Hull University Engineering Students win Engineers in Business People's Prize for Sustainable Alternative to Plastic

The Engineers in Business Competition, which inspires engineering students and graduates to develop life changing business innovations through university business competitions, culminated in the Champion of Champions Grand Final at the Royal Academy of Engineering on 28 October 2019. Ten teams that won their university heat of their innovation competitions reached the final where they competed for a share of £10,000 and mentoring to help them take their business idea forward.

Ten teams that won their university heat of their Dragons’ Den style competitions reached the Grand Final where they competed for a share of £10,000 and mentoring to help them take their business innovation to the next step.

A team of students from the University of Hull came up with a unique idea for replacing non-biodegradable plastics with an alternative made of from hemp plants.

Dom Butler (Mechanical Engineering), Heather Charlesworth (Medical and Mechanical Engineering) and Oyin Oladimeji (Chemical Engineering) developed the idea of Natural Fibre Plastics made from hemp plants, which would have superior environmental properties to plastic. Hemp-based plastics would be more sustainable and have hugely accelerated decomposition rates.  

Although the concept of hemp plastic would take considerable development to bring about, the public were impressed with by the idea, helping the Natural Fibre Plastics team to win the public vote – and the People’s Prize – in the Engineers in Business Competition.

The team demonstrated not only its engineering skill in developing the idea, but its marketing prowess by piggy-backing its hemp plastics idea to the current climate change demonstrations which raised awareness and earned them thousands of votes.  

The Natural Fibre Plastics team gained 3,517 votes, mainly via the Engineers in Business website which featured its competition video entry but also votes at the Grand Final.

Commenting at the Grand Final awards ceremony team leader Dom Butler said: “Because this award was voted for by people on the website as well as people at the presentation room it seems that the idea has caught on, so we went over the judges and straight to the people, so we are happy. The prize money will be split between me, Heather and Oyin and basically will keep us going during our degrees. We were one of the few teams still at university so the prize money will come in handy.”

David Falzani MBE, President of Engineers in Business Fellowship which runs the competition with universities throughout the UK, said: “Our contestants presented a diversity of high-quality innovations and it was an incredibly difficult decision to select the winners. The Natural Fibre Plastics team may have been pipped to the post by other finalists for the other awards, but they won the hearts and minds of the public for their ingenuity and passion to find a solution to the plastic crisis facing the world. 

“Our Engineers in Business competition promotes the importance and value of business education for engineers to enable them to create products and services that improve people’s lives, the environment and the economy.

“Research shows that introducing business education to young engineers and technologists makes them better engineers, makes them more employable, more effective in the workplace, and is better for the engineering profession and the UK economy. 


“We provide universities with funding for a dedicated engineers prize and this has resulted in a 25% uplift in the number of engineers taking part in business innovation competitions at the universities we sponsor. 

“The Champion of Champions Grand Final competitors have shown incredible imagination in the development of diverse ideas, from hemp plastics to a personal safety device that does not rely on the use of a mobile phone. We wish Dom, Heather and Oyin every success in their future engineering careers.”