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Urban Labs Innovation Challenge

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In a first-of-a-kind collaboration with the University of Chicago (USA), the Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi (DDC Delhi) organised an open public competition called ‘The Urban Labs Innovation Challenge: Delhi’ to solicit ideas in energy and environment related areas in Delhi. DDC Delhi’s proposal for the same consisted of details regarding application and selection process of competition, timelines, logistics and funding support from the University of Chicago etc.

The competition was focused to crowdsource the best local innovative ideas to reduce Delhi’s share of pollution and meet the city’s future energy needs. The competition introduced a unique approach of identifying, refining, testing and scaling up innovative policy solutions.

In a first-of-a-kind collaboration with the University of Chicago (USA), the Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi (DDC Delhi) organised an open public competition called ‘The Urban Labs Innovation Challenge: Delhi’ to solicit ideas in energy and environment related areas in Delhi. DDC Delhi’s proposal for the same consisted of details regarding application and selection process of competition, timelines, logistics and funding support from the University of Chicago etc.

The competition was focused to crowdsource the best local innovative ideas to reduce Delhi’s share of pollution and meet the city’s future energy needs. The competition introduced a unique approach of identifying, refining, testing and scaling up innovative policy solutions.

Current Stage

The Challenge was a project of the Tata Centre for Development, which is supported by Tata Trust. Three winners were selected from nearly 250 students, researchers, entrepreneurs, nonprofit and for-profit organizations and citizens from across India and around the world who submitted their ideas for the Delhi Innovation Challenge. They collectively received a sum of Rs 2 crore ($300,000) to help them pilot and test their ideas at scale.

The winners are working with the University of Chicago Urban Labs, the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago’s India team (EPIC-India), and DDC Delhi to pilot and test their ideas. If successful, Delhi Government could implement the programs at a large scale, providing an important model for other cities to follow in India and beyond.

Winners

This Group Uses Soot from Gensets to Leave its Mark

Particulate matter pollution is known to cause strokes, asthma and even cancer. Vehicle exhaust, including diesel generators, contributes up to 34 percent of Delhi’s particulate pollution. This project would employ a device which when coupled with the exhaust pipe of diesel engines absorbs over 72 percent of the particulate matter—all without negative effects on engine performance. The technology can then convert this captured particulate matter into black ink and paints which can be sold to literally “Print from Pollution.”

The project would pilot the technology initially on diesel generators used as power back-ups for mobile telephone towers in Delhi, which are off the grid and consume over 50 litres of diesel each day to run. There are over 14,000 mobile towers in Delhi and most of them have a diesel generator installed either as the primary source of power or as power back-up in case of load shedding. From there, the project will use the technology for larger diesel generators used at big hospitals and hotels, followed commercial vehicles.

How Crop Waste Can Give Back to Soil and Keep the Air Clean Too

Most farmers in Punjab and Haryana burn rice straw after harvesting is over to prepare fields quickly for the next season’s crops. Burning from the two states comprises 48 percent of total emissions from rice straw burning across India. During the months rice straw is burned, Delhi experiences a much higher air pollution, with PM 2.5 levels commonly exceeding 400 ppm.

Governments in Punjab and Haryana have acknowledged the importance of the issue. Straw burning is actually illegal, but inexpensive, and thus widely practiced. “Charvesters” affordably recycle rice straw into biochar with clean emissions using the Biochar Reactors developed by the Climate Foundation. “Charvesting” allows farmers to comply with existing air pollution laws at minimal cost and effort, increase soil productivity and restore depleted lands. Several villages in Haryana support this project and have agreed to change the practice of open rice¬ straw burning and pilot the proposed “Charvesting” system.

This approach will ultimately lead to a significant reduction in air and water pollution in Northern India including Delhi, provide a cost ¬effective, reliable, sustainable and decentralized approach to address local needs, increase crop growth, improve farmer productivity, sequester carbon in soils, and provide a valuable income source for rural villages.

