How the winners of the latest Earthshot Prize will scale environmental solutions

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Ewan Thomson, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • The Earthshot Prize is an annual competition that looks for solutions to help repair our planet.
  • Winners receive £1 million ($1.2m) of prize money, as well as access to a global network of support to scale up their environmental solutions.
  • Here are the 5 winners and 15 finalists, and this is what they’re doing to tackle climate change.

Whether it’s using seaweed as an alternative to plastic, providing cleaner burning stoves, or turning CO2 into rock, human ingenuity is providing practical solutions to help the world reach net-zero emissions.

And five winners of the annual Earthshot prize – now in its second year – just received £1 million ($1.2m) of prize money, as well as access to a global network of support to scale up their environmental solutions.

Earthshot Prize: winners and top finalists

Here are the five winners and all 15 finalists – grouped into the five Earthshot categories pictured below – and this is what they’re doing to tackle climate change.

1. Protect and restore nature

Winner

In India, Kheyti, designers of the ‘greenhouse-in-a-box’, have already seen the results of their innovative greenhouse. Plants require 90% less water than those outdoors and use fewer pesticides, too, while yields are reported to be seven times higher.

Finalists

Global food security is dependent on fertile land, but climate change is turning more land into unusable desert. The Desert Agricultural Transformation programme in China is hoping to reverse the desertification process by using a technique called ‘soilization’. A water-based paste is mixed with sand, which gives it similar properties to soil, allowing plants to grow. As crops grow and roots decay, the ‘soilized’ sand becomes self-sustaining.

In Malaysian Borneo, human activities have led to the breaking up of the Kinabatangan forest into multiple smaller areas, which has effectively trapped wildlife in isolated pockets.

Hutan is a wildlife research, education and conservation organization – its research revealed that the wildlife could survive in future if allowed to travel freely through specially made corridors, mitigating the impact of the massive deforestation.

2. Clean our air

Winner

In Africa, 700 million people use cookstoves that burn firewood or charcoal, which are harmful both to humans and the environment. Rather than burning solid fuels, Charlot Magayi has created Mukuru Clean Stoves, which use processed biomass made from charcoal, wood and sugarcane, reducing pollution by 70% compared with a traditional cookstove. They also cost less to buy than traditional cookstoves and less to use.

Finalists

A 2017 research project at Sweden’s Linköping University has led to Roam, an electric motorbike and bus company designed for the African market. The aim is to make electric transport more accessible to a broader market, by keeping costs low and reliability high. Roam estimates that drivers can cut costs by 75%, as well as reduce emissions by replacing the ubiquitous and polluting motorcycle taxis that dominate parts of East Africa.

Construction sites often use noisy and polluting power derived from fossil fuel engines as a source of electricity. But AMPD Energy – which features on the World Economic Forum’s Uplink open innovation platform that connects investors and experts with entrepreneurs – have devised an alternative. The Enertainer is an electric battery energy storage system designed for construction sites that eliminates harmful pollution. It can power any type of electrical equipment with its lithium-ion batteries, and can reduce running costs by 85%, as well as make construction cities safer and quieter for workers and surrounding communities.

3. Build a waste-free world

Winner

Just 9% of all the plastic ever produced has been recycled. The rest is incinerated, lies in landfill, or is dumped into the sea. UK-based company Notpla has launched an alternative to plastic derived from seaweed that has an array of uses: from a bubble to hold liquids, to food containers and even paper. Seaweed – which grows up to a metre a day – does not require fresh water or fertilizer and is carbon negative

Finalists

The city of Amsterdam is the first city to commit to becoming a circular economy – whereby people re-use materials to avoid waste.

In a circular economy, the value of raw materials is retained for as long as possible, by reusing and recycling again and again. The initiative should cut emissions, create jobs and foster an environment of “solidarity between the people”, according to the city of Amsterdam.

India throws over 1,000 tonnes of flowers into the river Ganges every day; because they are used for rituals, they are considered sacred, so cannot be thrown into the trash. Many contain toxic chemicals from pesticides and insecticides, contributing to the Ganges being one of the most polluted rivers in the world.

Phool collects floral waste so that it does not go into the Ganges. Currently, Phool uses the floral waste to create incense sticks. But in the process of making incense, a mat-like substance began to form over the unused fibres on the factory floor. This bio-leather, known as Fleather, could become an alternative to animal leathers.

4. Revive our oceans

Winner

The Queensland Indigenous Womens Ranger Network was established in 2018 to provide a forum for women rangers to share experiences, ideas and information. The rangers are using their knowledge to repair fragile ecosystems, from bushfires to the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, and the project could be a template for other indigenous communities around the world.

Finalists

Over 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year, and it is difficult to remove. The Great Bubble Barrier offers a new way to stop plastic from reaching the ocean. Air is pumped through a perforated tube placed on riverbeds, and the bubbles push up plastic to the surface into a collection system, without getting in the way of boats or wildlife. The initiative is already being used in the Netherlands and catches around 86% of plastic waste.

SeaForester is a Portugal-based company that offers mobile seaweed nurseries to coastal communities across the world. Half the world’s kelp forests have gone in the past 50 years. By taking seaweed spores and seeding them onto stones that are dropped into the ocean, seaweed forests can gradually return, providing an environment for marine life to thrive while absorbing CO2.

5. Fix our climate

Earthshot Prize seeks out innovators to help tackle the climate crisis.

Earthshot Prize seeks out innovators to help tackle the climate crisis. Image: Earthshot Prize

Winner

Capturing CO2 is a vital part of reaching net-zero emissions. While carbon capture storage requires long-term monitoring, Oman-based project 44.01 is using a natural process to ‘mineralize’ CO2 in peridotite, a type of rock found across several continents.

Peridotite mineralization occurs naturally over time, but 44.01 accelerates the process by pumping carbonated water into deep underground seams, turning CO2 into a solid mineral that cannot escape.

Finalists

US firm LanzaTech uses gas fermentation technology to trap pollution and turn it into something useful, such as sustainable fuels, packaging, cosmetics and textiles.

Instead of using fossil fuels from the ground, LanzaTech transforms CO2 and agricultural, industrial and municipal waste to make products. Companies are already using the technology, and have diverted 190,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions into products so far.

UK-based Low Carbon Materials (LCM) is focused on reducing emissions from the highly polluting cement industry. Demand for cement continues to rise, and LCM has devised a carbon-negative alternative – called OSTO – to one of the main ingredients of concrete.

OSTO is made from waste materials and by-products, and as well as being carbon negative, is lighter and thermally insulating too.

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