Quantum Leap

How grand challenges are driving innovation

The world needs highly energy-efficient ACs, which will also be cheap. The room AC technology has remained virtually unchanged for the past 100 years.

 |  Quantum Leap  |  3-minute read |   20-11-2018
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Achieving sustainable living is the biggest challenge humanity faces in this century.

We need sustainable solutions in several sectors – water, sanitation, energy, food, habitat, health and so on.

The pace at which climate change is occurring, as indicated by science and warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is clear that business, as usual, will not yield solutions to some of the most pressing challenges. Fast tracking development of new solutions and technologies is the need of the hour. The world needs out-of-the-box solutions and they can come only from inter- and multi-disciplinary research and collaboration.

Research bodies, academia, innovators, and industry have to join hands to come up with new ideas, technologies and fixes — be it solar energy, electric vehicles, new antibiotics, sustainable housing or safe drinking water.

New ways of promoting and funding such collaboration is taking shape in the form of highly attractive, competitive, and timebound innovation prizes. The Longitude Prize, for instance, seeks to find solution to the problem of antibiotic resistance.

If we can develop a quick and affordable test to know which antibiotic will work (or not work) for a particular infection, it will prevent misuse of antibiotics and thus prevent spread of resistance.

electric-car_112018010410.jpgIt is important for innovators to come up with new technologies like solar energy, electric vehicles, among others. (Photo: Mail Today)

Already several new ideas are on the table, including those from Indian labs, universities, and startups.

Grand Challenges Canada is scouting cost-effective and sustainable solutions in health.

In the past few years, dozens of them have been identified, funded, and promising ones are on the way to commercialisation.

The same has been the case with funding grants given by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the past decade.

This past week in New Delhi, a new challenge — the Global Cooling Prize — was launched.

It seeks to spur development of cooling or air conditioning solution for homes.

The winner will have to come up with an AC climate, impact of which will be at least five times less than ACs in use currently. The solution should be affordable and scalable too.

Innovators will have to work on new refrigerants, materials, and water usage technologies for air conditioners.

The world needs highly energy-efficient ACs, which will also be cheap. The room AC technology has remained virtually unchanged for the past 100 years.

As the use of ACs rises in countries like India, China, and Brazil, conventional technology will put pressure on the energy and climate fronts. As the planet warms, we will need more ACs and if we continue to use the same type of ACs, we will be warming more.

Cooling is already responsible for about 10 per cent of global warming.

This loop has to be broken and only disruptive technologies can do this.

The competition is open for a period of two years. About two million USD will be given as intermediate prize money to support prototype development by shortlisted teams.

These prototypes will be tested for performance in laboratory and heat conditions in an Indian city. The winner will be awarded one million USD or more to support commercialisation and scale up. It is time to think of more such challenges.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also Read: Politics gives wildlife a cold shoulder as Antarctica's penguins cry for help


Dinesh C Sharma Dinesh C Sharma @dineshcsharma

Journalist, columnist and author based in New Delhi.

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