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Thinking for a cooler world

Global Ideas Reporter | Reporter's Log Rio+20

Students for Sustainability

Student team of Cambridge University

Author: Kerstin Schnatz

Energy shortages in China, water scarcity in mega-cities or waste management in slums. There are plenty of environmental challenges in the world. But what are the answers for them? German engineering company SIEMENS asked young bright minds from all around the world to bring forward their solution to a local problem. The best ideas for a more sustainable world were awarded by a panel of experts in Rio de Janeiro. The city currently is host to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – better know as Rio+20 or the Earth Summit.

Desalination to rescue the world?

Michaela Rizzo, Cambridge University

Before the event, we interviewed Michaela Rizzo from the United Kingdom. The young woman of Cambridge University believes that with sea-levels to rise and deserts to expand, the water problem will become more and more pressing. According to her, by 2025 four billion people will be living in water scarcity areas already. „As 97% of the world’s water resources are salty, desalination really makes sense“, she said.

Her project team had been studying a desalination plant in London, asking whether the technology was an apt solution to water infrastructure challenges in large cities.

Winning concepts in Rio

The negotiations in preparation of the Rio+20 congress are stuck. Only about 30% of the conference text could be agreed on so far. Especially the term „Green Economy“ is an ongoing point of discussion for which a winning concept cannot be seen yet.

The event “Students for Sustainability” was co-hosted by SIEMENS AG, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Rio-based university COPPE/UFRJ.

At the „Students for Sustainability Award“ a winner was found after only two hours when Michaela’s team had to give way to the Chinese team. The students of Beijing’s Tsinghua University convinced with a project focusing on energy shortages in rural China. They proposed to reuse waste oil as biodiesel. “We aim at solving the problems both of diesel shortage and of waste oil disposal in China’s Yangtze River Delta region“, the lucky winners said.

New fuel for desalination plants

One of the big challenges of desalination plants, is the high use of energy. At the moment, the London plant uses mainly conventional diesel, Michaela’s team colleague admitted in the presentation. Replaced by biofuel such as promoted by the Chinese team, CO2-emissions of water desalination could be cut down tremendously.

Michaela meanwhile hopes that the over 100 world leaders and delegations from around the globe expected to take part in the Rio+20 congress will not forget the issue of water. The Earth Summit starts Wednesday June 20 and is expected to end on Friday June 22.

Want to know more about the teams and their topics? Visit:
Students for Sustainability


June 18, 2012