schools.
Geo-spatial engineer Josephine Godwyll came up with the idea when, as a student, she taught at a rural school during an outreach programme. Her students did not have access to library books or laboratories, and had to rely on theoretical lessons only.
Her unit contains laptops, tablets and practical teaching and learning materials, customised to suit the size of the school. Each device is preloaded with the Ananse The Teacher e-learning app, which uses interactive games and local folklore to encourage reading, as well as science, technology, engineering, art and maths (STEAM) content. The practical kits also contain readily-available household materials to use in STEAM-related hands-on activities.
Fixed libraries and laboratories cost up to $25,000 to build, and cater for a limited number of students in Ghana. Many schools are unable to afford these, and operate without regular power supply.
Lab and Library on Wheels eliminates the need for fixed libraries and laboratories, as the $6,500 hand-cart with e-resources and kits can be pushed from one classroom to the next. Schools that are unable to pay upfront can arrange a payment plan. Godwyll’s team installs a solar panel on the roof of each school, and energy from the panel is stored in a battery and used to charge all devices. She is updating the cart to include a built-in battery and solar panels so that the cart can be used in places that are even more remote.
Five hundred children at three Ghanaian schools are already using Godwyll’s technology. After only four practical lessons, 72% of students scored above average in evaluation tests, and after six months of using the Lab and Library on Wheels, the students average test scores increased by 21%.
Pull quote: “Quality education should not be out of any child’s reach anymore. We put technology on wheels to transform any room into a library and STEAM laboratory.”
Innovator: Justine Abuga
Innovation: Solar Jiko
Solar Jiko is a heat storage system that allows rural schools to cook food quickly and easily without firewood.
The system consists of nine-metre-long pipes arranged to absorb the maximum amount of heat from the sun. The pipes use a patented form of thermosiphon – a form of heat exchange that negates the need for mechanical pumps. Recycled car oil is heated inside the pipes, and stored in insulated tanks that heat the cook stoves. A series of valves control the flow of oil, ensuring minimal heat loss, and the system can even be used on cold days.
Justine Abuga, a renewable energy engineer, has already secured contracts to install Solar Jiko at 27 Kenyan schools, which should cut their cooking costs by $10,000 per year.
Firewood is expensive and rural Kenyan schools often run out when heavy rains make roads impassable. Most schools don’t have storage facilities for the wood, and their cooks suffer from excessive smoke inhalation when working with wet wood. To make matters worse, traditional foods like maize and beans require a lot of energy to cook.
Abuga’s stoves are fitted with sensors that warn cooks of any leakages, and display energy use and emission levels. The data will also be used to improve future versions of the stove. Abuga hopes to eventually install the stoves at 250,000 rural and peri-urban schools in Kenya, which currently use 240 million tonnes of firewood per year to cook meals.
Pull quote: “Solar Jiko can change the lives of rural school children, whose tuition money can now go towards their education instead of buying firewood for cooking.”
Innovator: Richard Arwa
Innovation: CIST Ethanol Fuel
CIST Ethanol Fuel is a clean cooking ethanol made from invasive water hyacinth. While ethanol is traditionally made by adding yeast to products like sorghum, barley and sugar cane, CIST Ethanol Fuel uses water hyacinth, a plant found in abundance in Lake Victoria.
Chemist and high school teacher Richard Arwa started producing ethanol with two high school students for a science and engineering fair. Later, another competition encouraged Arwa to commercialise the product, prompting him to scale his production significantly from the single litre he was able to produce at a time at the high school laboratory.
Unlike other materials used to produce ethanol, water hyacinth contains strong cellulose bonds. Arwa manufactured an enzyme which breaks these bonds through fermentation, which takes place once the hyacinth has been cleaned and shredded. Laboratory tests found that CIST Ethanol has a low sulphur content and releases minimal emissions when burnt, making it safe for cooking.
Kenyans living in rural areas and informal settlements mostly use firewood, kerosene and wick stoves to cook, all of which are costly, pose fire hazards, and have severe health and environmental implications. CIST Ethanol is nearly 40% cheaper than kerosene, and sold to entrepreneurs in refugee camps, where they resell it to make an income. Arwa has built his own equipment to separate and distil the ethanol after finding that commercially available equipment, which produces 2,000 litres of ethanol per day, is unaffordable. He plans to manufacture and sell the equipment to other small businesses.
