Celebrating the Achievements of Young Engineers Around the World

Young engineers competition for advancing sustainable development attracts more than 400 entries worldwide

As part of the celebrations for World Engineering Day, the World Federation of Engineering Organisations’ Young Engineers/Future leaders Committee collaborated with Engineering Futures, a global group of young engineers, to run a competition for early-career engineers from around the world. The goal of the competition was to highlight the work of young engineers and their engineering achievements in advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Young engineers, aged under 35 years on 31 December 2020, were invited to submit proposals and to present their ideas and perspectives on one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals take an integrated approach to future development, combining progress in economic prosperity, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. The implementation of these goals is a key objective of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations and is central to the celebrations of the first UNESCO World Engineering Day.

The projects were judged on the impact of the project on achieving one or more of the targets underlying the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the leadership and contribution of the author, and the level of innovation in addressing the underlying problem.

More than 400 young engineers from more than 70 countries, including some from the leading engineering universities of the world, showcased their projects to advance sustainable development through engineering as part of this competition aligned with UNESCO World Engineering Day.

Our thanks to all young engineers participated in this competition, their work for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals are highly appreciated. Our thanks also to the students, researchers and faculty members at Imperial College London and Nankai University, Tianjin, and Young Engineers Group, Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) UK, representatives of Young Engineers Europe and the WFEO Young Engineers/Future Leaders Committee, who contributed significant hours as volunteers to develop this project and bring it to fruition.

Thanks also to the judging team and academics who gave valuable advice during the process. Projects were judged for the impact of the project on achieving one or more of the targets underlying the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the role of the Project Lead, the level of innovation in addressing the underlying problem and how a solution has been developed. The background of applicants was hidden from judges during this process.

The winning entry and entries that were judged as highly commended are listed below. Highly commended entries are listed in alphabetical order of the author/project lead. Project information is a summary of information that has been provided by the project lead and is being verified. In keeping with the goals of the competition, commercial promotion has been avoided and references to companies, trade names and commercial products have been avoided.

Due to COVID-19 and the declaration of the global pandemic, international events hosted by the World Federation of Engineering Organizations, UNESCO and the UN have been cancelled or postponed until further notice. Project leads will be contacted if there are opportunities to present their work at future events.


Overall Winner

Project lead: Aida Rafat, Imperial College London UK

SDG 12: Reducing textile waste and reducing pollution from textile dyeing technologies.

This project is the result of research that solves two grand challenges in the textile industry: textile waste and polluting conventional dyeing technologies. This has been achieved by an innovative technology that enables the reuse and recycle of dyes from textile waste. The technology aims to divert the textile waste from landfill while also eliminating the use of virgin dyes derived from petrochemicals and instead uses textile waste as source of dyes. Decontaminated de-coloured textile fibres can also be recycled to produce new fibres via the fibre-to-fibre recycling technologies. The technology has potential to change the way fabrics are dyed and coloured in the future.

Ms. Aida Rafat in her laboratory at Imperial College, London.


Highly Commended Entries

Project lead: Ayusha Abbas, Newcastle University, Newcastle, UK

SDG 3: Reducing maternal mortality with a low cost ultrasound imaging system

This project comprises the development of a low cost ultrasound imaging device which uses a single piezoelectric element transducer. This design greatly reduces the hardware complexity, power consumption and beamforming computational load compared to conventional devices, lowering its cost. Various estimation techniques have been used to compensate for the constraints of the simple design. Initial experiments have shown promising results for clinical diagnostics, but further work is needed to optimise this algorithm. The design has the potential to deliver affordable technology to detect maternal risk factors and improve the rates of maternal mortality, especially in developing countries.


Project lead: Oscar Calderon Agudo, Imperial College London, UK

SDG 3: Better health outcomes with low cost brain imaging technologies

This project has demonstrated that the combination of low-energy low-frequency ultrasound and imaging algorithms used to image the earth subsurface can provide high-resolution brain images. This is leading to the development of a new ultrasound device for brain imaging that will be safe, portable, remotely accessible and affordable. The technology has the potential of improving the health of millions of people with a new and powerful brain imaging tool that can be deployed worldwide at a much lower cost than traditional imaging equipment.


