AsianScientist (March 8, 2022) – An all-female team from Batangas State University in the Philippines has won the top prize in the UNESCO World Engineering Day Hackathon. The event focused on designing solutions to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including clean water and sanitation. The winners were announced last week, March 4, 2022.
Created in 2020, World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development aims to raise awareness of the role of technical innovations in combating climate change and advancing the sustainable development agenda. As part of this year’s celebrations, UNESCO organized a global hackathon for young engineers to design creative solutions to the three SDG challenges.
These three challenges were the responsible and innovative use of materials and the reduction of non-biodegradable waste, bio-mimicry in engineering solutions and accessibility to water in a changing climate.
Out of 125 teams from 23 countries, the Filipino trio of Reaner Jacqueline Bool, Ghia Luwalhati and Nicole Elizabeth Tan won first place for their new solution to reduce water pollution. The team aptly named themselves the WONDERPETS, short for their project called “Oafter sanitationTO using a metal-organic structure DERfrom PET bottleS.”
Whether for beverages or cosmetics, commercial plastic bottles are usually made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) materials. Every year, around 14 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans around the world. Such rampant plastic pollution threatens marine ecosystems, food and water security, and human health. Plastic bottles also contribute to climate change when incinerated.
WONDERPETS’ invention turns PET bottles from water pollutants to water purifiers using crystalline materials called metal organo frames (MOFs). MOFs appear as repetitive cage-like structures formed of metal ions binding to organic molecules. This creates a highly porous material with a large internal surface area, making them excellent adsorbents.
By acting like sponges, adsorbent materials remove pollutants when put in water and can be reused over and over again. The team derived these MOFs from a component of PET bottles, which they designed to be water-soluble. Their process is safer and less expensive than conventional methods that use toxic organic solvents to synthesize MOFs.
Not only does the invention tackle plastic pollution, it also helps treat contaminated water, serving as a potentially sustainable way to provide clean and safe water.
Meanwhile, the finalist 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 provide clean water to Indigenous communities across Canada.
Including the winning entries, a total of nine finalist teams produced short videos showcasing their solutions to the three SDG challenges. These were created during a live streaming event hosted by UNESCO on March 4, 2022.
Source: UNESCO; Illustration: Lieu Yipei/Asian Scientist Magazine.
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