A Cool Idea on the Roof can Bring Down Slum Home Heato

Access to light, ventilation, and efficient energy is critical to improving the quality of life and productivity of the poor, especially women who spend the majority of their time indoors. Unfortunately, these women only have illegal and irregular access to electricity. Poor light and ventilation make them depend more on electrical lighting and cooling devices, and the dwellings are often constructed with materials that absorb heat and require more energy to cool down. Slum communities often use cooling fans for hours a day, raising their energy bills by over 3000 INR per month especially during summers.

This project will pilot modular roofs in three slums of Delhi to reduce home temperatures and improve ventilation. It will also mobilize communities to generate awareness on the benefits of using the product by training women entrepreneurs and design a loan product to create a sustainable business model. The improved indoor environment will help reduce exposure to extreme heat. The reduction in household energy costs will allow poor households to increase spending on food, health, and education, resulting in improvements in the quality of life. And the low energy, better designed homes will make the households less vulnerable to weather impacts, improve their resilience against climate change risks.

Finalists

Vertical Gardens to Control Outdoor Air Pollution

Bhalswa Jahangir Pur Slums in Delhi are home to the poorest of the poor, who are the worst victims of swelling air pollution in the city. Apart from inhaling the routine automobile exhaust, the slum dwellers are exposed to a highly toxic air due to burning of solid waste and wooden feedstock used in cooking stoves. The prolonged exposure to such unhygienic conditions has been shown to retard the physical and mental growth of residents, especially children.

This project would provide the Bhalswa Jahangir Pur slum dwellers cleaner air through a techno-societal intervention comprised of two pillars: A vertical garden/green wall that substantially absorbs the major air pollutants through an avant-garde hydroponic media embedded with selective smart adsorbents, and community ownership to slum dwellers for operation and maintenance of the commons. The project would reduce pollutants by as much as 30 percent in the immediate area of the slums.

Looking for a Solid Idea to Guard Against Waste Burning

The burning of municipal solid waste contributes to about 10 percent of particulate matter pollution during Delhi’s winters. This project would tackle waste burning by addressing the challenge of waste burning by security guards during winter nights. Delhi’s air could be poisoned by at least 30,000 small fires every night from November to February, also the peak air pollution months, by security guards to keep warm. Even the best waste management systems cannot address this, hence it requires a focused intervention to yield impactful results.

The long-term goal of the project is to eliminate air pollution where it is caused by burning of waste locally by combining behavior change and low-cost technical and engineered innovations at the mohalla level.

Chintan will influence behavior change amongst residents, security guards and security agencies as well as test tangible technical solutions with 50 guards, gleaned via an open, public competition for improved clothing and kiosks. Enabling security guards to remain warmer, along with education about the impact of burning waste on their own health, will prevent them from burning waste by as much as 60 percent.

Reap Benefit

Making a city livable is not the government’s responsibility alone. This project puts some of the power in the hands of citizens through the ‘U-Governance’ app. The App aims to assist citizens in solving local environment and civic issues, in concert with their local municipality, starting with a focus on water and sanitation. The app will make accessible local data and information on appropriate government bodies, a database of customizable solutions, and community engagement and mutual learning between citizens and the government.

The goal of the app is to empower citizens to bring about a transformation through a combination of report features, solutions and rich local data generated through the app. It will solve local issues along with the government through local data & local solutions.

Food for Thought: How to Plug Water Leaks at City Restaurants

Water is under a constant stress, with growing demand from all sectors including restaurants. Much of this stress is caused because of water wastage or inefficient use. In 2015, Delhi Jal Board has fined over 850 people including owners of hotels, restaurants, and commercial complexes for misuse of water and illegal water and sewer connections.

This project would initiate the process of efficient water management in this sector by encouraging restaurants to take simple steps like plugging leaks, serving customers with half a glass of water and raising awareness of various key stakeholders on the importance of water conservation. The restaurants would be awarded with a blue star for their efforts, which would inspire other restaurants and others to follow suit. In the long-run, this project would promote water conservation in all sectors across the city and establish rating system of water use.

