Loughborough led initiative named global award finalist

A groundbreaking Loughborough University led initiative has moved one step closer to helping improve the lives of billions of people across Africa after being shortlisted for a global green energy prize. 

Aftrak, which is an accessible, economic solution to energy access in sub-Saharan Africa deploys green solar microgrids in communities allowing energy access for all. We support these with solar micro tractors which help farmers significantly increase crop yields and revenue. This additional income ensures sufficient funds are available to support the microgrid in a long term, sustainable manner. Aftrak is a finalist and is one of five remaining projects battling it out for the Milken-Motsepe Prize in Green Energy and a $1million funding boost.

 The project, led by the University’s Centre for Renewable Energy Systems Technology alongside Malawian NGO, Tiyeni, the Consortium for Battery Innovation and VARTA by Clarios, combines solar microgrids and tailored tractors to help smallholder farmers increase their yield and income by reducing the barriers of Deep Bed Farming. The additional revenue is then put back into creating more green energy.

Project lead and Lecturer in Sustainable Energy Systems at Loughborough University, Dr Jonathan Wilson said: “This is wonderful news for our mission to make real and positive change to the people and farmers of Africa. 

“Communities across Malawi are without electricity and often struggle to make ends meet. Aftrak addresses both these problems, allowing access to energy for all and potentially increasing crop yields threefold resulting in a possible 12 times boost to farmer income."

“We’ve already been hugely successful in reaching this stage of the award process and we are very proud to have created two prototype Aftrak tractors and two solar microgrids. This has allowed us to demonstrate our system here in Loughborough with the first system due to arrive in Malawi. We are poised to make a significant impact in Africa.”

Executive Director for Tiyeni, Alex Gerrard said: “At Tiyeni we are delighted to be finalist of such a prestigious prize, and part of such an amazing consortium. As a small charity working in rural Africa for the last 18 years, we have seen the transformation our Deep Bed Farming has on the communities we service by doubling crops yields.

“Aftrak has the potential to take this to the next level, speeding up land preparation and making it more accessible, whilst also providing green energy to even the most remote communities. Creating a productive and strong foundation to empower communities to thrive is at the heart of Tiyeni's mission, and combining Deep Bed Farming and Aftrak can truly turn the tide on food and energy insecurity.”

Country Director for Tiyeni, Isaac Monjo Chavula says this work will have a huge impact on people in Malawi: “Tiyeni is over the moon for being the finalist for the precious Milken-Motsepe Prize. We commit to use the resources of this prize to improve the livelihoods of even more smallholder rural farmers. The role of the Aftrak is so significant as it completely reduces drudgery in breaking the compacted soils, making of beds, and creating furrows for rainwater harvesting, leading to more than doubling crops yields. The clean power that comes with it is so transformational to the off-grid communities whose lives shall never remain the same.”

Dr Carl Telford, Senior Research and Innovation Manager at the Consortium for Battery Innovation (CBI) said: “It is fantastic to be in the finalist round alongside four other extraordinary projects. Having field tests in Malawi and now also in South Africa will be extremely valuable to demonstrate the capability of the Aftrak system.”

“Aftrak is a key project for CBI because it demonstrates how the new generation of advanced lead batteries integrates very well with solar panels to provide an affordable, safe, and stable energy supply for off-grid rural communities. Reaching that far in this competition confirms that it is worth exploring the innovation potential of lead batteries for green energy applications, which is great news for our industry.”

Engineering Design Lead HD at VARTA by Clarios, Thorsten Werle, said: “We at Clarios are very proud to have had the opportunity and the perfect product with our VARTA ProMotive AGM to support the Loughborough university with the AFTRAK project. It is great to see the success of the Aftrak in Malawi.”

Following successful tests at Loughborough University, the Aftrak system will be tested next year in Malawi, where over 60% of the population is multidimensionally poor and close to 90% are without access to electricity.

Aftrak will also be tested in South Africa in February 2024 before the award winner is announced at the Milken Institute Conference in May.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 23/173

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2022 QS World University Rankings – the sixth year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2023 and 11th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.