The EIC’s celebration of the best innovation in the utilities sector, The UK Energy Innovation Awards, returns in 2019. Awards are open for entries now.
WASE won the EIC award for Best University technology in 2017. Driven by the vision of post-graduate student Thomas Fudge, WASE submitted a solution for decentralised wastewater treatment and energy production.
Thomas’ story begins in Ghana in 2010, where he was working as a teacher following his undergraduate degree, a BSc Product Design. Thomas recognised that poor sanitation facilities were leading to pupils’ absences from school.
“I wanted to do something about it, and I applied to join an NGO, the Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor,” Thomas explains, “But I wasn’t accepted. So, I decided to do a Masters degree to upskill. During my Masters, I developed my ideas about bringing sanitation to under-served rural communities. This led to me winning a scholarship to continue working towards a PhD.”
It was his tutor at Brunel University who suggested Thomas enter the UK Energy Innovation awards.
An Innovative Solution
At the time, Thomas was working on his research single-handedly. He was developing an innovative solution that uses electromethanogenic cells to treat wastewater. The process generates biogas – helping to meet two vital sanitation and energy requirements in rural communities.
“More than 2.3bn people are without sanitation. Our solution is designed to be rolled out in these under-served communities, so we want to make it affordable and easy to maintain.”
The WASE solution treats waste water ten times faster than anaerobic alternatives. At the same time, it generates a higher density fuel – with a methane content up to 20 percent richer. This brings the level of methane up to 70 to 80 percent – so the fuel derived from the WASE process can generate more energy.
Entering the Award
“We hoped that by entering we would attract grants and funding for our research,” explains Thomas. “But we were up against some big Universities, so I didn’t have high hopes about winning.”
Thomas was so convinced he would not win, he attended the awards ceremony on his own – even though his father had offered to attend with him and despite the fact the awards ceremony took place on his 27th birthday!
“I was absolutely shocked to win!” Thomas says. “My Dad wished he had come down, but he was so pleased – as was I. It was a really, really nice recognition that I am doing something right.”
Since winning the award for Best University technology at the 2017 UK Energy Innovation Awards, WASE has now raised more than £100k of funding. Operationally it has also moved on. From Thomas being the sole researcher, WASE now has a team of six full-time and eight part-time people.
“Winning the award gave me a spur to push it forward,” says Thomas.
“It definitely makes it easier to get people, organisations and funding on board as a result of the recognition. It gives people confidence in our tech. And it has helped to secure the next stage of our journey.”
WASE is now participating in the EU clean tech accelerator programme, Climate KIC, applying for Innovate UK funding, and working with some exciting partners with global reach.
He says, “I would definitely recommend entering the awards. Writing the application helps you think about what you’re doing and gives you more direction. And you never know if you are going to win. Give it a shot!”
Thomas’ tips for would-be innovators
Find a team who share your vision. Your team needs to be interdisciplinary. As well as tech experts, you need business experts. Business experts will help you find your market and whether what you’re doing is suited to the people you are trying to target. Brunel University supported me with business mentoring and workshops, which has been very helpful. I would recommend reaching out to people who you’ve worked with and who share your vision.
Thomas’ tips for would-be award entrants
Give it a shot! You never know if you are going to win. I didn’t think I had a chance of winning. On your entry, focus on the benefits to society and what your solution can do – not just the technical and environmental aspects. As well as energy efficiency and environmental benefits, think about the social and economic implications too – they are all equally important. Writing your entry can also help you to think about what you’re doing; it helps – regardless of whether you win – and gives you more direction. Definitely give it a go!