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University of Exeter Students Win Award for Project that Brings Sustainable Biofuel to Remote Communities in Africa

A team of multi-disciplinary students from the University of Exeter has been awarded runner-up prize in the Big Ideas category of the Engineers in Business Champion of Champions Competition. Team BioSmart from the University of Exeter comprises Zain Shaikh (BA Geography), Izzy Zillig (BSc Economics), Harriet Needham (BA International Relations) and Hannah Clift (BSc Engineering).

The team won £1,500 and CV packages from Purple CV for its brainchild, BioSmart. BioSmart is an initiative that creates and commercialises Biochar, a cleaner alternative to charcoal, on the African continent. The team designed furnaces that can burn organic agricultural waste under pyrolysis in order to produce biochar locally, giving communities full autonomy of the creation and profit of the valuable resource. 

Izzy Zillig explained one of the key drivers behind the initiative: “The original needs assessment of Kadzinuni in Kenya showed that women and children were walking for up to three hours every other day to collect illegal wood charcoal from a distant market or resorted to illegally chopping down trees themselves for fuelwood. This initiative saves women from having to make such an arduous journey, as well as providing them with a critical additional income. This income is particularly important as it allows the woman to buy their children clothes and provide them with education.”

Commenting on their success at the Champion of Champions Final, Izzy said: “We're absolutely delighted to have won this prize money from the Engineering in Business Competition. As a team, we are really excited to use it to help scale the project and continue our progress. This money will be used to invest in new technology that will help us increase the amount of biochar we are able to make. Thanks again to everyone involved in this competition for helping us to keep doing good work!”

The Engineers in Business Competition, which awarded the prize, is unique - it provides prize funds that are integrated into each partner university’s existing offering. The undergraduates and postgraduates who take part and win a prize in their university competitions can then enter the EIBC Champion of Champions Final for a chance to win further seed funding.

The EIBC prize fund is provided by Engineers in Business Fellowship whose patron is Lord Sainsbury of Turville. EIBF’s President, David Falzani MBE, explained the rationale for awarding universities £700,000 over four years for business ideas competitions: “Research tells us that introducing business education to young engineers and technologists makes them better engineers, makes them more employable, more effective in the workplace and it is better for the UK economy. These exceptional young engineers and technologists who are engaging with business innovation are developing concepts while in education and many go on to develop real businesses that tackle problems in society. They are bringing new technologies to people and will create jobs. We are delighted for the BioSmart Team and look forward to seeing how their project develops.”