Winning Team


Grain-4-Lab: Reducing reliance on single-use plastics in laboratories

Dublin City University



Special Prize


Microplastic-free Plastics: Minimising the release of micro- and nano-plastics from plastic products

Trinity College Dublin



Seed Phase Teams


Removing plastic from food and beverage packaging

Challenge PET materials in food and beverage packaging are contributing to the continued growth of plastic in our environment. A truly recyclable alternative is needed that maintains or improves the functional properties of PET whilst reducing economic and environmental costs. Addressing this challenge would minimise the environmental impact of plastic containers, address a critical issue in sustainability within the packaging industry and provide a strong commercial opportunity for exploitation in Ireland.   

Solution Development of a manufacturing process that allows light weighting glass to 1/3 of normal weight whilst maintaining or improving strength and so minimizing barriers such as cost and GHG emissions (note that transport costs are not material if the entire manufacturing cycle is considered), in order to provide a truly recyclable avenue to replace PET packaging. This project introduces innovative techniques to minimise the role of defects and so increase the effective strength and fracture toughness of the material so that thin glass parts can be formed that allow the strength of much thicker parts to be exceeded and so use as a replacement for fossil fuel-based polymer containers. 

UN SDG Alignment GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production 

Team Mick Morris (TCD), Aran Rafferty (TCD), John Rordan (private entrepreneur) 

Plastic Raiders

Removing polluting plastics from the coastal marine environment

Challenge Within the marine context, millions of tonnes of plastic enter our oceans annually as micro- to macroplastic litter. The economic cost to marine natural capital is estimated to range from $3300–$33,000 per ton of plastic per year. Larger plastics entering ocean waters have two fates - floating on the surface or sinking due to biofouling and/or ballasting. If not removed by clean-up operations, macroplastics (>5 mm) may harm many types of marine life through entanglement or ingestion. They also fragment and degrade into microplastics that can be ingested and incorporated in bodies and tissues of many organisms. Being able to detect larger floating plastics in coastal waters before they become entangled, ingested, exported and/or fragmented, may help to answer key questions about sources, pathways and trends. Furthermore, actions that highlight and reduce marine plastic pollution in the context of an increasingly stressed marine environment can be counted as investments toward the health and future resilience of our global marine ecosystem services.

Solution The project will combine remote sensing technologies and bottom-up citizen science to create sustainable, intergenerational change in polluting and environmental activism behaviours. Citizens will be engaged by the Social Champion in the civil society organisation Irish Surfing Association and by the Impact Champion in Clean Coasts, who will leverage existing connections with local communities in Ireland. The project will enable citizens to act on climate change and for sustainable development through better monitoring and observation of the environment and their environmental impacts, and acting upon them by removing plastics from coastal environments. The key societal impacts of the citizen science activities will be to raise awareness, engage and empower citizens and consumers with concrete tools to monitor their impacts on the environment.

UN SDG Alignment GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities 

Team Francesco Pilla (UCD), Jennifer Symonds (UCD), Tim Ferguson (Irish Surfing Association) 


Concept Phase Teams

Turning plastic and food waste into key value-added products 

Challenge In Ireland, the fate of the vast majority of plastics (64%) that are generated are disposed in landfill or incineration with only about 33% recycled, primarily due to difficulty in segregating and sufficiently cleaning mixed plastics contaminated with food waste. However, the current approaches for disposal are not sustainable, particularly in light of the recent European Green Deal ‘zero air pollution’ objectives and recycling of plastic needs to increase to 50% by 2025. Therefore, alternative sustainable methods that take into consideration mixed contaminated plastics are needed.  

Solution Develop an innovative hybrid platform technology to sustainably process food waste and associated contaminated plastic packaging streams. The novel ‘plug and play’ TURNKEY platform will combine pre-treatment technologies for plastic followed by anaerobic digestion with food waste to produce new platform chemicals suitable for the pharmaceutical industry, production of bioplastics, and renewable biofuels.

