Rising to the ClimateTech and Sustainability Challenge

Banner to promote the climate tech sustainability innovation challenge 2021 - green with images of leaves

The goal of the challenge was to encourage researchers from across all divisions to explore whether their research could help address one of the many problems that comprise the climate crisis. It was timed to align with COP26 and add to the increasing momentum across the whole University. 

Of course, the biggest challenge now facing us all is climate change.

Professor Chas Bountra, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Innovation, 27 September 2021

The format of the challenge started with an open call for ideas submitted through a simple online form. Submitted ideas were then shortlisted to seven finalists who each gave a two-minute pitch to our panel of judges and then fielded their questions for a further eight minutes. 

The judges, who represented a broad cross-section of the University and very kindly gave up their time to deliver the challenge, were: 

  • Professor Patrick Grant – Pro -Vice-Chancellor for Research 
  • Dr Michael Obersteiner – Director of the Environmental Change Institute 
  • Professor Kylie Vincent – Academic Champion for Women in Entrepreneurship 
  • Professor Benito Mueller – Convener International Climate Policy Research 
  • Dr Andy Gilchrist – Innovation and Business Partnerships, Energy 
  • Dr Jane Jin – OUI, Cleantech Lead.

In support of the challenge, a number of mini videos (all around two minutes long) were created on two main themes. The first was from subject matter experts describing, in plain English, different problems that constitute the climate crisis.

The second theme was from Oxford’s innovation ecosystem partners, describing the wide and strong support network that exists in Oxfordshire for developing research into world-changing impact. All these videos can be found at Climatech videos - Oxford University Innovation – we are grateful to all of the speakers who supported the challenge. 

Our fantastic finalists came from three divisions – MPLS, Social Sciences and Humanities – and the ideas ranged from mining volcanoes to learning lessons from ancient civilisations on how to manage our environment. 

The winner of the £10,000 first prize was Alexander Frederick Shenkin from the School of Geography and the Environment, for his pitch about a newly discovered climate service provided by forests.

Alexander’s work has the potential to significantly increase our understanding of the climate-cooling impact of forests, opening up new options for creating, managing and maintaining forests in the future. Alexander was presented with his award by OUI CEO Matt Perkins at the Oxford Innovation Society event on 2 November.  

Alexander and Matt Perkins from OUI standing together holding Alexander's award certificate

Alexander (left) being presented with his award by OUI CEO Matt Perkins

One of the other finalists, Christian Dietrich Peters from the Department of Engineering Science, received an Impact Acceleration Account merit award from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council –  an additional cash prize to recognise the best idea under their criteria. Christian’s entry concerned selective recovery of precious metals from wastewater as a sustainable mining method that also creates clean drinking water and. This process is already the underpinning technology of an emerging University spinout – Seloxium 

More information on the challenge and the finalists can be found on Oxford University Innovation’s website.

Looking forward, all the finalists are being supported by the University and OUI to advance their ideas; we hope to run a similar Innovation Challenge next year.