Media Coverage

Energy & Environment Lab
Delhi: Bright ideas to spark clean-air revolution

Times of India / December 24, 2018
By Ritam Halder

Two years ago, Delhi government and the University of Chicago University of Chicago announced three winners for an urban innovation challenge that looked for ideas to reduce air pollution in the capital. The winners were selected from among nearly 250 students, researchers, entrepreneurs, NGOs and citizens from India and other countries. However, only one of the three innovations has been successfully implemented as part of a pilot project in Delhi.

Read Full Article
Energy & Environment Lab
To Fight Smog, How About Rooftop Bus Gardens?
New York Times / January 6, 2017
By Nida Najar

 

Indians have long practiced the will fully inexact science — some would call it an art — of jugaad. It is a Hindi word whose specific meaning is a truck like vehicle mashed together from whatever is available — scraps of an old bus, perhaps, with some wooden beams and maybe a tractor engine. But broadly, it can refer to any kind of slapdash solution, innovation in the face of scarcity. Now, that ingenuity is focused on one of the country’s most intractable modern problems: Delhi’s toxic air.

Read Full Article
Urban Labs
Innovation Challenge Winners Poised To Cut Pollution With Innovative Solutions
Urban Labs / October 21, 2016

 

Winners to implement and test their ideas with University of Chicago researchers and the Delhi government. The University of Chicago and Delhi government today announced three winners in their first-of-a-kind crowd sourcing competition to cut pollution in Delhi.

The winners of the Urban Labs Innovation Challenge: Delhi, a project of the Tata Centre for Development that is supported by Tata Trusts, together received more than Rs. 2 crores. They will now use that money to work with the University of Chicago Urban Labs’ Energy & Environment Lab, the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago’s India team (EPIC-India), and the Delhi government to implement and test their ideas.

The winners were among nearly 250 students, researchers, entrepreneurs, non-profit and for-profit organizations and citizens from across India and around the world who submitted ideas for the Delhi Innovation Challenge. “It has been inspiring to see the level of enthusiasm for this contest within Delhi and around India,” said Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.

“With three promising winners chosen, the Delhi government now looks forward to collaborating with the talented academic minds at the University of Chicago to carry out these innovative ideas while establishing our city as a trailblazer for how working together can establish immense progress to improve our environment and the lives of our citizens.”

“Having received so many creative and passionate ideas to improve Delhi’s environment, selecting the winners was a deeply challenging and competitive process. But we believe these winning projects hold incredible potential to improve the lives of Delhi’s citizens,” said Michael Greenstone, the director of EPIC and the Urban Labs’ Energy & Environment Lab.

“We look forward to working with the winners and the Delhi government to test these ideas and hope they will become model projects proven to work in Delhi, throughout India, and beyond.”

The winners include: Chakr Innovation Pvt. Ltd, which will pilot their device that captures more than 70 percent of particulate pollution from diesel engines and converts it to black ink and paints; Climate Foundation and Tide Technocrats Pvt. Ltd, which will employ devices that turn rice straw into biochar to enrich agricultural soil and prevent the heavy air pollution in Delhi from rice straw burning; and Mahila Housing SEWA Trust, which will deploy cool roofing solutions in Delhi slums to bring down indoor temperature and allow dwellers to conserve energy and improve their productivity and quality of life.

“In putting these programs through the rigor of testing with the collaboration of the University of Chicago, we hope to scale them up into programs that can be employed in Delhi, but also in other cities in India and the world,” said Ashish Khetan, Vice Chairperson of the Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi.

“We believe the projects will reduce pollution in Delhi and hope to prove how successful such innovative partnerships can be at generating evidence-based programs that work,” said Anna Agarwal, senior manager of the Challenge for the University of Chicago-India.

