EPFL holds a giant hackathon on sustainability
With its Solutions4Sustainability initiative, EPFL aims to channel its community members’ knowledge and skills towards the goal of promoting more environmentally friendly lifestyles. To that end, projects selected under the initiative will be granted a hefty chunk of funding.
It’s a community initiative unlike any other. Solutions4Sustainability is a project-funding program that goes well beyond typical initiatives of this type because it’s open to the entire EPFL community – students, scientists, and technical and administrative staff alike. “We saw during the pandemic that research labs can achieve great things when they unite their efforts around a common goal,” says Gisou van der Goot, EPFL’s Vice President for Responsible Transformation.
Given the scale of the challenges facing the next generation – whether in terms of climate change, the environment or social equality – it’s become even more important to think outside the box. And that’s what Solutions4Sustainability is designed to do. The initiative will support the most promising ideas in the areas of clean energy, energy storage, sustainability and carbon capture, storage and use. EPFL plans to become a center of excellence in energy and sustainability at the School, complete with demonstrators and systems ready to be rolled out on a large scale.
Up to 30 million francs
Projects selected for the program must be able to be implemented by 2024 and should target a substantial reduction in the carbon footprint of the School and, ideally, of the economy more broadly. Ten projects will be selected and will receive a total of CHF 10 million in funding. Two additional, larger-scale projects will also be chosen to receive CHF 10 million each over six years; these projects must demonstrate feasibility by 2027 with a view to being scaled up to societal use.
“Going from research to application usually implies a very short timeframe, but scientists have shown they can work well together quickly and effectively under that kind of pressure,” says van der Goot. “During the pandemic, for example, scientists from an array of fields – and not necessarily virology – were able to pool their knowledge so that in just two years’ time, SARS-CoV-2 became the best-understood virus ever!” Ambrogio Fasoli, EPFL’s Associate Vice President for Research, adds: “Our focus with Solutions4Sustainability is on coming up with solutions. We want to foster dialogue between scientists conducting basic research and experts whose experience is oriented more towards R&D.”
The application period for the program runs from 12 December to 15 January. Project ideas can be submitted on the Solutions4Sustainability webpage.
Great minds at work
The organizers are looking forward to seeing the original ideas that the EPFL community will come up with. They already got a first taste in early December, when EPFL hosted a student hackathon weekend on its Lausanne campus (see box). This event was also geared towards sustainability. “The students made my Sunday with their energy and creativity,” says Anna Fontcuberta i Morral, EPFL’s Associate Vice President for Centers and Platforms. “I could see it’s a topic that really matters to them.”
“Solutions4Sustainability is different from most funding programs run by research institutes,” says van der Goot. “But the challenges facing our society are unprecedented. They relate to sustainability in the broadest sense, not just climate change or clean energy. We therefore need to expand our research horizons and the potential scope of applications.”