Building Sustainable Products – Creating Lasting Impact

© 2021 EPFL

© 2021 EPFL

In the second edition of the master’s course Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Engineering (IEE) – jointly offered by STI and CDM – students responded to industry challenges, building prototypes in teams and analyzing the viability of businesses. Under this year’s theme of “Sustainable Technology” six teams of 3-5 students competed, each developing a product prototype, a business plan, and an impact assessment for at least one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the United Nations.

During the 2020 fall semester, student teams worked across disciplines on an industry challenge provided by several Swiss companies and an NGO. The goal was to address the problem with a technical solution, along with a management and economic viability plan for its development, and defend the product in front of a jury panel composed of Prof. Thomas Weber (Chair of Operations, Economics and Strategy [OES] - EPFL), Prof. Véronique Michaud (Laboratory for Processing of Advanced Composites [LPAC] - EPFL), Dr. Marc Laperrouza (Co-founder of the China Hardware Innovation Camp [CHIC] - EPFL), and Marcel Aeschlimann(Managing Partner and Chairman of the Board - Creaholic). This year’s focus of the course was on addressing the aspect of sustainability from an engineering perspective (including material selection and manufacturing) and a business viewpoint (including prototype costing, an environmental profit & loss statement, as well as a business plan).

Inspired by the class outcomes from last year (under the theme “Portables and Wearables”), eleven industry partners pitched problems to the students at the beginning of the semester. Six of these projects were selected and tackled under the supervision of the industry sponsors to deliver outcomes with a sustainable impact.

Team 1: Design of Future Sustainable Watch Boxes, in collaboration with Audemars Piguet

Students: Baptiste Bergerot (MX), Beatrice Bigoni (MX), Valentin Girardet (GM), Timo Scheidegger (GM)

Industry partner: Théodore Vernet (Audemars Piguet)

The aim of the project was to rethink the packaging of a luxury watch in order to make it more sustainable and innovative. Sustainability and innovation were not at the core of the design thinking process when the current existing boxes were invented. Therefore, the team was challenged to come up with a user-centric and product-centric solution aligning with Audemars Piguet’s values.

The students developed a transparent watchcase made from sustainable and recycled materials and added functionality with an integrated winder. Additionally, the students proposed the reduction of its environmental impact by adapting the existing box manufacturing process and raising the awareness for sustainability throughout the sales process.

Team 2: Water Filtration System for Remote Areas, in collaboration with Club de Ginebra (NGO)

Students: Camille Azan-Soulié (CGC), Jean-André Davy-Guidicelli (SIE), Gabriela Haenel (MT), Nicolas Jouron (MT), Clément-Valentin Viers (MX)

Industry partner: Jaime Ampuero, Ricardo Alba (Club de Ginebra)

Students were challenged to develop a technological solution to produce drinking water for consumption by inhabitants of areas far from urban centers (particularly children, women and the elderly). The solution had to address the demanding operating conditions in southern countries and be extremely cost effective to deliver an improvement of life quality.

The team developed a water filtration system called “Agua Limpia” and a business model empowering local communities. At the core of the system is a gravity-driven process with bio-film formation. The product is compact, cheap to produce due to the reuse of second-hand filtration units and easy to maintain and operate.

Team 3: Sustainable High-End Diver Watch, in collaboration with Kering / Ulysse Nardin

Students: Eva Debette (GM), Mathilde Durand (GM), Pavel Kalinin (MX), Rémy Treyvaud (GM), Bruno Trivelli (MT)

Industry partner: Julien Stervinou (Kering), Jean-Christophe Sabatier (Ulysse Nardin)

Ulysse Nardin challenged the team to demonstrate that the development of a high-end sustainable diver watch is possible. Diver watches operate in harsh environments and require materials that can resist pressure and are watertight.

In this project the team focused on the development of a case featuring components made out of recycled materials from the ocean. The final properties of the prototypes satisfied the mechanical requirements of a high-end diver watch. With the use of recycled materials, the students achieved a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and outlined the business potential for a limited-edition watch.

Team 4: Zero Carbon Mouse, in collaboration with Logitech

Students: Tim Bürgel (EL), Nouha Daghrir (SIE), Gauthier Ducrozet (MX), Khaled Mansouri (MX)

Industry partner: Sènami Aklé (Logitech)

Logitech raised the following questions: What could a zero carbon mouse look like? What implications and innovation potential would this lead to in terms of the materials and components, the product architecture and the product lifecycle?

In response to these questions, the team developed a computer mouse called “EcoOne” which relies on bio-sourced and biodegradable materials to facilitate recycling and reduce CO2 emissions by up to 80% for the material sourcing phase. Using bio-sourced materials even allows storing carbon during the lifecycle and therefore potentially reaching a negative carbon footprint. The demonstrated approaches are applicable for any low-power electronic device.

Team 5: Design of an Automated Bulk Dispenser, in collaboration with Nestlé

Students: Marion Junger (MX), Kevin Marangi (GM), Daniil Morzhakov (GM), Alexandre Pyalov (MX)

Industry partner: Kim-Anne Le Bur (Nestlé), Christoph Hartmann (Nestlé)

The challenge provided by Nestlé asked for a system that could create tasty food products that are at the same time nutritious, have a low environmental impact, and are affordable.

