15 teams shortlisted for €2m SFI prizes in food and plastics

15 Feb 2021

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15 teams are set to compete in the next SFI Future Innovator Prize programmes, with projects focused on ocean health, sustainable batteries and more.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD, has announced 15 teams shortlisted for two Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Future Innovator Prize programmes.

The challenge-based funding programme was first launched in 2018, calling on researchers to address major societal problems, such as the climate crisis, through disruptive STEM solutions. The first Future Innovator Prize was awarded last year to Dr Alison Liddy of NUI Galway, for the Hydrobloc project to treat chronic pain.

The teams announced today will compete for two different prizes – one focused on food waste and the other on plastics. Both the SFI Food Challenge and the SFI Plastics Challenge will run for 12 months, and each programme has a prize fund of €2m.

Harris said that the Future Innovator Prize “seeks to support Ireland’s best and brightest to develop novel, potentially disruptive, technologies to address significant societal challenges”.

The food waste challenge aims to address issues such as the premature spoilage of fruit and vegetables, undernutrition, the shelf life of salad leaves and waste in the fishing industry. For plastics, researchers will be working on solutions to enable the sustainable use of plastics in the circular economy, removing plastic from coastal areas to preserve ocean health, and maximising how we use finite resources.

“We have seen a fantastic calibre of innovative thinking and truly novel approaches as part of the submissions, and I look forward to seeing the different solutions that develop in the areas of food waste and enabling the sustainable use of plastics as the competition continues,” Prof Mark Ferguson, director general at SFI, said.

“I would like to commend each team on their hard work and dedication and to wish them every success in the rest of the competition.”

Competing teams come from Trinity College Dublin (TCD), University College Dublin (UCD), Dublin City University (DCU), NUI Galway, University College Cork (UCC), University of Limerick (UL), IT Sligo, Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT), TU Dublin and a number of industry partners.

The 15 shortlisted teams and their challenge areas are listed below.

SFI Food Challenge


Team: Ultan McCarthy (WIT), Anastasia Ktenioudaki (UCD), Jean-Pierre Emond (The Illuminate Group)

Project: Reducing premature spoilage of fruit and vegetables in global supply chains


Team: Paul O’Toole (UCC), Elke Arendt (UCC), Suzanne Timmons (Health Service Executive)

Project: Addressing undernutrition and promoting healthy aging through optimisation of diet

Leaf No Waste

Team: Lorraine Foley (TU Dublin), Jesus Frias (TU Dublin), Karen O’Donohoe (Grow It Yourself)

Project: Extending the shelf life and reducing waste of salad leaves


Team: Sushanta Kumar Saha (LIT), Ajay Menon (UCD), Adam Lord (Food Surplus Management)

Project: Valorising food waste into value-added commodities


Team: Graham O’Neill (TU Dublin), Paula Bourke (UCD), Nadine Bonner (Irish Fish Canners)

Project: Addressing waste in the fishing industry – alternative uses of fish blood

SFI Plastics Challenge

Plastic Raiders

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

Project: Removing polluting plastics from the coastal marine environment


Team: Jennifer Gaughran (DCU), Brian Freeland (DCU), Samantha Fahy (DCU)

Project: Reducing reliance on single-use plastics in laboratories


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

Project: Making epoxy resins recyclable


Team: Corine Nzeteu (NUI Galway), Ramesh Babu Padamati (TCD), Stephen Nolan (Green Generation)

Project: Turning plastic and food waste into key value-added products

Green Clean

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

Project: Upcycling contaminated post-consumer plastic waste


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

Project: Removing plastic from food and beverage packaging

Green Lab Services (GLaS)

Team: Una FitzGerald (NUI Galway), David McCormack (Irish Manufacturing Research), Sinéad Ní Mhainín (Connacht-Ulster Regional Waste Management Office)

Project: Ireland’s lab plastic problem

Microplastic-free Plastics

Team: John Boland (TCD), Jing Jing Wang (TCD), Caolan Bushell (Mergon Group)

Project: Minimising the release of micro- and nano-plastics from plastic products


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

Project: Making sustainable lab consumables


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

Project: Utilising plastic waste for novel sustainable battery technologies

Updated, 12.40pm, 15 February 2020: A previous version of this article said that each of these SFI Future Innovator Prize programmes has a prize fund of €1m. This was updated to clarify that each programme has a prize fund of €2m.

Lisa Ardill was careers editor at Silicon Republic until June 2021