UK innovation shortlist revealed by Royal Academy of Engineering

6th June 2022
Kiera Sowery

A dialysis machine that can treat kidney patients in the home, precision agriculture through vertical farming and transformative electron scanning microscopy are vying to be named the UK’s leading engineering innovation of 2022.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has today announced the shortlist for the 2022 MacRobert Award, the UK’s longest running and most prestigious award for UK engineering innovation. The three finalists represent strikingly different aspects of engineering and are recognised for technical innovation and the commercial and societal impact they’ve demonstrated.

Selected by a judging panel of esteemed engineering experts, the 2022 MacRobert Award finalists are:

  • Intelligent Growth Solutions for helping to de-risk an agriculture sector that’s facing an ageing farming population and an uncertain, volatile future.  Intelligent Growth Solutions’ vertical farming technology blends engineering, crop science and agronomy expertise to manage all environmental inputs for optimal growth, flavour and longevity. The system houses ‘towers’ of crops within an enclosed structure that controls all aspects of the growing environment – light, temperature, humidity, irrigation, nutrition and even air consumption – while ensuring no water wastage at any point in the cycle. The level of control provided by this innovation supports the farmers of today and tomorrow by de-risking the early stages of crop cultivation, while also supporting plant diversification through high-density, high-value indoor crop production. The technology also has the potential to support reforestation through germination and early growth of tree saplings.
  • Oxford Instruments for developing the Symmetry detector that integrates with scanning electron microscopes and dramatically increases the speed, sensitivity and resolution of analysis that is possible. Symmetry enables a deeper understanding of a material’s structure down to the nanoscale-level, allowing minuscule weaknesses or flaws in various materials to be identified and addressed. This opens up vast industrial and scientific opportunities – from developing far more robust and long-lasting batteries and semiconductors, to stronger aircraft turbine blades. It has even been used to analyse meteorites to better understand how extra-terrestrial rock was formed. Symmetry has turned what was a niche technology predominantly used in research labs into a more widely accessible process with applications across a variety of sectors and industries.
  • Quanta Dialysis Technologies for creating a compact and portable dialysis machine, allowing more flexible and accessible care for patients with renal failure. Originally developed to reconstitute orange juice from concentrate, Quanta’s innovative disposable fluid cartridge system was repurposed for use in a compact haemodialysis machine. Simpler to operate, yet as powerful as traditional dialysis machines, Quanta’s SC+ haemodialysis system was designed to bring dialysis directly to the patient, allowing patients to treat themselves at home, rather than spending hours a week at healthcare facilities. It marks the first major advance in dialysis technology in decades and is already used by several NHS Trusts. During the pandemic, Quanta donated its entire stock of dialysers to the NHS to help relieve some of the pressure in hospitals and clinics. The innovation is already FDA-approved and stands to be a global leader in the industry, which is projected to exceed $12bn in the US alone.

The winning team will be announced at the Royal Academy of Engineering Awards Dinner on 12 July at Leicester Square’s stunning new sustainably designed and engineered hotel, The Londoner, and will receive a £50,000 prize.  

For more than half a century MacRobert Award winners have been recognised for delivering outstanding engineering innovation, commercial success and tangible social benefit. The first award in 1969 was won jointly by Rolls-Royce for the Pegasus engine used in the iconic Harrier jump jet, and Freeman, Fox and Partners for designing the Severn Bridge. More recently, 2008 winner Touch Bionics i-Limb Hand has helped to transform medical prosthetics while people across all seven continents still rely on winning innovations from the likes of Jaguar Land Rover, Raspberry Pi and Inmarsat.

Professor Sir Richard Friend FREng FRS, Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award judging panel, said: “Engineering has a key role to play in combating the greatest challenges of our time – from climate change to driving a sustainable healthcare system through the COVID-19 pandemic and into the future. The breadth of the 2022 MacRobert Award finalists shows exactly that, from innovative healthcare technology that has reduced the strain on the NHS, to vertical farming with zero water waste and a step-change in electron microscopy that is revolutionising research and innovation across a variety of sectors.

“The global impact these vibrant and creative innovations have already had on their respective sectors and society at large is cementing UK engineering’s leading role on the world stage. It goes to show quite how far-reaching UK engineering now is, something that will only continue given the world-beating talent located right here in the UK.”

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