More on the winning projects: Chakr Innovation Pvt. Ltd: Removal of Particulate Matter from the Exhaust of Internal Combustion Engines and Subsequent Processing to Convert it into Ink and Paints. Particulate matter pollution is known to cause strokes, asthma and even cancer. Vehicle exhaust, including diesel generators, contributes up to 34 percent of Delhi’s particulate pollution.

This project will employ a device which when coupled with the exhaust pipe of diesel engines absorbs over 72 percent of the particulate matter—all without negative effects on engine performance. The technology can then convert this captured particulate matter into black ink and paints which can be sold to literally “Print from Pollution”. The project will pilot the technology initially on diesel generators used as power back-ups for mobile telephone towers in Delhi, which are off the grid and consume over 50 litres of diesel each day to run.

There are over 14,000 mobile towers in Delhi and most of them have a diesel generator installed either as the primary source of power or as power back-up in case of load shedding. From there, the project will use the technology for larger diesel generators used at big hospitals and hotels, followed commercial vehicles.

Climate Foundation and Tide Technocrats Pvt. Ltd: “Charvesting” to Eliminate Rice Field Burning in Haryana and Punjab to Reduce Air and Water Pollution in Delhi Most farmers in Punjab and Haryana burn rice straw after harvesting is over to prepare fields quickly for the next season’s crops. Burning from the two states comprises 48 percent of total emissions from rice straw burning across India.

During the months rice straw is burned, Delhi experiences a much higher air pollution, with PM2.5 levels commonly exceeding 400 ppm. Governments in Punjab and Haryana have acknowledged the importance of the issue. Straw burning is actually illegal, but inexpensive, and thus widely practiced. “Charvesters” affordably recycle rice straw into biochar with clean emissions using the Biochar Reactors developed by the Climate Foundation. “Charvesting” allows farmers to comply with existing air pollution laws at minimal cost and effort, increase soil productivity and restore depleted lands.

Several villages in Haryana support this project and have agreed to change the practice of open rice straw burning and pilot the proposed “Charvesting” system. This approach will ultimately lead to a significant reduction in air and water pollution in Northern India including Delhi, provide a cost effective, reliable, sustainable and decentralized approach to address local needs, increase crop growth, improve farmer productivity, sequester carbon in soils, and provide a valuable income source for rural villages.

Mahila Housing SEWA Trust: Transforming Home Ambience for Slum Dwellers in Delhi Access to light, ventilation, and efficient energy is critical to improving the quality of life and productivity of the poor, especially women who spend the majority of their time indoors. Unfortunately, these women only have illegal and irregular access to electricity.

Poor light and ventilation make them depend more on electrical lighting and cooling devices, and the dwellings are often constructed with materials that absorb heat and require more energy to cool down. Slum communities often use cooling fans for hours a day, raising their energy bills by over 3000 INR per month especially during summers. This project will pilot cool roofs in three slums of Delhi to reduce home temperatures and improve ventilation. It will also mobilize communities to generate awareness on the benefits of using the product by training women entrepreneurs and design a loan product to create a sustainable business model.

The improved indoor environment will help reduce exposure to extreme heat. The reduction in household energy costs will allow poor households to increase spending on food, health, and education, resulting in improvements in the quality of life. And the low energy, better designed homes will make the households less vulnerable to weather impacts, improve their resilience against climate change risks.

Energy & Environment Lab
Food for Thought: How to Plug Water Leaks at City Restaurants
The Times of India / October 11, 2016

 

NEW DELHI: Many would remember how the National Green Tribunal had in 2014 ordered several eateries in Hauz Khas village to remain shut until they installed effluent treatment facilities.

These eateries were allegedly discharging untreated waste water and spent oil into the sewers. But that's not the only trouble with a large number of unregulated eateries in the city. Anshuman and his team at the water resources division of The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) found that most restaurants used this scarce resource extremely inefficiently.

