An app that detects disease in crops and a tool that uses fish scales to retrieve heavy metals from wastewater are just two of the bright ideas from this year’s Children’s Climate Prize finalists.
Young people aged 12 to 17 submitted their environment and climate solutions to the Children’s Climate Foundation competition, founded by Swedish renewable energy supplier Telge Energi.
Last year the 100,000 SEK (€9,360) prize went to 15-year-old Reshma Kosaraju from California for her “innovative and savvy” use of AI to fend off forest fires.
2022’s entrepreneurial finalists hail from the US, India and Pakistan, whittled down from a list of nominees from every continent and over 30 different countries.
“This year’s finalists are truly talented people in their own fields and in their own ways,” says jury member Vinisha Umashankar, who took the 2020 prize with her solar powered ironing cart invention, aimed at improving India’s air quality.
“These kids can do anything and so can we,” adds Stella Axelsson, president of The Swedish Federation of Young Scientists. “I think the more people that realise this, the more change we’re going to accomplish.”
Read on if you’re ready to feel inspired by the shiniest ideas from the next generation.
Jacqueline Prawira, 17, from Mountain House, USA: Extracting toxic metals from wastewater
Water pollution is one of the biggest problems contributing to water scarcity.
As industrialisation has spread so has heavy metal pollution, and most wastewater treatment plants lack the procedures or legal protocols to stop it. Toxic concentrations are being released into the environment that persist for generations and bioaccumulate in the food chain.
That’s where Jacqueline’s Cyclo.Cloud comes in: a fish scale waste formula that can absorb up to 82 per cent of heavy metals from contaminated wastewater, making it drinkable again.
“Cyclo.Cloud is a fantastic example of a systemised approach where Jacqueline has created a circular economy that addresses several global challenges linked to the climate and environment,” the jury said.
“By transforming fish scale waste into a biosorbent material, she has created an easy-to-use solution that is applicable to many,” which means “the potential to make a difference on a global level is great.”
Sparsh, 17, from Patna, India: Converting thermal energy from the sun into electrical energy
The need for green, clean energy couldn’t be clearer after a devastating summer of climate-driven wildfires, droughts and floods.
Solar energy breakthroughs are coming thick and fast from scientists, but 17-year-old Sparsh has spotted a niche with his Thermal Floater. The device efficiently converts thermal energy from the sun into electric energy, and can be easily installed on any inland or stagnant bodies of water.
The module is just 15 cm by 15 cm and can be connected to several units to generate even more energy. In an array of modules, the system can generate electricity up to 10 kWh per day; three times more efficient than a typical solar panel of the same size.
Aside from generating energy, the floaters have the added environmental benefits of reducing evaporation (thereby increasing water availability for other uses), and reducing algal bloom in freshwater.
“Ongoing discussions on renewable energy sources, soaring energy prices and growing electricity demand makes Sparsh’s innovation much needed,” the jury said. “The whole idea of a floating device is great and innovative, making use of water surfaces, such as dam reservoirs, wastewater treatment ponds or drinking water reservoirs and thus reducing pressure on land resources.”
Samyak Shrimali, 17, from Portland, US: An app to identify crop disease and treatment
Crop diseases are a major threat to human food security. Around the world, substantial amounts of agricultural yield is lost due to pests, pathogens and other bacteria, a situation worsened by our over-reliance on just a handful of crops.
Identifying a disease correctly is the first step for effective treatment but remains difficult in many countries due to limited access to agricultural experts and professional infrastructure.
PlantifyAI is a mobile app that utilises deep-learning AI algorithms to efficiently and accurately detect crop diseases in plants. When detected, the app also provides treatment steps, common symptoms, and access to recommended curing products.
The jury praised Samyak’s systemised approach of “detect – prevent – cure” and its potential application to diverse local environments. The free, easy to use and widely accessible tool can be placed directly into the hands of the farmers who need it most.
Eiman Jawwad, 17, from Lahore, Pakistan: Reusing tea and coffee as organic fertiliser
“Sometimes simplicity is key,” the jury said in selecting Eiman’s idea. Like many European countries, Pakistan is a keen consumer of tea and coffee, meaning there’s tons of used leaves and grounds going to waste.
Meanwhile, chemical fertilisers are causing havoc with the environment, disrupting the balance of soil and pumping up algae in waterways.
Marrying two problems and finding a solution, she has started a movement in Pakistan where the highly potent tea leaves and coffee grounds are collected and redistributed to local nurseries – also helping to reduce their costs.
With the community she’s generated, Eiman has been able to collect more than 5 tons of organic fertilisers over three years, which has facilitated the growth of thousands of plants in the local nurseries and parks – also helping to reduce growers’ costs.
The 17-year-old has also visited over 20 different high schools to educate and engage the students.
Akhila Ram, 17, from Lexington, US: Monitoring groundwater with machine learning
Akhila also seeks to tackle water scarcity – by burrowing into the problem of depleting groundwater.
Timely, up-to-date groundwater management is crucial for maintaining the world’s water resources, but current monitoring and data networks are not able to provide sufficient or easily accessible information.
The young innovator has developed a machine learning model that uses satellite data to predict detailed changes in groundwater with high accuracy for the United States. A groundwater monitoring dashboard utilises the model predictions to provide an accessible way for everyone to be aware of groundwater trends.
With these precise measurements, local officials are equipped with the tools needed to preserve their region’s resources, eliminating excess groundwater depletion.
“Groundwater monitoring is normally very costly, so Akhila’s solution could create completely new possibilities for planning and monitoring groundwater,” the jury said.
The Children’s Climate Prize winner will be announced in November 2022, and granted almost €10,000 to develop their project.