National Geographic – A Vision for the Planet: 15 Ideas Vying for the Most Prestigious Environment Prize in History

The Earthshot Prize today announced the innovations it believes could make a difference to our world's biggest environmental challenges. They range from the engagingly simple, to the ingenious.

September 17, 2021

LAST OCTOBER, UK charity The Royal Foundation launched what its steward Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, described as the ‘most prestigious environmental prize there has ever been.’

Interviewed by David Attenborough in a video to kick start the multi-year initiative, its name, the Prince explained, was a nod to John F. Kennedy’s 1960s moon-mission rallying cry, and identified five ‘Earthshots:’ a group of mortal challenges faced by our world. 

The challenges were, like Kennedy’s ‘moonshot’, of the loftiest kind: Protect and restore nature, clean our air, build a waste-free world, revive our oceans, and fix our climate. Five complex emergencies that collectively presented a simple call to action, answerable by anyone from think tanks and governments, to activists, to spare-room inventors. Human ambitions created these problems. Could human ingenuity solve them?

The stakes: £50 million in investment over the next ten years to scale up the viable ideas, and the small matter of securing a brighter legacy for the future inhabitants of our world. Plus, the potential for what some will see as the most persuasive driver of all: profit.

Because with the right ideas, making money and improving the planet needn’t be mutually exclusive – and indeed, probably shouldn’t. As Prize Council member and former Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi said of the award: “How do we align our incentives for growth with the incentives for the planet?” 

After an initial selection process, 750 nominations were presented to a scientific advisory panel consisting of experts in the field of each ‘Earthshot’ – with the aim of selecting 15 finalists to be presented to a the award’s Prize Council for final judging. This morning, those finalists – three for each Earthshot, and spanning 14 countries – have been announced.

Challenge: Fix our Climate

Finalist AEM Electrolyser from Enapter

Idea Renewable electricity can’t be used to power everything. Issues around its availability and reliability everywhere, combined with the need to de-carbonise, means many industrial applications are turning to hydrogen for large-scale energy needs. While hydrogen itself is clean – mined from water using electrolysis – how it is obtained is a question worth asking if truly carbon-free energy is your goal. The AEM (Anion Exchange Membrane) electrolyser, produced by Enapter, aims to make hydrogen generation using renewable electricity accessible with microwave-sized, modular and stackable units capable of producing just over a 1 kilogram of hydrogen each for a range of applications every 24 hours.     

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Written by Simon Ingram