Anybody can have a great idea, and even the simplest of ideas can make a difference to people’s lives. Especially when those ideas might provide inexpensive and sustainable solutions to global challenges.

Sami Sayegh, a 21-year-old student at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, had such an idea.

Thinking back to his schooldays in the United Arab Emirates, he recalled a desert survival technique used by travelling Bedouin tribesmen. They would collect dew each morning from a water-resistant tarpaulin, enough for a litre or two of water to drink. Sami wanted to find a way to use the same technique but on a much larger scale to benefit communities with little access to clean water.

He worked on the idea with fellow students Charles Gedeon and Al-Hurr Al-Dalli of nearby Concordia University. Together, they submitted it to Shell Ideas360, a global competition for university students to develop ideas for tackling energy, food and water issues.

They call their idea Skywell. It consists of a large sail with a water-resistant coating that condenses moisture in the air into droplets of water. The water trickles down the sail into a funnel where it is filtered and ready to drink. The idea is simple, sustainable and inexpensive. A single sail with an area of 42 square metres (452 square feet) might produce as much as 84 litres (22 US gallons) of water a day.

A 3D mockup of the Skywell idea

Winning idea

The Skywell idea might be able to produce as much as 84 litres (22 US gallons) of water a day

Skywell was one of 668 entries in Season One (2013-14) of the competition. It clearly impressed the judges, who selected it as the winner at the finals in the Netherlands in May.

For Sami, Charles and Al-Hurr it was the perfect ending to a long and rewarding journey of learning and discovery. 

“It’s been a very positive experience,” says Sami. “It’s given us the opportunity to do a lot of things for the first time. We’ve had to take the idea all the way from initial proposal to presenting it to, and fielding questions from, a panel of expert judges at the finals.”

Their prize is a trip to a destination of their choice with National Geographic Adventures.

Immersive learning

Dr Deborah Dysart-Gale, the team’s sponsor at Concordia University, where she is chair for the Centre for Engineering in Society, believes competitions like Shell Ideas360 are the future for university education.

“Competitions like this require students to immerse themselves in a subject and acquire skills and experience in several different fields. This type of immersive education is becoming increasingly important for engineering faculties and universities as a whole.”

Skills work together

Diversity was an important ingredient for the team’s success. With backgrounds in different disciplines – Sami in arts and science, Charles in business and marketing, and Al-Hurr in film – they had a balanced mix of skills in the team. Charles provided the expertise to draw up a business plan and present the idea professionally, and Al-Hurr had the skills to make a video presentation of Skywell – all of which are required at various stages of the competition.

“Our ambition now is to take the idea to the next level,” says Sami.

The most novel ideas submitted to Shell Ideas360 will be considered for support by the Shell GameChanger programme. Founded in 1996, Shell GameChanger has worked with over 1,500 innovators and turned more than 100 ideas into reality – some with massive potential.

Could your idea be the next winner? Enter Shell Ideas360

In the coming decades, the world’s water, energy and food resources will come under greater pressure as a growing global population and increasing prosperity create more demand for all three. At the same time, climate change could worsen these stresses.

If you are a university student and have an idea that can help ease the pressure on the world’s energy, food or water supplies, then enter Shell Ideas360 competition

If you would like to stay in touch with Shell and stay up to date with news, career opportunities or events, please sign up to our Shell Talent Community.