Arwa is exploring ways of using the solid and gas by-products created by the process, to ensure that he runs a zero-waste operation.
Pull quote: “There is no need for our communities to risk their lives to cook, when there is a clean, safe and affordable alternative. Communities reliant on Lake Victoria for their livelihoods will also benefit from the removal of water hyacinth from the water.”
Innovator: Samuel Rigu
Innovation: Safi Organics
Safi Sarvi are locally produced, organic fertilisers made with agricultural wastes such as cassava peels and rice husks. Rigu and his team add a special liquid nutrient mix that is developed in Kenya and made from local ingredients and imported algae. Each mix is made custom for specific applications.
Rigu, an experienced agricultural business expert, has a long history with rice husks. He’s turned rice husks into bricks, mosquito coils and clean coal. This was before meeting local farmers who burnt their waste in small kilns traditionally used by the Chinese.
Rigu assembled a team of experts in chemistry, botany and engineering and developed a kiln using technology from MIT. They increased its size dramatically, and developed the process to turn discarded husks and other agricultural waste into a powerful base for organic fertilisers.
The residue from the kiln, which is ready within a few hours, provides potassium. The proprietary nutrient mix supplies phosphate, nitrogen and other micronutrients. Together, these chemicals make up fertiliser.
Rigu and his team originally tried to let farmers create their own fertilisers on site, but quality control became a complex issue that often resulted in ineffective fertiliser.
In the rice fields of Mwea, where the Safi Organics team are based, paddies stretch across the horizon to Mount Kenya. Safi (which means ‘clean’) buys waste materials from farmers and mills here and across the country to create a range of custom fertilisers. Safi makes fertilisers for planting (more phosphor), topping (more nitrogen) and a special acidic mix for tea plantations.
Pull quote: “Farmers have gone from using eight bags of fertiliser per acre to three when they use our product, increasing their crop yields at the same time. So we’re not only selling a great, environmentally sustainable fertiliser, we’re also educating Kenyan farmers about using them better every day.”
Innovator: Timothy Kayondo
Innovation: Eco Water Purifier
The Eco Water Purifier is a water filter made from animal bones, cassava peels, and other waste materials. Running off solar panels, the purifier is ideal for rural schools and clinics.
Kayondo, an industrial chemist graduate from Makerere University, examined how quickly the chlorine in Kampala’s public water supply decays between the reservoirs and residents’ taps. Chlorine, added to purify water, disappears by the time water flows into a home. This finding spurred the serial innovator on to devise a system that would ensure public facilities like schools and clinics would have clean drinking water.
Cattle bones, cassava peels and other waste, which he buys from farmers across the country, are cleaned, fired in a vacuum-sealed furnace, soaked in an acidic solution, washed in distilled water, and then crushed into activated carbon.
Water is brought to the purifier from tanks or surface water by a solar pump, run through a sand filter, then the carbon filter, and finally through a UV light (also run by the solar panels). The whole system fits into a portable box about the size of a large suitcase, easy to carry and secured against theft. An internal battery stores energy from the solar panel. The system can purify 300 litres of water an hour.
Kayondo and his team are also planning to develop software to monitor the system in order to maintain it.
Pull quote: “We wanted to create something that uses natural products – the methods we saw our parents use in rural areas growing up. Our system purifies 300 litres an hour, requires little maintenance, and can work for boreholes, rainwater or in shallow wells.”
Innovator: Tracy Kimathi
Innovation: Tree_Sea.mals Micro-grid
The Tree_Sea.mals Micro-grid is an off-grid solar power solution for remote communities in the semi-arid rangelands of Kenya. Powered by solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and distributed through a simple pay-as-you go model, it provides smallholder farmers and peri-urban communities with much-needed electricity.
Tree_Sea.mals – a reference to the ecosystems of trees, sea life and other animals – was established by Tracy Kimathi straight out of university. After completing an environmental science degree and interning at an energy company, the young graduate set her sights on developing products that harness the natural world to help people.
