Hope you're doing well.
A few months ago, Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún, a Nigerian linguist who's done some NLP work with Google, tweeted about landing in Lagos and seeing the 'Welcome to Nigeria' sign only in English — a limited choice for a country with more than a hundred languages and dialects. It raised a lot of chatter on Twitter, most of it quite negative. I have walked past that sign a few times myself but never really thought about it.
After a few emails and weekend Zoom calls, I'm happy to announce The Welcome to Nigeria Challenge, presented by TechCircle and supported by Hardware Things, Yoruba Names, and Stampar 3D. The competition is to build a welcome sign that will feature every Nigerian language, with the capacity for multiple interfaces (like voice) and make the design open source. Registration closes on February 28, with $2500 in prizes.
In case you missed it, here’s last month’s newsletter.
Last year, the US Government published the Building Resilient Supply Chains report. This document was part of reviews commissioned as part of the new administration's 100 days in office, this one specifically to identify weaknesses in the country's supply chain that prevents them from market leadership in sectors like semiconductor manufacturing and batteries for electric vehicles. It's a very interesting read for anyone interested in how administrations think about technological dominance in particular sectors and how they assess risk to "critical" infrastructure.
One thing that struck me was how dominant China is in the mining and distribution of key rare earth metals: Chinese companies effectively control the global flow of processed cobalt thanks to their ownership of mines in the DRC, Papua New Guinea, and Zambia. They also have substantial positions for other metals (like Nickel) that form part of EV batteries.
From an African standpoint, it is simply difficult to compete with these two countries in their investments in battery technologies. But companies are increasingly shifting away from the traditional supply chain (mine -> processing plant -> point of use) and working towards a more circular, diversified supply chain with heavy reliance on recycling to decrease waste output, gain more price control, and avoid geopolitical negotiations. According a report last year in Waste 360:
By collecting multiple materials that are inputs to batteries, recycling facilities can be set up like “the perfect mines,” with better unit economics and co-location of all the critical materials.
While I think we might be a few years away from the systems described in that report, some interesting recycling applications have opened up on the continent. From Aceleron in Kenya, who have second-life applications supported by their unique battery connection design, to Right Path Investments in Namibia who convert car batteries into lead blocks. There is the potential for more interesting applications, and I'd argue that there is a market for them too.
Solar power and fintech are combining in interesting ways on the continent. In two articles published a little while ago, Todd George and Simon Bransfield-Garth examine some of these ways: the first explores how power grids are struggling to meet demand, while the second discusses solar-fintech more in depth.
SmartBee+ helps beekeepers monitor their hives on the go. [Tunisia]
A promising concept for generating more energy out of PV modules using bifacial arrangements with an active cooling system. [Morocco]
The Africa Union Development Agency is receiving applications for their Home Grown Solutions (HGS) Accelerator for Pandemic Resilience in Africa programme. The accelerator is open to health-related companies on the continent in their growth phase.
Deadline: February 7.
Engineering For Change is receiving applications for their Fellowship programme. Fellows work on projects for selected startups (within and outside the continent, supported by the Autodesk Foundation) for the duration of the programme, on topics ranging from robotics to machine learning for manufacturing.
Deadline: February 14
In South Africa, Opencharge Wireless Power Technologies develops charging stations for restaurants which allow their clients offer loyalty offerings (and much more) to customers. Their combination of hardware and software for the niche market makes them a very useful product.
Until next time,
PS: This month's Community Chat is with Dozie Igweilo, Founder of QuadLoop — a social enterprise that develops solar-powered lights by recycling batteries and other electronics in Lagos. Join us!