UN SDG Alignment GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production 

Team Corine Nzeteu (NUIG), Ramesh Babu Padamati (TCD), Stephen Nolan (Green Generation) 

Making epoxy resins recyclable 

Challenge Epoxy resins are thermoset polymer materials, very widely used in modern society. Epoxy adhesives, plastic parts made from epoxy resins, and epoxy-based fibre-reinforced polymer composites are found in all major economy sectors (e.g. construction, transport, food, energy, electronics, leisure) globally.  Epoxies show exceptional properties (adhesion, mechanical performance, chemical & thermal stability). However, due to the irreversible curing chemistry needed to form the thermoset polymer network, epoxies cannot be recycled, or re-shaped under heat, or re-processed/re-worked in any other way, or be repaired/self-repair after suffering any damage. The possibility of obtaining epoxy products with all their known performance attributes, and with added malleability/recyclability and therefore improved end-of-life properties would constitute a major breakthrough in plastics technology and recycling.

Solution Target the design of novel epoxy polymer networks that combine the well-known and highly sought properties of epoxies, but at the same time are dynamic: possible to re-shape and re-process as thermoplastics. We aspire to realise such novel dynamic epoxy polymer networks by synthesising a range of suitable amine curing agents with a pre-existing dynamic bond in their structure. When using such novel dynamic epoxies as composite matrices, the composite laminates would not only be possible to re-shape and re-process, but also to recycle at their end-of-life: separate fibres from the epoxy polymer matrix, recover pristine fibres for subsequent reuse in composite manufacturing, and re-use the recovered matrix in appropriate applications (e.g. as an adhesive). The novelty of our approach relates to a universal modification strategy potentially applicable to any given epoxy resin, a large collection of amine cross-linker structures to match each different epoxy, and the option to tailor either cleavage of the dynamic bonds (for recycling) or exchange reactions between the dynamic bonds (for re-processing).  

UN SDG Alignment GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production 

Team Ioannis Manolakis (IT Sligo), Angeliki Chanteli (UL), Marcus Ó Conaire (Údarás na Gaeltachta) 

Utilising plastic waste for novel sustainable battery technologies 

Challenge Ireland is the EU’s largest producer of plastic waste per capita, generating 61 kg per person/year and less than 30% of this is recycled; the rest is buried in landfills or incinerated, having severe ramifications for the climate. A traditional linear economy following the principle of ‘take, make and waste’ is not sustainable and alternative waste-management solutions must become a top priority for EU countries. Carbon recovery from plastics via thermal treatment under anoxic conditions (without oxygen) is over 50% meaning that at least half of the carbon contained in plastics can be recovered and consequently far less CO2 would be released to the atmosphere, compared to presently used incineration methods. In addition to plastic waste management, energy storage is one of the most pressing global issues of today. The rapid adaptation of portable and wearable electronics and electric vehicles, as well as market forecasts which suggest that the global rechargeable battery market will be valued at $87.5 billion by 2027, clearly indicate that there will be a prolonged need for cost effective battery electrode materials for the foreseeable future.

Solution Develop a state-of-the-art, scalable method to convert plastic waste (water bottles, shopping bags, etc.) into useful, value-added porous carbon materials (PCMs) which will be used as electrodes for advanced lithium-sulfur (Li–S) batteries. This is the first time that carbons derived from plastics will be used as cathode materials for Li–S batteries. The possibility of producing sustainable, useful carbon nanostructures from materials that are currently destined for incineration or landfills represents an exciting, promising route for waste reduction and the adaptation of a circular economy for plastics. Utilizing PCMs in Li–S batteries will concurrently address two of the most pressing global issues of today, plastic waste management and energy storage. 

UN SDG Alignment GOAL 13: Climate Action 

Team Kevin M Ryan (UL), David McNulty (UL), Kathrin Kopke (UCC) 

Upcycling contaminated post-consumer plastic waste  

Challenge Plastics have been considered as one of the priorities in directives and targets set out by Ireland and across Europe. Reducing release of toxic pollutants while promoting the recovery of post-consumer contaminated plastic waste necessitates versatile and viable technology to meet current limitations in plastic waste processing. Finding a sustainable end-of-life options by assigning value to plastic waste is drawn as a visionary challenge to pave a way towards tomorrow's cleaner and healthier environment. 

