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Chemistry for Climate Action winners develop biodegradable packaging and green energy for cooking and irrigation

May 25, 2023

By Rebecca Clear

Members of the Beled-Hawa community in Gedo, Somalia, work in the field. The Somali Social Entrepreneurs Fund is developing a biogas system for irrigation of vegetable farms.

These young scientists are creating innovative solutions for problems in the Philippines, Somalia — and beyond

Of all scientific research conducted between 2017 and 2021, 30% is directly related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with climate change the most cited research of all, according to Scopus data). This isn’t surprising given that climate change is arguably the biggest challenge our world is facing.

What might be surprising is the role chemistry can play in finding practical solutions to the environmental problems we must solve if we are to have a sustainable future. To tackle climate change, we need to harness the power of chemistry.

This is why, after five years of the Green and Sustainable Chemistry Challenge, the Elsevier Foundation has relaunched the competition as the Chemistry for Climate Action Challengeopens in new tab/window with a focus on finding chemistry-related solutions to the climate crisis. We’re proud to announce the winners today.

A shortlist of five finalistsopens in new tab/window pitched their proposals to the scientific jury at the 7th Green and Sustainable Chemistry Conference this week, having been selected from 98 entrants from 47 countries.

Commenting on the awards, Domiziana Francescon, Director, Partnerships and Programmes for the Elsevier Foundation said,

Embracing a gender lens in climate action projects is a transformative step towards a more inclusive and effective approach for Climate justice. By recognizing the distinct experiences, needs, and capacities of women and underserved communities, we can forge solutions that address the root causes of climate change and social inequality simultaneously.

The two winners, who will each receive a prize of €25,000, and a year’s access to Elsevier's premier chemistry and cheminformatics database Reaxys were Dr Maria Wilvenna Añoraopens in new tab/window, Co-Founder of social enterprise AtoANIopens in new tab/window, and Mohamedweli Mohamedopens in new tab/window, Co-Founder and Program Manager of the Somali Social Entrepreneurs Fundopens in new tab/window.

Dr Maria Wilvenna Añora (right) brainstorms with her team at AtoANI in the Philippines.

Dr Maria Wilvenna Añora (right) brainstorms with her team at AtoANI in the Philippines.

Biodegradable packaging to replace plastic packets

Every day, 163 million single-use sachetsopens in new tab/window are consumed and discarded in the Philippines. This presents a massive problem for the environment: the plastic from these small packets ends up clogging waterways, causing flooding and threatening marine life. Dr Añora's team at AtoANI works to produce biodegradable packaging products as an alternative to plastic, using agro-industrial waste as raw materials. The project will ultimately reduce agro-industrial waste and decrease the reliance on unsustainable material sources, such as wood pulp and recycled paper.

The solution involves building pilot pulp conversion hubs in strategic locations in the Philippines, which will process agro-industrial waste such as rice straws, corn husks and sugarcane bagasse. The resulting products will be of higher quality than recycled paper ones and will support farming communities by providing them with an additional source of income from the agro-industrial waste.

Maria Wilvenna Añora, PhD

Maria Wilvenna Añora, PhD

“The award means a lot to AtoANI. It will really help us start out the project: we already have a prototype, but we know that there’s still a tall order, and there is much responsibility. We’ll be able to grow, and reach out to more supporters and partner farmers.

Maria Wilvenna Añora, PhD


Maria Wilvenna Añora, PhD

Co-Founder at AtoANI

Members of the Beled-Hawa community in Gedo, Somalia, work in the field. The Somali Social Entrepreneurs Fund is developing a biogas system for irrigation of vegetable farms.

Members of the Beled-Hawa community in Gedo, Somalia, work in the field. The Somali Social Entrepreneurs Fund is developing a biogas system for irrigation of vegetable farms.

Alternative energy sources for cooking and irrigation

Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world: more than 90%opens in new tab/window of the population use organic charcoal from burned-down trees. There is a dire need for renewable energy sources, like biogas and solar energy. Mohammedweli's team at the Somali Social Entrepreneurs Fund focuses on introducing a renewable energy source to the Beled-Hawa community in Gedo, Somalia. The project uses home biogas systems to produce methane gas from fruit waste and cow manure/dung. Produced gas is cheaper and cleaner than charcoal, he explained.

The project will engage 50 female-headed households to establish a biogas system for cooking and irrigation of vegetable farms, to promote inclusive economic development, improve energy security, and mitigate climate change. Additionally, the project will use bio-slurry as a beneficial manure for a solar-powered irrigation system on a cooperative farmland owned by the Somali Social Entrepreneurs Fund in the Beled-Hawa community of southern Somalia.

Mohamedweli Mohamed

Mohamedweli Mohamed

“Thank you for recognizing the importance of our project. Receiving this award means a lot to us, and it will help save the lives of poor women in our communities. This transformative solution will help with the climate, social and economic challenges we are facing — and help reach the SDGs 2030 targets.”

Mohamedweli Mohamed


Mohamedweli Mohamed

Program Manager at Somali Social Entrepreneurs Fund

Commenting on the competition, Rob van Daalenopens in new tab/window, Senior Publisher for Sustainable Chemistry at Elsevier, said:

Sometimes I have mixed feeling about the Challenge. It's sad to see that much effort is going into trying to solve the mess that we have made of our planet. But on the other hand, it makes one optimistic, and it's fantastic to see that so many young scientist are so motivated to contribute positively to the problems related to the climate crisis and the environment. The two winners this year are a good example of that and their projects will have very positive impact on their local communities.


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Rebecca Clear

Corporate Responsibility Communications Director


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