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The Aftrak Team

The Aftrak team in South Africa at the global Milken Motsepe Green Energy Prize finals

University research and innovation feature among finalists of Leicestershire Innovation Awards 2024

Loughborough University has seven finalists across seven categories in the Leicestershire Innovation Awards 2024.

They represent a wealth of research collaborations alongside a variety of academic spinouts and graduate start-ups  – all launched from LUinc., the University’s incubator on its Science and Enterprise Park (LUSEP).

The finalists (categories are bold) delivering innovative new technologies and solutions to major challenges are:

Innovation in Creative, and Innovation in Sport, Wellbeing and Accessibility

Moti Me is a physiotherapy-focused product to help children with disabilities. Since founding the company in 2021, Katie Michaels (BA Industrial Design and Technology, 2020) has been testing Moti Me prototypes with special needs schools and physiotherapy centres across the country, including Ashmount Primary School and STEPS Conductive Education Centre.

Innovation in Food and Drink

The Bug Factory – a Loughborough graduate start-up founded by Thomas Constant (Industrial Design and Technology, 2018) – is revolutionising the food system through the creation of scalable, accessible and sustainable insect protein. Its innovative modular, circular-economy insect-rearing facilities empower feed enterprises to save money, reduce their environmental impact and achieve carbon-negative goals.

Innovation in Med-Tech and Life Sciences

A team led by Mark Lewis (Professor of Musculoskeletal Biology at Loughborough) have developed laboratory grown (bioengineered) tissues that mimic the human musculoskeletal system – paving the way for personalised rehabilitation. This pioneering medical technology could support the development of new therapies. These models are more ethical than the animal trials currently used and provide a method for replacing injured or diseased tissues with healthy tissue made from your own cells. 

Innovation in STEM Industries

A team lead by Dani Strickland (Professor of Electrical Power Engineering at Loughborough) has developed the world’s first lead-acid battery-electrolyser – a low-cost system, making the use of excess renewable energy to produce hydrogen gas viable. The innovation is being accelerated for use in renewable energy-powered microgrids that support the world’s poorest communities that have no access to electricity or clean cooking – issues which respectively affect 13% of the global population and 2.4 billion people.  

A partnership between Loughborough University and Rolls-Royce with easyJet and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) has made a significant breakthrough towards achieving net zero aviation. In September 2023, they announced a global industry first. They have developed a critical engine technology, demonstrating that hydrogen could be used as an aviation fuel – replacing fossil fuels.

Innovation in Sustainability

Aftrak is a groundbreaking initiative led by Dr Jonathan Wilson (Lecturer in Sustainable Energy Systems at Loughborough) that combines solar microgrids and tailored tractors to empower smallholder farmers across Africa. It aims to significantly increase crop yields and smallholder incomes while providing access to clean, green electricity in rural communities. The project is among the five ground-breaking global finalists for the $1 million Milken-Motsepe Prize in Green Energy.

Loughborough University and Rolls-Royce – see above

University Student Innovation

Loughborough graduate start-up Nestwork is a careers social network designed by students, for students. Created by a diverse team led by current students Flynn Duggan and Samuel Ola, and recent graduates Pobor Eruesegbefe and Som E-Agwuegbo, its innovative web platform demystifies the job discovery and acquisition process, helping students take control of their job prospects and find their first steps into their dream careers.

Winners in a further two categories – Innovator of the Year and Outstanding Contribution Award – were decided by the judging panel and will be announced in March.

Of the University’s strong showing among the finalists, Professor Dan Parsons (Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Loughborough) said: “With a strong field of almost 100 nominations, seeing so many Loughborough initiatives among the Awards finalists is testament to the impressive variety of our activities and their excellence.

“All the finalists have shown real ingenuity and determination in solving some of today’s most pressing problems – each would be a worthy winner. I wish them all the very best of luck.”

The Award winners will be announced on 20 March at SportPark Pavilion 4 (LUSEP) – one of just a handful of buildings in the UK to have attained Passivhaus Sustainability status.

The Awards – sponsored by De Montfort University, University of Leicester and Loughborough University – are part of the annual Leicestershire Innovation Festival.

More than 1,000 people attended over 20 events during this year’s Festival, the theme of which was Small Change, Big Impact.

The Leicestershire Innovation Awards is led for the first time this year by the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership Business Gateway Growth Hub. The full list of finalists is available online.