Keep your fingers crossed for South African engineers Collins Saguru and Shalton Mothwa! The pair have been shortlisted to receive the upcoming Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation in June 2018.

Launched by the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2014, the award recognises engineering talent from across sub-Saharan Africa. This year, top innovations include the use of echolocation in assisted living, an easy-to-use medical test and a cheap method of recovering heavy metals from exhaust fumes.

The Africa Prize also provides crucial commercialisation support to shortlisted candidates, through a six-month period of training and mentoring. Finalists are invited to present at the awards, with the winner taking home £25,000 and runners-up bagging £10,000 each.

What will Shalton and Collins be showing the judges?

Shalton Mothwa – AEON Power Bag

Shalton (@FanaMothwa) developed the AEON Power Bag, a battery pack housed in a laptop bag. Aeon works like a power bank: for convenience and freedom in mobility, its users (school kids, hikers or field workers) plug their phones or tablets into it (via USB cable) to charge their devices on the go.

The AEON itself is ingeniously charged by harvesting radio or telecommunication waves or solar energy, which it converts into electrical power and stores. Solar is used as a fall-back option when radio signals are low. The bag is also capable of inductive charging when placed against an inductive charging power mat – an increasingly common option in airports and restaurants. When all charging units are working optimally, it charges in under 90 minutes.

The AEON Power Bag is made from locally sourced renewable and reusable materials.

Collins Saguru – AltNet

Collins (@saguruc) developed a process for affordably recovering precious metals found in autocatalytic converters of petrol and diesel vehicles.

An autocatalytic converter works by extracting harmful elements from exhaust fumes before they’re emitted by exhaust pipes – including the Platinum Group Metals (PGMs), or platinum, palladium and rhodium. Besides the health benefits of ‘keeping’ PGMs rather than emitting them, they are valuable and useful for industrial processes, and are even listed on the European Union’s Critical Materials List.

Collins’ process recovers these metals by dismantling used autocatalytic converters, crushing and leeching them before extracting the PGMs along with aluminium and cerium. Other recycling methods do exist but require high heat, whereas his method doesn’t, making the process more affordable and less toxic.

The process uses chemical reagents which are cheap, relatively common and environmentally friendly.

Meeting challenges

Finding scalable solutions to local challenges through engineering highlights the importance of this discipline to enable better quality of life and economic development.

Rewarding such innovation on the African continent will unlock previously untapped riches of innovation, adding momentum to the African renaissance that Thabo Mbeki envisioned.