Two of the five NC State engineering students selected by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) to represent the U.S. at the 2019 Global Grand Challenges Summit (GGCS) in London were from the ISE Department. The team consisted of ISE’s Rachel Figard and Grant Jordan, as well as Silvana Alfieri (environmental engineering and environmental policy), Kevin Duke (civil engineering), and Pippin Payne (mechanical engineering and religious studies). The NAE selected NC State as one of the five finalists to represent the U.S. in London against 10 teams from the U.K. and China, who qualified by similar methods. When the competition was over, the Wolfpack finished first in the U.S. and second in the world.
Their adventure began back in February when the NAE announced the national sustainability pitch competition in April. They formed their team and traveled to Washington D.C. to compete against more than 50 teams from across the country. After winning a place in the finals, the team spent the summer improving their business model for the next round of competition.
The team knew that to succeed against global competition, they would have to take their concept to the next level. So, they not only addressed the sustainability side of the problem but the societal side as well. The team created the business Peak Coffee Processing. To improve sustainability, they developed an affordable treatment process that would not only filter the toxic wastewater from coffee production but turn that waste into clean water and fertilizer that coffee growers could use to increase crop yields and reduce topsoil erosion. “We are the first team to be able to mass-produce both clean water and fertilizer from this wastewater,” shared Figard. “That is important because the fertilizer has more economic value to farmers than the filtration system costs.” At the same time, their system also benefits the villagers that live around coffee plantations. “Usually the toxic wastewater ends up straight in their drinking water supplies, where it causes negative health effects for most of the villagers living near the plantations, explained Jordan.
This solution impressed the six-member panel of judges, which was made up of distinguished academics, industry-leading experts, and C Suite executives from around the world. They judged the teams based on their original concepts, business model development, uniqueness, and pitch quality. After all groups pitched, the judges deliberated and the NC State team placed first among the U.S. teams and second in the world.
Global Grand Challenges Summit
The GGCS, a collaboration between the NAE, the U.K.’s Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Chinese Academy of Engineering, offered each student more than a single competition.
During the student collaboration events, more than 300 students came together from across the U.S., U.K., and China to take place in a set of high-impact experiences. “We did everything from simulations, networking, hearing from industry-leading speakers, and capped the collaboration off with a smaller pitch competition,” explained Figard. For the pitch competition, students formed into teams of six consisting of two members from each country. They had less than 12 hours to develop a full business pitch aimed at solving a Grand Challenge for Engineering or U.N. Sustainable Development Goal. “This was a truly extraordinary opportunity and we got to connect with some of the best scholars from across the globe,” said Jordan.