The 2018 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation shortlist was announced in Cape Town, South Africa in November 2017. The shortlist includes engineers working to make malaria and reproductive health tests easier, using dolphin-inspired echo-location for visually impaired people, and recovering precious metals from car parts for re-use in manufacturing. The group also includes agricultural innovators and process engineers, as well entrepreneurs developing educational solutions and digital apps.
The Africa Prize encourages ambitious and talented sub-Saharan African engineers from all disciplines to apply their skills to develop scalable solutions to local challenges, highlighting the importance of engineering as an enabler of improved quality of life and economic development.
Among the 16 shortlisted young African Engineers were 3 Nigerians. They will become part of a growing community of talented African engineers working to accelerate socio-economic development through business.
This is the fourth group of engineers supported through the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. Some of the innovations featured are, mobile apps that grant micro-loans within minutes, an app that makes it easy for musicians to manage bookings and sell merchandise, digital innovations, and another to help commuters book one of the 20,000 trips taken daily on motorcycle taxis in the city of Kigali, Rwanda.
The 16 shortlisted engineers are now embarking on a six-month programme of support including funding, business training, bespoke mentoring and access to the Royal Academy of Engineering’s network of engineers and business development experts. In June 2018, the finalists will present their businesses to judges before a winner and three runners-up are chosen. The winner will receive £25,000 while the three runners-up receive £10,000 each
The Nigerian innovations at a glimpse
Nnaemeka Chidiebere Ikegwuonu
ColdHubs are solar powered walk-in cold rooms that extend the shelf-life of perishable foods from two to 21 days. According to the Rockefeller Foundation, in developing countries like Nigeria, 45% of food is lost due to the absence of cold storage. This leads to a 25% loss of annual income for smallholder farmers.
The ColdHubs are 3 x 3 metres and have solar panels on the roof. Each hub can store up to 3 tones of food arranged in 30 kg crates. They use natural refrigerants, which minimizes the environmental impacts of the cooling. The ColdHubs are installed at markets and farm co-operatives. Farmers and retailers can rent space in the cold-hubs and only pay per crate of food stored per day. Excess solar power is stored in batteries to ensure the hubs are kept cold at night and in bad weather.
ColdHubs already has 287 customers using the five hubs that have been installed at different sites in Nigeria.
Ifediora Emmanuel Ugochukwu
The Intelligent Meter (iMeter) and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) gives consumers and power utilities control over how electricity is used. The smart meter measures energy usage and connects to cell phones or computers that have the AMI software on them. These applications give consumers the ability to manage their smart meters remotely. They can monitor power usage, set budgets, disconnect their meters and make payments. For people with limited internet access, select services can be accessed through text.
More than 30% of meters in Nigeria are tampered with or bypassed, and power utilities resort to bill estimation when this happens. This has reduced access to electricity because consumers who feel that their bills don’t correspond to their usage have been disconnected.
The iMeter and AMI system means that consumers are billed only for the energy they use. The system detects tampering and notifies the power utilities. This discourages vandalism of power equipment, improves power supplies for communities and reduces deaths by electrocution.
Power utilities can pay a fee for data and real-time analysis provided by the system. The affordable system also allows two-way communication between consumers and utilities.
Kitovu is an online platform which helps rural and remote smallholder farmers triple their crop yields, and sell their produce. The app links the farmer’s location to a soil database to determine the soil types found on a particular farm. Using that information plus the crop type determines the fertilizer the farmer should use.
A World Development Report puts average yield for maize in Nigeria at 1.2 tons per hectare, which according to the Food and Agricultural Organization is a third of the global average. During a pilot of Kitovu, a yield of 3.9 tons per hectare was achieved.
Farmers can buy high-quality fertilizers or seedlings through the app, or use it to sell their produce. If a farmer can’t afford to buy the fertilizers or seedlings, they can pay Kitovu with their produce after harvest.
The app is free for farmers, but suppliers and produce buyers pay to use the platform. Kitovu takes a 5% commission on sales made through the platform. The platform also makes money by selling adverts which are displayed in the app. The app is aimed at farmers who can’t afford soil tests, but want increased yields, a reduction in post-harvest losses and increased income.