AsianScientist (Mar. 8, 2022) – An all-women team from Batangas State University in the Philippines has garnered the top prize at UNESCO’s World Engineering Day hackathon. The event focused on designing solutions to tackle the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including Clean Water and Sanitation. The winners were announced last week on March 4, 2022.
Established in 2020, the World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development aims to raise awareness about the role of engineering innovations to address climate change and advance the sustainable development agenda. As part of this year’s celebrations, UNESCO hosted a global hackathon for young engineers to devise creative solutions to the three SDG challenges.
These three challenges were—responsible and innovative use of materials and reduction of non-biodegradable waste, bio-mimicry in engineering solutions, and water accessibility in a changing climate.
Out of 125 teams from 23 countries, the Filipina trio of Reaner Jacqueline Bool, Ghia Luwalhati and Nicole Elizabeth Tan won first place for their novel solution to reduce water pollution. The team aptly named themselves the WONDERPETS, short for their project called “Water remediatiON using metal-organic framework DERived from PET bottleS.”
Whether beverages or cosmetic products, commercial plastic bottles are typically made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) materials. Each year, around 14 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans, globally. Such rampant plastic pollution threatens marine ecosystems, food and water safety, and human health. Plastic bottles also contribute to climate change when incinerated.
The WONDERPETS’ invention transforms PET bottles from water pollutant to water purifier by using crystalline materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). MOFs appear as repeating, cage-like structures formed from metal ions linking up with organic molecules. That creates a highly porous material with a large internal surface area, making for excellent adsorbents.
By acting like sponges, the adsorbent materials remove pollutants when put in water and they can be used over and over again. The team derived these MOFs from a component of PET bottles, which they engineered to be water-soluble. Their process is safer and costs less than conventional methods that use toxic organic solvents to synthesize MOFs.
Not only does the invention address plastic pollution but it also helps treat contaminated water, serving as a potentially sustainable way to deliver clean and safe water.
Meanwhile, the runner-up team consisted of Ammar Zavahir, Patrick Jilek-Rodriguez and Wilson Holland from the University of British Columbia Okanagan. They developed a mobile rainwater harvesting system to supply clean water to indigenous communities in Canada.
Including the winning entries, nine finalist teams in total produced short videos showcasing their solutions to the three SDG challenges. These were premiered during a UNESCO-hosted live streaming event on March 4, 2022.
Source: UNESCO; Illustration: Lieu Yipei/Asian Scientist Magazine.
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