Project lead: Samuel Alexander, Deakin University, Geelong, Australia

SDG 4: Making Education in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) more accessible

The project lead has developed a learning platform to help students understand computational thinking and create STEM projects in the simplest way possible. To date, toolkits are available to build a programmable device and a desktop PC. The project has been tested in schools in Indonesia to provide low cost products to design a “creative computing” curriculum and provide extracurricular lessons. It has worked with various non-profit organizations to introduce underprivileged children to STEM. The project has attracted boys and girls equally.


Project Lead: Paola Alejandra Saenz Cavazos, Imperial College London, UK

SDG 9: Development of new materials for adsorption of pollutants, waste treatment and carbon capture

This project involves the development of new adsorbent materials with innovative structures for environmental remediation solutions such as water treatment, removal of organics from waste gas, adsorption of gaseous radionuclides from nuclear power plants, and carbon capture. The project involves fast and accurate material characterization to assess adsorbent performance and their specific capabilities for different applications. The new materials have the potential to reduce emissions from industry sectors such as cement, chemicals, iron and steel, treat drinking water, groundwater and wastewater and reduce air pollution by capturing volatile organic compounds.


Project Lead: Chingakham Chinglenthoiba, National Institute of Technology, Calicut, India

SDG 6: Promoting access to clean water through the development of polymeric membranes to remove pollutants from water.

This project comprises the development of a water purification system using a super-oleophilic and anti-bacterial nonwoven nanofibrous nanocomposite membrane. The membranes can selectively separate different oils in oil-water mixtures as well as bacteria found in polluted waters. The current nanofibrous system can be a good candidate for multi-functional oil-water separation as well as an anti-bacterial water filtering membrane.


Project Lead: Emmanuella Ekpoki, Covenant University, Lamingo, Nigeria

SDG 3: Development of a device to detect cardiac symptoms

The project consists of the development of a portable device that indicates the type of emergency treatment needed for patients with symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest or with cardiovascular ailments and who are unresponsive and not breathing. It also provides post-resuscitation instructions if the victim is breathing and acquires and detects the Electro-Cardiogram rhythm. It also automatically records and stores rescue data. It can be used to check irregular cardiac rhythm or symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). An e-health platform is being developed to enable data sharing between hospitals, and radiology units and has the potential to provide the right treatment and outcomes for patients.


Project lead: Ubong Akpan Essien, Federal University of Technology Minna, Nigeria

SDG 12: Development of composite wood from flamboyant tree seeds and polystyrene wastes

The project comprises the development of a wood-polymer composite (poly-wood) and composite ceiling board from flamboyant tree seeds shell and a resin developed from polystyrene wastes. The seeds are currently agro-wastes. The dry seeds shells are crushed to a particle size of 250 μm, mixed with the developed resin moulded and cured. Unlike other composites and usual timber products, the composites had uniform properties in all directions to a large extent. They are potentially a viable alternative to timber and are a possible solution to deforestation.


Project Lead: Sebastian Horstmann, University of Cambridge UK

SDG 11: Promoting sustainable cities and reducing air pollution through citizen monitoring of air quality

The project has developed a low-cost open-source sensor platform that measures particulate matter and carbon dioxide, geotags the data and transmits it wirelessly. The project helps citizens to build their own affordable sensing kits, mount the mobile sensors on their bikes and measure their air pollution exposure during commutes. With the gathered data, the platform generates street-by-street air quality maps. This potentially enables evidence-based decisions on sustainable cities and urban planning. Pilot studies have been run in Buenos Aires and Nairobi, supported by the UKCAN foundation and funding from the EPSRC and GCRF in the UK.


Project lead: Svetlana Jaghatspanyan, Hi-Tech Gateway LLC, Armenia

SDG 15: Protecting forests through sensor monitoring of forest fires and illegal logging

This project involves the development of a smart IoT sensor monitoring system for forests to detect illegal logging and wildfire. The device monitors and sends emergency signals showing clear coordinates on a map. It is very energy efficient and can work up to 6 years with the same batteries. A 6-month test pilot has been completed in Armenia and an industrial prototype is being developed for mass production. The organisation plans to implement the technology in Armenia and Indonesia.


