A solar and lead battery-powered tractor, that is being developed as a farming solution for Africa, was named a semifinalist for the Milken–Motsepe Prize in Green Energy. The competition rewards projects who expand access to reliable, affordable, and sustainable electricity in Africa.
AfTrak or Africa Tractor, is a prototype program funded by Innovate UK as part of its Energy Catalyst Round 9. The program was one of 20 teams selected to advance to the Semifinalist Round for a competition by the Milken Institute and the Motsepe Foundation. Semifinalists receive $20,000 for the continued development and testing of their designs, as well as complimentary access to a Stanford Online course to help build their businesses.
AfTrak was selected from over 160 entrants around the world, in over 36 countries.
This potentially revolutionary tractor design, featuring lead batteries, is an African farming project created in collaboration between the Consortium for Battery Innovation (CBI), UK- & Malawi-based charity Tiyeni, and Loughborough University.
Across large areas of Malawi, under the few inches of topsoil, there is a heavily compacted layer of rock-hard earth through which plants cannot penetrate. Tiyeni has created an innovative agricultural method called Deep Bed Farming (DBF). The tractor, being developed at Loughborough University, will be a low-cost, hand-operated, solution for farming in the difficult soil.
The proposed AfTrak project is a micro electric tractor capable of mechanizing land preparation in line with Tiyeni’s Deep Bed Farming to prepare soil to a depth of 400mm.
For this program, AfTrak aims to provide an affordable green energy solution in sub-Saharan Africa, utilize a solar array and lead battery system to power micro electric tractors for Deep Bed Farming, and create a self-sustaining model for decentralized energy access.
An independent panel of expert judges determined the 20 teams receiving funding. Moving forward in the competition involves semifinalist teams demonstrating the effectiveness of their ideas in field tests.
They will be evaluated for their ability to:
After the Semifinalist Round, judges will select five finalist teams to conduct another round of field tests in Africa. Then in May 2024, the judges will award a $1 million Grand Prize. A Runner-Up Prize of $250,000 will also be awarded.
The Milken Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank focused on accelerating measurable progress. They bring together the best ideas and innovative resourcing to develop blueprints for tackling critical global issues.
The Milken–Motsepe Innovation Prize program is a series of multiyear, multimillion-dollar innovation competitions for technological solutions that accelerate progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
One of the two innovation competitions in the program, the Milken–Motsepe Prize in Green Energy, aims to expand access to reliable, affordable, and sustainable electricity in Africa as an essential factor in achieving long-term economic growth and shared prosperity. The competition advances progress toward SDG 7 (ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all).
The semi-finalists were announced on June 6, 2023.
NOTE: AfTrak is the second bid application to be awarded to CBI in the past year after LoCEL-H2, a sustainable microgrid project using lead batteries and a novel, lead-battery-enabled funded by the European Commission under the Horizon Europe program.