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Student team win Global Prize for Innovation to tackle household pollution and climate change

Students standing in a line

Students from Strathclyde have beaten teams from around the world to win silver in the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge.

The Challenge, delivered by Efficiency for Access, with the support of Engineers Without Borders UK, invited entrants to design affordable and energy-efficient appliances and technologies for low to middle income countries.

The Strathclyde students, who have just completed their fifth year of an Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Masters course, designed an electric cooking device which could help reduce mortality rates linked to household air pollution. The ‘eCook for developing countries’ uses solar energy, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Open fires

In developing countries across the world, many people cook food on open fires using solid biomass fuels such as coal, charcoal, and wood. Cooking in this way can trigger health problems, significant environmental damage and socio-economic problems that stem from the collection and use of solid fuels. 

The design produced by Calum Watkins, Wei-Wen Tan, Iain Wright, James Thomson and Elliot Wilson relies on low power diode electric heating technology that allows users to monitor energy use, while its simple, robust construction and energy efficient insulated design is easy to maintain.

Team member Iain Wright said: "We are absolutely thrilled to win the silver award for our final year project, which tackled electric cooking for developing countries.

“It’s been both challenging and rewarding and this international competition helped us to learn so much about the worldwide energy access problem and the many innovative avenues being explored to solve it.”

Affordable model

The team also proposed an affordable financing model to make the product accessible for low-income users.  840 million people around the world live without access to electricity or appliances that enable them to earn a living or provide essential services including cooling, refrigeration and communications. To develop markets for these appliances and enhance clean energy access, products need to become even more efficient and affordable.  

International Environment Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith said: “Climate change is one of the biggest global threats we face, so it’s fantastic to see students from Glasgow helping us to achieve a greener future by finding innovative solutions to improve access to clean energy. This not only protects the environment, but also people’s health. 

“UK aid has already given 26 million people in the world’s poorest countries improved access to clean energy and we will continue to drive through such global change, including as hosts of COP26 next year.” 

The Challenge began in September 2019, with students submitting their projects in April 2020 and presenting their projects to a panel of expert judges on 17 and 19 June. Participating universities included Durham University, the Independent University of Bangladesh, Loughborough University, Makerere University, Strathmore University, Swansea University, University College London, the University of Bath and Strathclyde.  

A virtual Grand Final event allowed all of the winning teams to showcase their submissions to more than 150 leading academia, students and companies in the off-grid sector.