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Insulation made from clothing off-cuts, mushroom-derived construction material, a robotic farming system and an AI-powered recycling bin, are among ten finalists for New Zealand’s official environmental innovation competition. 

The C-Prize challenge run by Callaghan Innovation, New Zealand’s innovation agency, is about finding and creating thriving businesses out of new technologies that tackle complex global problems with creativity and inventiveness. The three key focus areas were: cleaning up our waterways, reducing or reversing human impacts on climate and smarter use of finite resources.

“New Zealand has potential to lead the world in eco innovation, and benefit from businesses solving tough environmental challenges. We have the passion and serious technical expertise. But we struggle to get our ideas out of the lab or garage, and turn them into commercial realities,” says Vic Crone, Callaghan Innovation’s CEO.

“We set a big, bold challenge with C-Prize this year – one that could be the most important challenge of our time. We asked people from across the country to put forward innovative tech solutions with the power to improve environmental outcomes on a global scale.”

The finalists announced today, from Christchurch to Auckland, will receive $10,000 to support their project alongside valuable business mentoring over the next six months. A grand prize winner will be announced in June, receiving $100,000 cash plus Callaghan Innovation services, support and connections to help the winner progress their concept through to commercialisation.

Callaghan Innovation’s Richard Quin, who is managing the C-Prize competition, says the experienced judging panel had an incredibly tough job of selecting just 10 finalists from 140 diverse entries across the country. 

“We wanted to see plans that applied technology in new ways and showed bold and original thinking. Our 10 finalists were especially promising with their research and plans to address significant environmental threats,” says Mr Quin.

“It’s not about winning a prize, it’s about creating strong business foundations to catapult their ideas into local and then global markets. So they have a huge journey ahead of them.” 

The 10 finalist teams will take part in a series of intense commercialisation bootcamps starting in February 2020, to give them mentoring and practical R&D support as they progress their concepts to prototypes. The overall C-Prize winner will be named in June 2020.

C-Prize Environmental Innovation Finalists:

BioFab NZ, Auckland

Traditional packaging and building materials use toxic materials, releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide during manufacturing and making up over 30% of global landfill waste. BioFab is creating packaging and building materials out of New Zealand-grown mushroom mycelium and wood chip (with hemp hurd feedstock). The biomaterial can be as light as polystyrene or as rigid and strong as plywood.

Compost Made Smart, Auckland

Over a third of waste going to landfill is compostable. This organic waste is not only unnecessarily transported and processed using energy but also creates land, air and water pollution including rotting organic matter releasing greenhouse gas (methane). Compost Made Smart makes it easier for people to responsibly dispose of their organic waste with a compost sensing device linked to an App with convenient, simple directions.

EcoTex, Christchurch

Worldwide only 3% of textile waste is recycled responsibly and 15% of all textile waste comes from textile offcuts produced and discarded during the manufacturing process. Similarly, construction and demolition waste is responsible for approximately 50% of landfill material in New Zealand. EcoTex’s LessCut innovation is looking to create a circular economy in the industry by turning textile off cut waste into warm homes. Its patentable process will repurpose synthetic fibres into insulation materials.

Ngā Kaitiaki, South Auckland

The new types of complex environmental problems we face require a deeper understanding and a new approach to education. Ngā Kaitiaki see an opportunity for local people to become citizen scientists, restoring local ecosystems and monitoring environmental changes within their community. Their mobile Ahi Kā Rangers game enables users to move through their natural environments and earn rewards for the actions they take in improving their ecosystems.

OneBin, Hamilton

New Zealand alone sends 2.5 million tonnes of waste to landfill every year but a quarter of this landfill is actually recyclable material. OneBin is a smart waste bin that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and sensor fusion technology to automatically separate all categories of recyclables from waste. It can be easily installed in various locations such as kerbsides, shopping malls, airports, and office spaces.

Pamu Moana, Tauranga

Pamu Moana is farming protein from the sea as an alternative to land farmed protein that is often putting strain on our constrained ecosystem. It aims to both replenish and farm native clam species exclusive to New Zealand shores through aquaculture. The team has developed a special form of farming tailored to the bivalve surf clams, with a farming platform that can be set up both at sea and inland.

Radius Robotics, Christchurch

Soil, and its critical ability to store carbon, is being depleted faster now than at any other point in history, presenting a significant risk to global food security and compounding the threat of climate change. Many tools and processes that growers use are expensive and often damaging, accelerating soil depletion. Radius Robotics is building a robotic polyculture farming system with machine learning software that will automate most grower tasks. This will eliminate harmful chemical use, regenerate soil, maximise carbon capture and diversify yields.

SES, Auckland

There is significant potential to reduce our energy use and environmental impact when it comes to heating and cooling spaces. The building sector in particular is responsible for about half of the world’s energy consumption. Smart Energy Storage (SES) is a system that absorbs natural cool or warm energy from the environment, stores it, and releases it when needed.

Wired Energy, Auckland

Changes in the way we consume energy at home on mass can have a material impact on the environment. Wired Energy is accelerating residential carbon reduction by designing a smart, hardware enabled system at a price-point that will ensure accelerated residential uptake.

Zincovery, Christchurch

Zincovery is out to tackle the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of zinc and acid released into landfill and wastewater every year through the steel galvanising process. With its demonstration plant it aims to recycle the industry’s spent acid and zinc for reuse within the galvanizing industry. The aim is to offer the service at a cost less than what these businesses pay to dispose of it.

Photo: Judge Sean Molloy at the announcement.

Glenn Baker

Professional writer/editor with 35-plus years experience - including radio copywriting, various television writing/production roles, and writing for business magazines. I have also co-owned a wholesale food distribution business.


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