Minister Harris announces 15 teams will compete for the SFI Future Innovator Prizes of €2 million

15 Feb, 2021

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, TD, today announced that two projects featuring TU Dublin researchers have been shortlisted as part of the SFI Future Innovator Prize.

The two challenge-based prize programmes, with a prize fund of €2 million each, as part of the SFI Future Innovator Prize, are calling on the research teams to develop innovative solutions to food waste and plastics.

Five teams have been shortlisted under the SFI Food Challenge and 10 under the SFI Plastics Challenge. At the end of the 12-month programme, two overall winners will be announced.

SFI Food Challenge TU Dublin Teams

Team Name  

Leaf No Waste  


Lorraine Foley and  Professor Jesus Frias (TU Dublin), collaborating with Dr Lael Walsh and Dr Shivani Pathania (Teagasc) and Karen O’Donohoe (GIY). 

Challenge Title  

Extending the shelf-life and reducing waste of salad leaves.   

Challenge Description  

It is estimated that up to 50% of salad leaves purchased by consumers go to waste. This waste represents significant costs for consumers, retailers and growers; and gives rise to considerable negative environmental impact.   


To reduce this waste and to ensure sustainable production for Irish growers, cost-effective approaches that build resilience into the supply chain must be explored.  

Solution Description  

The Leaf No Waste team proposes to develop innovative methods of incorporating silicon into the production cycle of fresh salad leaves to extend their shelf life while maintaining quality when packaged, thus reducing waste.  

UN SDG Alignment  

GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production  


Team Name


Challenge Title

Addressing waste in the fishing industry – alternative uses of fish blood.


Graham O'Neill (TU Dublin), Paula Bourke (UCD), Nadine Bonner (Irish Fish Canners)

Bluestreambio will transform waste fish blood into a biopolymer with applications in additive manufacturing from biodegradable plastics to biomedical engineering. A collaboration between Dr Graham O’Neill (TU Dublin) and Prof Paula Bourke (UCD), the project will transform the waste stream into a biodegradable ink for 3D printing. The project will initially focus on 3D printing biodegradable polymers to replace plastic before exploring further applications of the technology. 

Congratulating the competing teams, Minister Harris said: “I am delighted to announce the fifteen teams who will go on to compete as part of the SFI Future Innovator Prize. The SFI Future Innovator Prize is a challenge-based prize funding programme that seeks to support Ireland’s best and brightest, to develop novel, potentially disruptive, technologies to address significant societal challenges. On this occasion, it is about tackling food and plastic waste. I am really excited to see the outcome of their work and the response to these key national challenges.”

The SFI Food Challenge will support the development of sustainable solutions to reduce food loss and waste across the full breadth of the food supply chain, addressing topics such as premature spoilage of fruit and vegetables; undernutrition and promoting healthy ageing through optimisation of diet; the shelf-life salad leaves; valorising food waste into value-added commodities and waste in the fishing industry.

The SFI Plastics Challenge will support the development of innovative STEM-led solutions that will enable the sustainable use of plastics in a circular economy, restore and preserve our oceans’ health, and maximise how we use the earth's finite resources. The projects aim to address problems across a number of strategic challenge areas, including removing plastics from coastal areas; reducing reliance on single-use plastics in laboratories; upcycling plastic waste and utilising plastic waste for sustainable battery technologies.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General, SFI and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “I would like to congratulate the fifteen teams who have been shortlisted as part of the SFI Future Innovator Prize competition. We have seen a fantastic calibre of innovative thinking and truly novel approaches as part of the submissions, and I look forward to seeing the different solutions that develop in the areas of food waste and enabling the sustainable use of plastics, as the competition continues. I would like to commend each team on their hard work and dedication, and to wish them every success in the rest of the competition.”

The SFI Future Innovator Prize, funded by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Innovation and Science through Science Foundation Ireland, is part of an overall government plan to cultivate challenge-based funding in Ireland.