UN2023 Gamechanger Challenge Winners Announced!

Opening day at the New York Water Week Water House came to an exciting conclusion, as the winners of the UN2023 Gamechanger Challenge were announced. The winning team developed an idea to use halophilic algae – a.k.a. Green Gold – to desalinate seawater in a sufficient and sustainable way.

The winners of the UN2023 Gamechanger Challenge

The concept was created by Meinke van Oenen of the Netherlands, who at 19 years of age is the youngest member of the team. Fellow “Algeanius” team members included Mare de Wit, also from the Netherlands, who has spent three years in water desalination; Ayanda Mafunda, a chemical engineer from South Africa; and Samah Iqtaish, an architectural engineer from Jordan.

“I believe if you look at nature, you can find the future. We gained so much knowledge from studying how nature has survived over thousands of years,” said van Oenen.

Green Gold to Desalinate Seawater

The idea developed by the team uses halophilic algae to desalinate water in a sufficient and sustainable way. They dubbed halophilic algae Green Gold, because they are able to desalinate seawater up to 90% dependent on the treatment period. It is a vast improvement over current methods to desalinate water, such as reversed osmosis, which are energy intensive.

The goal of the concept is to create water that is usable for the mining, industrial, and a portion of the agricultural sectors. The water demand for these industries can be reliably met through this approach, and as a result, pressure on freshwater resources will be alleviated. 

The Green Gold does more than desalinate. It also produces oxygen and takes in carbon dioxide. Plus, the waste can be upcycled into biofuel and nutritional supplements. Algae offer an innovative, nature-based alternative, as a low-energy, economically beneficial, and circular desalination technology. Implementing this technology brings hope to a green-golden future.

It can be easily implemented, according to all four team members, as the concept is very similar to existing wastewater plants. For that reason, it’s realistic that it can be realized within 1-2 years, if a company adopts the idea.

Bringing Youth Together for a Solution

Wavemakers United, a community of students, young professionals, and athletes with a passion for water, launched the challenge in collaboration with IHE Delft Institute for Water Education. The objective of the challenge was to bring young people throughout the world together for a common goal - develop an innovative and implementable idea that takes on global water challenges and ensures a climate-resilient future.

According to Eva den Boer, Creative Director at Wavemakers United, that goal was achieved with flying colors. She applauded all who participated.

The finalists pictured together

“The world is the real winner, because there are so many great ideas to address the water crisis,” said den Boer. “Now it is time to take the next step of turning those ideas into reality.”

With that in mind, Wavemakers United has created an Adopt-an-Idea program. Twenty ideas are already on the website, with the aim of having companies, academia, and other professional organizations further develop these innovative ideas created by talented youth throughout the world.