Read Full Article
Energy & Environment Lab
How Crop Waste Can Give it Back to Soil and Keep the Air Clean Too
The Times of India / October 10, 2016

 

NEW DELHI: US-based Brian Von Herzen and his team at Climate Foundation India believe that agricultural waste can be processed into not just something useful for farmers but also enrich the soil by putting back carbon into it. Paddy straw and wheat residues are usually burned by farmers in Punjab and Haryana in the absence of affordable alternatives to dispose them of. Every year, in November and February , burning of agricultural res idue in these states causes severe air pollution in Delhi.Read Full Article

Energy & Environment Lab
A Cool Idea on the Roof Can Bring Down Slum Home Heat
The Times of India / October 9, 2016

 

NEW DELHI: Bijal Brambhatt and her team at Ahmedabad-based Mahila Housing Sewa Trust (MHT) have been working to make life a little more comfortable for slum women — by advocating better living conditions and access to affordable housing. Among their innovative interventions are cooler roofs in slum houses to bring down the indoor temperature in the summers. When MHT learnt about the urban innovation challenge in Delhi, the cool roof idea seemed ideal.

"Our focus is to make the lives of the urban poor better," says Brambhatt. "This intervention can be useful in Delhi's severe heat. It can also help make the community resilient to climate change."

Read Full Article
Energy & Environment Lab
Looking for a Solid Idea to Guard Against Waste Burning
The Times of India / October 8, 2016

 

NEW DELHI: Environmental NGO Chintan's research revealed a much ignored contributor to Delhi's winter pollution: security guards burning solid waste to keep themselves warm in the bitter cold. The idea then, if pollution is to be battled, is to ensure this source of carbon pollutants is properly stemmed. It is an idea that has found favour in the Urban Labs Innovation Challenge, an effort of Delhi government and University of Chicago to improve the air and water quality in the capital.

Chintan's studies in south Delhi colonies established that burning of municipal solid waste (MSW) resulted in roughly 10% of PM2.5 (fine, respirable particles) and PM10 (coarser pollutants) in winters, with 17% of it attributable to the fires lit by security guards.

Read Full Article
Energy & Environment Lab
This Group Uses Soot from Gensets to Leave its Mark
The Times of India / October 6, 2016

 

NEW DELHI: When Arpit Dhupar and his friends floated an idea to reduce toxic diesel emissions in the capital, it appeared to be plain "idiotic" to their mentors. The idea hit them last year when they were drinking sugarcane juice at a roadside joint where the cane crusher was running on a diesel generator but its emissions couldn't be seen. The juice vendor had attached an exhaust pipe to divert the emissions to a wall instead. "We noticed that the wall had turned black from the diesel soot and thought whether we can use this carbon? If it can colour the wall black, it can surely be utilised as paint. But the idea was thought to be impractical," said Arpit, co-founder of Chakr. Arpit, however, made up his mind to refine the idea.

In January this year, the team of innovators registered its company, Chakr, which works mainly on extracting ink from diesel exhausts and is now exploring other applications where captured carbon can be used. It built several container designs that could catch soot directly from genset exhausts.

Read Full Article
Energy & Environment Lab
Yes, Delhi, it Worked
The Indian Express / January 19, 2016

 

By Michael Greenstone, Santosh Harish, Anant Sudarshan, and Rohini Pande Delhi’s ambitious odd-even pilot experiment to reduce the number of cars on the road, and pollution in the air, has come to an end — at least for now. But the question remains: Was it successful? Answering this question is challenging.

Air pollution data is limited and it comes from many different sources. Pollution also varies with time and weather conditions for reasons that have nothing to do with the odd-even pilot. Thus, simply looking at trends in pollution monitors cannot tell us what we need to know. Reflecting these challenges, different assessments so far have been contradictory, ranging from “complete failure” to “massive success”. In a rigorous new study, however, we conclude that the odd-even pilot did have some impact — reducing hourly particulate air pollution concentrations by 10-13 per cent.