Today, her six-month-old pilot project stands in Meru, rural Kenya, where her parents and grandparents grew up. In the foothills of Mount Kenya, the equatorial region gets high levels of irradiation, and is ideal for solar PV. But connection to power grids is financially out of reach for the majority of Meru’s outlying village residents and other rural Africans. The Tree_Sea.mals Micro-grid is set to change that.
The weekly fee paid for her pilot mini-grid to power the home of a family of 12 is less than the family would pay to be connected to the national grid. The children have a reading room for the first time, cell phones used to run the farming business charge in the lounge, and lights extend the day in each room.
Kimathi’s next installation will incorporate a refrigeration system which can be rented out to the community for extra income, and help keep beef, milk, and even medicine, for longer.
Pull quote: “When I graduated, I got an internship at an energy company – something quite different to environmental science. I immediately fell in love with the idea of creating energy solutions that fit into the natural ecosystem, for the rural areas like the one my grandparents come from.”
Innovator: Victor Boyle-Komolafe
Innovation: Garbage In, Value Out (GIVO)
Garbage In, Value Out (GIVO) is a system which automates and digitises the collection, processing and sale of recyclable materials.
Chartered accountant Victor Boyle-Komolafe helped develop GIVO after he was inspired at a workshop, which discussed the waste problem in Nigeria. Fifteen billion units of PET plastic enter Nigeria annually, with less than 10% of them being recycled. The other 90% goes to landfill or into waterways.
GIVO is used by communities, governments or waste management entrepreneurs who want to host a waste collection centre in a particular area. Once registered as a GIVO collection point, waste collectors bring the plastic they have collected to that centre, where they have a profile on the GIVO app. The app tracks how much they have collected, what it’s worth, and when they last dropped off plastic.
Sorters divide the plastic by type and colour before the plastic bottles are weighed and fed into a shredder. Sensors record the weight of the plastic, avoiding human error, and send it to the GIVO app via Bluetooth. The waste collectors are paid according to the weight of plastic they brought in. The franchisee can sell the clean, processed and sorted plastic for seven times the amount they bought it for, and that plastic is then recycled into new products.
The GIVO platform tracks each stage of the recycling process. Buyers can see how much stock is available at each waste collection centre in the country, drivers can log the number of bags they are transporting, and payments can be made and tracked. Individuals and businesses can also use the app to request that their plastic waste be collected.
GIVO has a prototype in Nairobi, Kenya, but plans to run a pilot project in Nigeria at the end of 2019, before rolling the technology out to communities across Nigeria.
Pull quote: “GIVO aims to increase and organise recycling in Nigeria and other African countries, while creating job opportunities at the same time.”
Innovator: Dr William Wasswa
PapsAI is a series of software and hardware innovations that make cervical cancer screening, diagnosis and patient record management faster and more efficient.
Conventionally, pap-smear images are analysed manually, which is time consuming, error-prone and has to be done by a trained cytopathologist. Cervical cancer risk factor analysis is also not incorporated into this process, and the digital microscopes required are expensive, which means they are few and far between in low-income countries. Low cost microscopes are used, but then slides can’t be digitally stored for analysis.
Dr Wasswa, the head of Mbarara University’s biomedical engineering department at only 30 years old, developed a digital microscope slide scanner to quickly scan high-resolution cervical cell images from pap-smears. The youngest engineer to complete his doctorate at his university, Wasswa 3D-prints the parts for the device, which costs nearly a quarter of the price of commercial microscopes.
Not satisfied with merely speeding up the scanning of cells, Wasswa has also created an analysis tool for diagnosis and classification of the images. His system, which has been published in peer-reviewed academic journals, has had between 90 and 100% accuracy during testing.
Building on the knowledge base of doctors and experts, Wasswa went further to design software which automatically assesses the likelihood of a patient contracting cervical cancer given their risk factors, and a separate system for managing and archiving patients’ records using artificial intelligence.
The PapsAI system is currently being tested at a local hospital, and Wasswa hopes it will bridge the healthcare gap by providing relevant solutions at an affordable price.
Pull quote: “I watched so many cytopathologists spend hours on a single sample, scanning, analysing, cataloguing. All the while women wait for their diagnoses. I created PapsAI to bridge the gap between expensive equipment and manual methods, so that Ugandan women too can benefit from world-class medicine and science.”