Project Lead: Ahmad Najjaran Kheirabadi, Imperial College London, UK

SDG 7: Use of Diffusion Absorption Refrigeration (DAR) technology for low cost, energy efficient cooling

Diffusion absorption refrigeration (DAR) technology is a sorption-based cooling technology that can be driven purely by thermal energy, without any need for electrical or mechanical energy input. It has low noise levels, no moving parts, low construction and maintenance costs, and long operational life. However, DAR systems are typically less efficient than other cooling technologies. This project has developed an alternative working fluid that can enable DAR technology to operate more efficiently and at lower temperatures and which could be used in poor rural areas. Further research and investment is needed to develop this technology.


Project Lead: Shagun Maheshwari, Mojo Vision, Stanford USA

SDG 12: Promoting the Responsible use of resources through development of bio-degradable sanitary products using Chitosan

This project comprises the design and development of feminine hygiene sanitary products utilizing a biodegradable Chitosan-based hydrogel embedded in an organic absorbent carrier matrix and a liner made of compostable bioplastics. Engineering a method to incorporate Chitosan into this matrix, while being soft on the skin, has been the challenge. Chitosan is derived from a waste by-product of the shellfish industry (Chitin), making it available in industrial volumes. It helps coagulate blood, is antibacterial and non-toxic in nature. A prototype is being developed with the Myna Mahila Foundation in India which is undergoing limited user testing.


Project Lead: Emma Mamisoa Nomena, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

SDG 12: Development of bio-degradable plastics using plant based materials

The project is the development of plant based plastic packaging material using, soya bean oil, cellulose extracted from citrus peels, a waste product, and curcumin. The ingredients are homogenized under pressure and oven dried to form a film. The resulting material is flexible, translucent, and thermally stable up to 300°C. The flexibility can be adjusted by the proportion of oil used. Films with higher oil concentrations are more flexible. Curcumin enables antioxidant and anti-microbial properties. The films can be recovered and refabricated. The product has the potential to be used as a packaging material in the food and pharmaceutical industries.


Project Lead: Francesca O’Hanlon, University of Cambridge UK

SDG 6: Providing access to clean water through the development of a low cost chlorination system to treat drinking water supplies in Uganda

This project involves the design a chlorine injector which requires no electricity or moving parts to function. It inserts the correct amount of chlorine into a clear water supply in order to make it safe to drink in accordance with the World Health Organisation guidelines. The product is ideally suited for rainwater harvesting systems, or municipal water supply taps to kill bacteria and viruses. Local plumbers are trained to fully, and safely dose water with the right amount of chlorine into the water supply, so people can be confident that the water they are drinking is safe. The project has partnered with a team of 25 plumbers in Mbarara Uganda to carry out pilot studies.


Project Lead: Alphonce Ayado Owayo, NTUST, Chinese Taipei

SDG 12: Replacement of conventional sand with waste foundry sand in construction concrete

This project replaces sand with waste foundry sand from steel works in building concrete. The concrete made from waste foundry sand was found to perform well I laboratory cube crushing test, slump test and split tensile test. Concrete made from waste foundry sand indicated lower susceptibility to sulphate attack, which is a major advantage for constructions in salty environments. This technology potentially contributes significantly to sustainable construction by reducing environmental degradation through the mining of natural sands and emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a process associated with waste foundry sand processing.


Project Lead: Robert Edwin Rouse, University of Cambridge UK

SDG 7: Generation of renewable energy from wave power

The project comprises the development of a marine turbine with biomimetic origins, generates energy from wave power whilst filtering out synthetic waste from the oceans. The turbine, has multiple features that work together to maximise the efficiency of power generation and pollution filtration. Through laboratory testing and iterative design, it is able to adjust to the direction of tidal flows and generate electricity in all directions. The technology can be deployed globally, taking advantage of any viable tidal and wave energy source. It has the potential to tap into the power of the oceans whilst restoring the marine environment.


Project Lead: Mai Kim Tran, Rice University, Houston, USA

SDG 12: Development of technology to recycling Li-ion batteries

This project comprises the use of environmentally friendly solvents, notably deep eutectic solvents composed of nontoxic, biodegradable compounds like chicken feed additive choline chloride and ethylene glycol, to extract valuable elements from spent batteries so that they can be recycled. It has the potential for thousands of metric tons of recycled material to be added back into the supply chain, thus addressing the growing electronic waste problem. Multiple elements can be dissolved in these solvents, recovered and converted to create new Li-ion batteries for new vehicles.