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Engineers Without Borders UK announce winners of Engineering for People Design Challenge

05 July 2021

Engineers Without Borders UK has announced Nottingham Trent University and the University of the West of England (UWE) are the UK and Ireland winners of the Engineering for People Design Challenge 2020/2021.

The 2020/21 Design Challenge focused on the neighbouring communities of Lobitos and Piedritas on the northern coast of Peru. Run in partnership with EcoSwell, a local charity established by surfers to support coastal communities to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, students were asked to consider significant challenges in regard to sustainable waste management, energy, food and water supply, digital communications and transport infrastructure. 

Beating tough competition from a total of 102 university teams, Nottingham Trent University impressed the judges and won the public vote with their concept, Caja Fria. Utilising domestically produced terracotta, it uses the natural cooling properties of the clay to help keep food cold without the need for electrical refrigeration. Shelving is encased within a hollow terracotta container. Water poured through a filter into the sides evaporates through the porous material, creating a cooling effect. An integrated tap provides access to cold drinking water. 

As well as a £500 educational bursary for the Peoples’ Prize Award, they receive a Grand Prize of a £2,000 educational bursary. 

Emma Crichton, Head of Engineering at Engineers Without Borders UK, said: "This project made excellent use of existing resources and community knowledge to deliver a deceptively simple yet incredibly effective design that could be easily implemented."

With their innovative design for biodigesters and oxidation ponds, the team from the University of the West of England (UWE) secured the runner-up spot. 

Using a combination of biodigesters and oxidation ponds, the team were able to devise a system that removed and treated waste to create clean drinking water. The resulting by-products could then be used for building materials and as liquid fertiliser to support farming and infrastructure.

Judges praised the team’s understanding of the need for low-maintenance solutions and the dual benefits of their design which addressed sanitation issues and access to materials to improve economic prospects. 

As runners-up, the team will receive a £500 educational bursary to share.

Andres Bustamante, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at EcoSwell, said: “COVID-19 has significant pressure on communities of Lobitos and Piedritas who were already struggling to access the economic benefits that the growing tourism industry offers through employment, investment and direct tourist spending. 

“Truly understanding this current context, the local culture and way of life, was key for designing viable and impactful solutions. I believe the students have more than risen to the occasion with theoretical designs that draw on the places themselves to deliver multiple benefits to both people and planet.”

Over 10,000 students have been involved in the 2020/2021 challenge internationally with the South African and USA competitions due to have their grand finals later in the year.

Now in its 11th year, the unique competition engages first and second-year university students to consider the social, economic and environmental impact of their engineering by inviting them to propose a solution that could be applied to a real-life problem affecting people on a global scale. 

To date, over 50,000 undergraduates have participated across South Africa, UK, Ireland and the USA. 

To see the full list of UK and Ireland entries, visit: 

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