Read Full Article
Energy & Environment Lab
Shut Schools in Delhi on Bad Air Days, Proposes Delhi Dialogue Commission
The Indian Express / December 2, 2015

 

Representatives of the Delhi Dialogue Commission (DDC) — a think tank of the Delhi government — Tuesday proposed that city schools be shut on poor air quality days, following Beijing’s example. The Chinese capital has been wrapped in thick smog for the last three days. Talking on the sidelines of a partnership announcement with the University of Chicago, DDC vice-chairman Ashish Khetan, told NDTV, “If the pollution levels reach a point where it can cause irreversible health damage to people, we have to shut down schools and markets… and I think it has come to that point now.” Khetan did not respond to calls and texts from The Indian Express on his comments to the television channel.

Read Full Article
Energy & Environment Lab
University of Chicago and Delhi Government Launch Challenge for Local Solutions for a Better Environment
Urban Labs / December 1, 2015

 

Delhi, India – The University of Chicago Urban Labs and the Delhi government today launched the Urban Labs Innovation Challenge: Delhi, an effort to improve air and water quality in one of the world’s most polluted cities. The Challenge will involve crowd sourcing inventive ideas for confronting Delhi’s environmental challenges from citizens, civic leaders, academics, corporations, and other institutions across India.

The Challenge winner will receive up to $300,000 and work with the Urban Labs’ Energy & Environment Lab, the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago’s India Office (EPIC-India), and the Delhi government to pilot and test their idea. If the results are promising, the selected program could become a model for other cities in India and beyond.

“The deep challenges communities face are often best understood by the people on the ground,” says Michael Greenstone, the director of EPIC and the Urban Labs’ Energy & Environment Lab.

“This Innovation Challenge taps those ideas, and relies on close collaboration between researchers and policymakers to make sure those novel ideas are also successful policies proven to work.”

Ashish Khetan, Vice Chairman of the Delhi Dialogue Commission says, “In a city of over 20 million people, only 20 – 30 % people have access to clean drinking water. The air in the city we all know is not fit to breathe. With the Urban Labs Challenge we look forward to seeing the kind of solutions Delhites will come up with. The people of Delhi helped us set our election agenda, now we turn to you again to help us implement this agenda by sending in possible solutions to make Delhi the best city to live in.”

He further added “Thank you University of Chicago for reaching out to us with this proposal. We hope this collaboration becomes more fruitful year on year and we continue to benefit from the best academic minds at the university.”

The Delhi Challenge is the first of what Urban Labs hopes to be many international Innovation Challenges. Urban Labs recently announced the winners of a similar challenge in Chicago in October. The grants from that challenge will help the city identify, test and scale promising programs to help confront significant urban challenges in the public health, poverty, and energy and environment realms. One of the programs Urban Labs will pilot in Chicago will test whether insights from behavioral economics can improve energy efficiency and lower energy costs for low-income families.

“Testing the ideas in advance ensures not only that the policy is designed to work, but also that it can be effectively scaled up and implemented,” says Anant Sudarshan, executive director of EPIC-India. “We’re excited to be partnering with the Delhi government on this innovative approach to robust, evidence-based policy making.”

The evidence-based policymaking approach has a record of success in India and beyond. In Gujarat, EPIC-India researchers worked with local officials to improve the environmental auditing system. Their pilot reforms reduced pollution by 28 percent and in January were officially adopted by the Gujarat government. In Chicago, a study of a youth violence prevention program called Becoming A Man (BAM)—initially studied after a similar crowd sourcing effort—found a 44 percent reduction in violent crime arrests. BAM has since been scaled and currently serves over 2,500 youth across the city. To learn more about the Delhi Challenge and submit an idea, visit:

urbanlabsdelhi.uchicago.in

Partners

The Challenge is run by the University of Chicago Urban Labs, with close coordination and implementation support from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago's India Office, and the Dialogue Development Commission of Delhi. It is a project of the Tata Centre for Development and is supported by Tata Trusts.
 

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