Published on 21/08/2020

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Business school academic in prize shortlist for project to tackle human waste pollution in Kenya
  • UK and international experts join forces to tackle health, climate and development issues

  • Projects aim for sustainable impact through science, research and innovation

  • Shortlisted project uses black soldier flies to transform human waste into value added products for food chain

  • £1.5 million follow-on funding to be split among six projects across five countries

Professor Prasanta Dey of Aston Business School in Birmingham is among the names on the shortlist for the Newton Prize 2020 which has been announced this week, featuring 27 research and innovation projects between the UK and Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, South Africa, and Turkey.

The Newton Prize celebrates outstanding international research partnerships that play an important role in addressing challenges in developing countries and around the world, such as the problem of producing clean energy, HIV prevention, the protection of historical sites, how to tackle water pollution, as well as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Prasanta Dey is a professor in operations and information management at Aston Business School, where he is an expert on the circular economy, an economic system which aims to redefine growth and focus on positive society-wide benefits by designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems.

The shortlisted research project "paradigm shift in fecal sludge management in Kenya for environmental management and food security" focuses on the manufacture of fish meal and chicken feeds, liquid fertilisers and soil conditioners using materials derived from human waste.

The waste is collected in container-based sanitisation units, which are pre-seeded with young black soldier fly larvae. The larvae naturally convert the waste into protein and manure, which is collected and made into commercially viable products. 

There is no defined treatment for human waste in Kenya, due to a technological lag and social-cultural perceptions to human waste management. This means that waste returns to the environment untreated causing sanitation related illnesses.

This project is helping Kenyan communities to rethink how they deal with human waste and providing a source of protein and manure to help produce food and generate income.

Professor Dey is the principal investigator on this multidisciplinary project which also involves Aston University colleagues Professor Claire Farrow (food psychologist), Dr Katie Chong (lecturer in chemical engineering) and Soumyadeb Chowdhury (lecturer in information and communication technology), and Joy Nyawira Riungu from Meru University of Science and Technology.

The shortlist also includes projects from the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Kenya National Innovation Agency, which is improving access to emergency services; a project between Newcastle University and Egypt’s Minia University, which is finding ways to halt the progression of liver cancer by finding biomarkers in the blood; a project between Oxford Brookes University and Yarmouk University in Jordan, which is about inspiring a passion for Jordan’s world class prehistoric heritage so that a new generation of archaeologists will go on to develop their careers and educate the wider public; and a project between the University of Birmingham and Marmara University in Kenya, which is shedding light on the true impact of plastic chemicals on animals and humans.

Each year the Newton Prize enables international research partnerships supported by the Newton Fund to continue working together on solutions to some of the world’s key challenges. Research and innovation is recognised an effective way to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and improve the quality of life for people in developing countries as well as the UK.

One prize of up to £200,000 will be awarded to a project in each eligible prize country (Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, South Africa and Turkey) that demonstrates high quality research and impact.

An additional prize called the Chair’s Prize, worth up to £500,000, will be made to a project that can demonstrate impact in on of three specific United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals: Good Health & Wellbeing, Gender Equality, or Sustainable Cities & Communities.

The shortlisted projects have been peer reviewed and will be judged by a panel of independent experts. The Newton Prize Committee is chaired by Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College.

Professor Prasanta Dey, shortlisted said:
“I am delighted to be shortlisted for the Newton Prize and to raise awareness of this important research. Sanitation provision is the most important, yet most neglected aspect of human development in the Global South. In Kenya 95 per cent of waste generated ends up returned untreated to the environment, leading to a high cost in health. Our intervention will not only develop a cost-effective technology for handling human waste but also a business model that helps commercial deployment as new products are introduced to the Kenyan market and made available to farmers.”

Joy Nyawira Riungu of Meru University of Science and Technology said:
“Our overarching aim is to use circular economy approaches to sanitation provision through recovery and reuse of human waste for value added products to enhance food security. Our initial project demonstrated proof of concept and the proposed project will facilitate uptake of the project across Kenya and beyond through commercial deployment.”

Committee Member, Professor Dame Jane Francis, director, British Antarctic Survey said:
“The Newton Prize generates some amazingly innovative ideas from many nations in partnership with the UK.

“It's inspiring to read proposals that cover a wide range of important topics, ranging from how renewable energy will improve village life, how children's health can be improved, how coastal communities can be protected, how waste can be turned into power, and how we can learn from past human rights violations. Serving on this committee is an extremely rewarding experience.”

In November 2020 the shortlisted projects will be celebrated at a virtual awards event and the winning projects for each category will be announced. To register you interest email: karen.manning@odamanagement.org

Professor George Feiger, Executive Dean of Aston Business School said:
“I am delighted that the Newton Prize 2020 has recognised the innovative and transformational work that is carried out by Aston professors like Prasanta Dey. This project is a wonderful example of how our research can have a direct impact on communities and societies.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

About Aston University
Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive.

For media enquiries in relation to this release, contact Rebecca Hume, Press and PR Officer, on 07557 745416 or email r.hume@aston.ac.uk.

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