Loughborough led solution with potential to transform lives in Africa awaits global award finals

A groundbreaking Loughborough University led initiative to bring affordable green energy and food security to communities across Africa is about to find out whether it has won the prestigious Milken Motsepe Prize in Green Energy. 

Aftrak is a revolutionary self-sustaining system made up of a solar microgrid, a micro electric tractor – both of which have been invented and manufactured at the University – and a revolutionary agricultural technique, Deep Bed Farming, which more than doubles crop yield.

Aftrak is one of five global finalists of the Milken-Motsepe Prize in Green Energy which seeks solutions to advance progress toward UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7: Ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.  

The $1M top prize and $.25M runner up will be revealed at The Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles on Monday 6 May, 9am local time, 5pm UK time. 

Aftrak is a partnership of researchers from Loughborough University’s Centre for Renewable Energy Systems Technology, Tiyeni – a Malawian NGO whose UK arm has funded the development of DBF, The Consortium for Battery Innovation – which has delivered cutting-edge research taking lead batteries to a new level. Aftrak has also been supported by Innovate UK and Varta by Clarios – one of the world’s largest battery manufacturers. 

In just 12 months, the team has developed an innovative solution that addresses multiple UNSDGs principally around sustainable energy, but also those tackling poverty, hunger, economic growth, gender inequality, education and climate action. 

Following successful tests at Loughborough University and demonstrations at the Africa Green Economy Summit in South Africa, Aftrak is now being deployed in Malawi, where over 60% of the population is multidimensionally poor and close to 90% are without access to electricity.  

Project lead and Lecturer in Sustainable Energy Systems at Loughborough University, Dr Jonathan Wilson said: “Recognition from the Milken-Motsepe Prize in Green Energy spurs us on in our mission to make real and positive change to the people and farmers of Africa.”  

“The Aftrak system is an economy in a box! Our solar array electrifies the community, powers our micro electric tractor which allows villages to use Deep Bed Farming to increase their crop yield by up to 3-fold which in turn allows for the purchase of power from our microgrid, creating a self-sustaining model for decentralised energy access.” 

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. 

“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.”  

Dr Carl Telford, Research and Innovation Director at the Consortium for Battery Innovation (CBI) said: “We are honoured to be in the Milken-Motsepe Prize in Green Energy finals alongside four other extraordinary projects from across the globe.” 

“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. Recognition in this competition validates the innovation potential of lead batteries for green energy applications, which is great news for our industry.”  

Professor Dan Parsons, Loughborough University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, said: “I am delighted that Aftrak’s impact potential has been recognised by Milken-Motsepe Innovation Prize Program which harnesses Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies for social good. 

 “The team has not only created a novel technical innovation with a world first solar tractor for deep ground preparation but has also wrapped this into a sustainable economic model. 

“Time is running out for some of the world’s poorest communities who are disproportionally facing climate-induced impacts. Aftrak aims to scale rapidly to transform the lives of small holder farming communities across the whole of Africa. I wish the team every success.” 

The winner of the Milken-Motsepe Prize in Green Energy will be livestreamed on the revealed on The Milken Institute Global Conference website on Monday 6 May at 9am local time, 5pm UK time.