Proteins fermented by fungi win the ReThink Waste Challenge

June 21, 2023

Team Afterlife won first prize for with their concept of converting agricultural foodwaste into a source of protein with the help of fungi. The jury commended the team for focussing on a waste stream that is a challenge to ferment. The team is awarded € 6.000 and professional support to further develop their idea into a real start-up that might change the future of waste.

The ReThink Waste Challenge dared students from all over the world to find innovative solutions towards a more sustainable future. This time around, the students were challenged to find circular, biobased ways to reduce, reuse or recycle waste. Almost 200 students competed in the international competition, from 33 countries.

Ten teams found their way to the Grand Finals, where they presented their business idea or prototype to a jury of academic and industry experts. That jury chose Team Afterlife as the winner, for its reuse of agricultural waste using of fungal fermentation. ‘The potential for fermenting the lignin and cellulose in agricultural waste is huge,’ they emphasized. Jury member Ernst-Jan Mul of Renewi was happy to help the winning team explore how their technology fits with other biorefinery processes. Team Afterlife also won the audience award.

Team Pomace won second place, and € 3.000, with their idea to transform the waste apple pomace into a natural aroma to flavor food. Team Cult Factor came in third, winning € 1.500. Both these teams will also receive support from industry professionals to further develop their ideas.

Turning waste into new materials

The award ceremony was part of a programme centred around our zero-waste future. Visitors could take a tour of the Wageningen Campus and visit the Innovation Market. There, student teams and partner companies presented their ideas for a more circular biobased economy. That is, a world in which production no longer results in waste that needs to be disposed of. Instead, innovative solutions find uses for those waste streams, turning it into a new material fit for production, extracting valuable products from it, or by finding more efficient production processes that result in less waste. Students and industry veterans presented ideas for that future side-by-side.

Two special guests gave their perspectives on this transition during the awards ceremony. Cees Leeuwis, professor of Collaborative Research, Communication and Change at Wageningen University & Research (WUR), initiated the investment theme Transformative Bioeconomies, together with dr. Harriette Bos. He talked about the need to develop new ways of producing the materials we use, like plastics and textiles, to phase out fossil feedstocks. This initiative was integral to the formulation of the ReThink Waste Challenge.

Ugne Dirdaite, the EU Bioeconomy Youth Ambassador and student at WUR shared her journey in the world of bioeconomy. She actively participates in the form of her own start-up and as ambassador, inspires other students to take action themselves.

The Challenge was made possible by University Fund Wageningen, investment theme Transformative Bioeconomies and over 20 industry partners and will take place again in 2025.