The team developed a proof-of-concept, in the form of a bulk-dispenser system, giving the customer the opportunity to create a custom cereal mix that has an integrated algorithm optimizing between the tradeoffs of nutritional values and cost. The team analyzed the benefits of the business model such as eliminating carbon emissions in transportation and single-use plastic in packaging due to the usage of bulk-dispenser systems.

Team 6: Reinvention of the Streetlamp Cleaning Process, in collaboration with Romande Energie

Students: Dominik Blaser (GM), Pierre-Louis Lechère (GM), Mohammadhossein Montazerian (MX)

Industry partner: Guillaume Fuchs (Romande Energie)

The emergence of LED technology has changed the maintenance process for street lamps since the classical periodic bulb replacement is not required as often anymore. However, the cleaning of the lamps is still required. Therefore, Romande Energie requested students to prototype an innovative and sustainable cleaning solution.

The final device called “Cleaning Pelican Mouth” successfully demonstrated the cleaning of multiple lamps. The students designed the prototype as a two-shelled-based cleaning box with several degrees of freedom to simplify the device’s positioning around the various types of lamps. Initial estimations showed that the development has huge potential for CO2 emission reductions due to the reduction of traffic jams. In addition, the device is set to significantly diminish the use of water and detergents in the cleaning process.

2020 IEE Prize – Results

Integrating sustainability in every aspect of the innovation process required all students to think out-of-the-box and challenge the current dominant way of thinking. The jury was extremely impressed by the quality and quantity of work that the student teams invested in their projects.

After the excellent presentations, which involved audiovisual demonstrations of the working prototypes for each team, the jury was faced with the difficult task of rating the different projects, based on three groups of criteria: quality of the business case, assessment of the prototype, and overall professionalism.

The jury’s unanimous conclusion was that the Team 2’s project on the Water Filtration System for Remote Areas in Bolivia, sponsored by the Club de Ginebra, produced the most convincing result. The winning team designed a solution that in exceeded expectations in terms of water-cleaning performance and estimated sustainability gains for communities in Bolivia. Challenges such as reducing the production cost for a filtration system while increasing the quality of water were solved by an innovative process. The business model, enabling the empowerment by local communities’ partnering with filtration manufacturers for the recycling of second-hand modules, promised a significant a sustainable impact to the judges. The project applied current biofilm-based filtering methods developed by the EAWAG which had thus far not been tested outside the lab. A continuation of the project with implementation in Bolivia is envisaged. The team won the 2020 IEE Prize for the best project in this academic year’s course on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Engineering.

The runner-up was the Carbon Zero Mouse team with their EcoOne product. The jury was particularly impressed by the way the challenge of manufacturing sustainable electronic PCBs was solved and the impact this biodegradable solution could potentially have on an entire industry.

Logitech proudly sponsored a mouse and keyboard of its MX Master series for the winners and a Spotlight Advanced Wireless Presentation Remote for the members of the runner-up team. On the EPFL side, the prize competition was supported by the OES chair’s administrative assistant Ilona Ball. The course assistants this year were Sarra El Housseini (LMC laboratory), Andrea Teixeira (LMC laboratory) and Philipp Schneider (OES chair).


The course benefitted greatly from help by the following faculty and experts, at EPFL and beyond, to teach the students about technology prototyping, economic evaluation, and sustainability assessment (in the order of appearance): Prof. Marc Gruber [Vice-President for Innovation, ENTC – EPFL]; Malachy Spollen [Senior Director Design, Logitech]; Prof. Mario Paolone [DESL – EPFL]; Prof. Chris Tucci [Imperial College London], Grégory Huot (Production Transition Manager, ICRC); Dr. Martyn Wakeman [Scientist, LPAC – EPFL]; Dr. Klaus Schönenberger [Director, EssentialTech Centre, EPFL]; Dr. André Catana [Director, STARTUP, EPFL]; Prof. Dimitrios Kyritsis [ICT4SM, EPFL]. The course preparation was helped by Dr. Myrna Flores [Scientific Collaborator, OES – EPFL]. The instructors are also grateful for help by the Vice-Presidency for Innovation, in particular Liana Ugnat Mansour [VPI, industry contacts, EPFL] and Pascal Vuilliomenet [Discovery Learning Laboratories, EPFL]. Finally, the course could not have been undertaken without the strong and unwavering support by Prof. Ali Sayed [Dean, School of Engineering, EPFL] and Prof. Dominique Foray [Dean, College of Management of Technology, EPFL] who organized, among many other things, financial support for the student projects, in the order of CHF 1000 per project. Special thanks go to Prof. Pierre Vandergheynst [Vice-President of Education, EPFL] for his special effort to accommodate the students’ teamwork during the difficult regime of the current pandemic, and to Jean-Michel Chardon [Head of AI, CTO Office, Logitech] for his continued support and for organizing the Logitech student prizes.


Master course "Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Engineering (IEE)" – jointly offered by STI and CDM

The MGT-555 Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Engineering course is scheduled to be given next in the fall of 2021, under the theme of “Smart Sensing,” organized again jointly by Prof. Thomas Weber and Prof. Véronique Michaud.