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Stories from the Field: Milken–Motsepe Prize in Green Energy Meet the Finalists: Newdigit Technologies

Stories from the Field: Milken–Motsepe Prize in Green Energy
Meet the Finalists: Newdigit Technologies

Tell us about your team.

On a rainy night in Nigeria, tragedy struck when Joy Egbe’s pregnant aunt brought her fossil-fuel-powered generator inside her apartment to shield it from the rain. This unintentional decision inadvertently exposed her family to lethal fumes, resulting in their untimely demise. This heartbreaking incident is unfortunately not unusual in Nigeria. Countless families rely on generators, which cause a staggering 10,000 recorded deaths. Driven by anguish and a fervent desire for change, Egbe’s journey began.

Upon entering the University of Benin in 2015, Egbe crossed paths with Derick Nwasor, a physicist at the physics department, who was deeply immersed in developing a theoretical framework for innovative renewable energy solutions to power the whole of Nigeria. Collaborating with Michael Authority Odili, an embedded system expert, we harnessed our collective expertise to transform our vision into reality. This led to the founding of Newdigit, driven by a singular mission: to replace fossil generators and mitigate the tragic consequences of their usage in Nigerian households.

What inspired you to participate in the Milken-Motsepe Prize in Green Energy? In addition to competing for the $1 million grand prize, what do you hope to gain from this experience?

Participating in the Milken-Motsepe Prize in Green Energy was a natural step for us. The inspiration behind our involvement stems from the urgent need to address energy challenges in Africa. The devastating impact of fossil fuel generators on our communities, including the tragic loss of lives, spurred us into action. In the $1 million grand prize, we saw an opportunity to mass produce 250,000 units of our innovation, “Just Add Water,” each with a 3kW capacity, to replace household fossil generators. But, beyond this, we saw an advantage to connect with a global community of innovators, investors, and experts, to further mass produce our Just Add Water system to 1 million units before 2026, impacting the lives of nearly 5 million people in Nigeria.

How will your concept expand access to reliable, affordable, and sustainable electricity in Africa?

Just Add Water is designed to be a game-changer in expanding access to reliable, affordable, and sustainable electricity in Africa. It is a compact, single-unit product that uses dirty water to generate electricity, cooking gas, oxygen, and clean drinking water. The process of electrolysis produces hydrogen gas and medical-grade oxygen gas via an inbuilt reversible Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel cell, which in a reverse mode generates electricity. This process produces water vapor, which is condensed to liquified, clean drinking water.

What sets you apart from other teams in this competition?

Our collective experience of living without electricity, enduring the loss of loved ones to indoor generator fumes, and navigating compromised health-care facilities that lack essential oxygen has uniquely set us apart. Our commitment extends beyond providing solutions to others; we are addressing the very challenges we’ve faced personally. This drive culminated in the very nature of our solution, which employs the innovative reversibility of Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel cells, allowing the use of dirty greywater and purifying it into clean, drinkable water while generating electricity, cooking gas, and medical-grade oxygen. This sets us apart as the only team with a robust solution that addresses four key areas of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, such as Climate Action, Good Health, Affordable Clean Energy, and Water Sanitation, not just as a concept but with a product that works and has been tested and deployed in two communities.