Solution Decontaminating and upcycling critically contaminated post-consumer plastic waste into usable polymer building blocks which can be then reintroduced into the economy. Unlike existing recycling methods, this proposed approach is quite versatile to perform sterilization, extraction, cleaning and so on specific to the nature of incoming plastic waste. Adopting to greener recycling and recovery strategies will enable transforming current recycling infrastructure within Ireland and foster its commitment to net-zero carbon emissions and circular economy. 

UN SDG Alignment GOAL 13: Climate Action 

Team Saranya Rameshkumar (TCD), Yurii K Gun’ko (TCD), Marc Bollée (FiltraCycle Ltd)

Ireland's lab plastic problem 

Challenge Per person working in a laboratory setting, an estimated 1,000 kg of plastic waste is generated every year. Common polymer types used in labs include polyethylene terephthalate, polypropylene, polyethylene and polystyrene, polymers reported to have had an annual global resin extraction carbon footprint of between 88 and 135 Mt, and an additional conversion-associated footprint of 27-93 Mt CO2 equivalents. Ireland has a large, active and productive lab sector, which supports third-level education and research (at least 200 labs per University campus), the HSE (approx. 64 diagnostic labs and IT-based training labs), the Marine Institute (approx. 70 labs), DAFM/Teagasc (approx. 27 labs), Irish Water (two national hubs under development, to replace regional labs; 0.5-1 million plastic sample bottles used per year); State Labs (analyses of animal feedstuffs, food and feed contaminants, human and animal toxicology, customs and excise). The Irish lab sector is responsible for enormous volumes of plastic waste, a significant portion of which is considered by many  to be clean, non-contaminated, high-quality, potentially high-commodity value plastic that could be diverted from land-fill or incineration. Addressing this ‘lab plastic problem’ will contribute to reducing, reusing or recovering plastic from lab waste streams and help Ireland to meet its waste management and carbon-reduction pledges.

Solution Interrupt lab plastic waste streams by re-evaluating what lab plastic is used for, where it comes from and how it can be reused. Mediate a nation-wide educational campaign, that explains to lab workers not only the volume, types, global warming potential and carbon footprint of the plastic lab items they handle, but that also reveals how their personal biases, combined with organisational and societal influences, may be preventing them from engaging in environment-friendly actions within their labs. Replace the current model of importing lab plastics, with one where a new plastics moulding enterprise will produce designed-for-purpose lab plastics using high-quality materials, including resins sourced from existing lab waste streams. By providing knowledge-based services around ‘lab greening’, GLaS will collaborate with lab-workers to advise them on how to assess and improve not only their practices in relation to plastics, but also how to reflect on other habits that could impact the environment. Crucially, GLaS will actively seek to provide work for those who are distant from the labour market, an ambition that is paramount as the nation navigates its way out of the global COVID crisis.

UN SDG Alignment GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities 

Team Una FitzGerald (NUIG), Michael McCormack (Irish Manufacturing Research), Sinéad Ní Mhainín (Connacht-Ulster Regional Waste Management Office) 

Making sustainable lab consumables 

Challenge More than 5.5 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated annually by the world’s bioscience and clinical labs.  This is 2% of the total plastic waste, despite the fact that researchers represent a negligible fraction of the world’s population.  Incineration of these plastic consumables causes a significant amount of CO2 and noxious emissions, and has a detrimental effect on climate change. 

Solution Develop a new eco-solution for lab consumables using biodegradable polymers suitable for landfill. These will combine sustainable synthesis and precision production of disposable microfluidic lab consumables as a killer application. This technology disruption will eliminate CO2 emissions from incineration and will provide a basis for sustainable, environmentally friendly bioscience/clinical labs. 

UN SDG Alignment GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production 

Team Nan Zhang (UCD), Wenxin Wang (UCD), Michael Gilchrist (MiNAN Technologies)