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12 Asian Entrepreneurs Win $10K for Low-Carbon Mobility, Plastic Waste, Energy Ideas

Iconic tuk-tuks could be converted into zero tailpipe emissions vehicles if a new conversion kit is successful. The concept is being supported as a winner of a UN Environment competition. | Image credit: United Nations Environment Programme

UN Environment has awarded seed funding to twelve young people with business ideas on how to foster energy-efficient, low-waste and low-carbon lifestyles. Each of the winners of the Asia Pacific Low Carbon Lifestyles Challenge will receive US$10,000 and mentorship to help bring their ideas to fruition.

The winning projects address a variety of sustainability challenges, such as packaging waste, housing, cooling systems, and vehicle efficiency. The winners hail from China, Bhutan, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Samoa, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

“From plastic waste to climate change, we who live in Asia and the Pacific are confronting environmental challenges face-to-face almost daily. The natural ingenuity we find across our region is the key to solving these problems,” said Dechen Tsering, UN Environment’s Director for the Asia-Pacific region.

Four winners were selected in each of the competition’s three categories: low-carbon mobility, energy efficiency, and plastic waste.

Low-Carbon Mobility

  • Ride- and freight-sharing - Hassam Ud-din hopes to increase access to affordable mobility while improving the efficiency of roads in Pakistan, where most cars and trucks on the road operate at 30% capacity. Through an app called RASAI, his startup allows for peer-to-peer sharing of a vehicle’s extra space and seats, offering inter-city ridesharing and freight-shipping capabilities.
  • Electric tuk-tuks - Sri Lankan national Sasiranga De Silva and his team at SL Mobility are developing an affordable conversion kit that will allow tuk-tuk drivers to convert their existing iconic vehicles to an electric powertrain that will generate zero tailpipe emissions.
  • Biodiesel from waste cooking oil - Based in China, Shutong Liu’s venture aims to produce biodiesel from waste cooking oil from restaurants. This diverts waste cooking oil from landfills as well as from illegal and unsafe reuse as food. Biofuel produced from cooking oil is interchangeable with diesel fuel, so there is no need for vehicles to convert engines to use it.
  • Powering EVs with solar using blockchain tech - Indian national Lathika Chandra Mouli and her China-based startup Energo Labs have developed an energy trading platform to connect small energy producers (e.g. building owners with solar panels) and electric vehicle charging stations and drivers using blockchain technology and smart meters. As the price of electricity in most Asia-Pacific countries is cheaper than the cost of fuel, such a solution can help encourage electric vehicle adoption and simultaneously incentivize homeowners to install solar panels.

Energy Efficiency

  • Flat-pack housing - Pakistan’s Mohammed Saquib produces ultra energy efficient, low-cost modular flat-pack housing built from recycled materials through his company, Modulus Tech. Pakistan’s housing shortage is up to 10 million units, and there is a large market for low-cost housing, including in refugee and displaced persons camps.
  • Renewable-powered tourism - Mark-Anthony Villaflor is hoping to convince local tourism businesses in El Nido, Philippines that there is a good business case for renewable energy. By using his property as a solar panel test site, he plans to gather baseline data on energy efficiency, look at the fuel costs of local businesses, and help them convert to renewables.
  • Smart energy meters - Bhutanese architect Deependra Pourel plans to install smart energy meters in homes, offices, and hotels to provide building owners insight into their energy use. His startup will also leverage his architectural skills to help building owners reduce energy use through behavior change, efficient appliances and architectural redesign.
  • Biomimicry cooling system - Also an architect, New Delhi-based Monish Kumar Siripurapu created a cooling system inspired by the structure of a beehive. Customized through advanced computational analysis and modern calibration techniques, the biomimetic device passes water through earthen cones that facilitate evaporative cooling, using little energy and zero ozone depleting or carbon intensive refrigerants.

“We want people to have access to a locally made, sustainable cooling system. It could also help generate employment for potters and support a fading traditional craft,” said Siripurapu, who developed the project through his firm, Ant Studio. “We came across the problem while designing for a factory. Existing methods like using evaporative cooling pads and hay failed to cool down hot air coming from diesel generators. As architects, we wanted to come up with something both aesthetically pleasing and functional that could solve the problem.”

Plastic Waste

  • Reusable cotton feminine hygiene products - Disposable feminine sanitary pads contribute to household waste across the globe and put a strain on the Pacific island’s waste management systems. Samoan national Angelica Salele’s cotton pads will dramatically reduce the cost and waste impacts of female hygiene products.
  • Textile upcycling - Through her startup Phinix, Pamela Nicole Mejia collects textile waste in the Philippines and transforms them into higher valued products such as footwear, fashion accessories and lifestyle pieces, in lieu of leaving them to be discarded in landfills. Phinix is one of many fashion startups targeting the industry’s environmental impacts.
  • Plastic products and packaging - Achmad Solikhin of Indonesia developed a plastic product-based blend of recycled and bio-based materials, BIOTIC. His first product line will feature stylish helmets, but he plans to expand into compostable packaging and furniture production in the future.
  • Plastic cutlery opt-out system - Pratvadee (Bonnie) Sananvatananont wants to add a plastic cutlery opt-out system to Thailand’s popular food delivery service foodpanda. If only 10% of orders participate, the service could remove 276,000 sets of plastic cutlery in a year.

“As one of the key players in the food delivery service in Thailand and beyond, we realize the responsibility we hold in driving the industry towards more sustainable goals,” said Sananvatananont, who is currently a Regional Content Creator for foodpanda. “We realize how much plastic is being used in our product and service, and it’s time to change it.”


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