What if we could make affordable food by farming crickets, help shoppers to reduce food waste, or turn air into drinking water?

These are just some of the questions that inspired the five team finalists of Shell Ideas360, a global competition that challenges students to think about innovative ways to conserve the world’s energy, water and food supplies.

“We wanted to give people in dry areas easier access to clean water,” says Avtar Rekhi, who comes from Kenya and is studying mechanical engineering in London. His team invented a system that extracts drinkable water from moisture in the air using natural air circulation and solar-heated domes.

Other students who reached the final designed a model cricket farm to provide protein and income for people in countries where nourishing food is scarce, and a device that can remove toxic levels of fluoride from water supplies in rural Africa and Asia. 

The 2014/15 competition winners – Team Renaissance from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore - designed an app called Food Basket, which aims to help households reduce food waste. The app allows people to track the expiry dates on their groceries and suggests recipes for items that are approaching their use-by date. 

“1.3 billion tonnes of food goes to waste each year, costing the average household $1,500 annually in waste,” says team member Alex Chen. “We think the Food Basket app can help to reduce that.”

Pitching ideas

Shell Ideas360 is one of several programmes that Shell runs under the #makethefuture initiative. Its goal is to encourage a new generation of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians.

“We need creative minds to help build a more sustainable energy future,” says Yuri Sebregts, Shell’s Chief Technology Officer, who oversees research and development and innovation at the company.

The judges selected the finalists from almost 1,100 entries. Each team pitched their ideas to the judges and attended the final at Shell Eco-marathon Europe 2015, in the Netherlands. Winners Team Renaissance will go on a National Geographic Adventure of their choice, such as hiking in the Grand Canyon, kayaking in Costa Rica or trekking in Mongolia.

Inspiring careers

The Shell Ideas360 competition develops talent as well as ideas. One of last year’s finalists, for example, Januardy Djong from Indonesia, successfully applied for a place in Shell’s Graduate Programme. The 26-year-old student at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands designed a pedal-powered irrigation pump that enables farmers to water their fields faster and with less effort than the traditional method of using watering cans.

Januardy will now spend between three and five years on the graduate programme. He’s looking forward to working on pioneering projects in the energy industry. “I want to be part of a team that develops something new and makes it work,” he says.

Watch Januardy’s video about his pedal-powered irrigation pump

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