Dust to Diamonds

Dust to Diamonds is a venture who's mission is spreading awareness on the dangers of vehicular air pollution.

Photo of Benjamin Burlovic
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Please confirm you meet the following criteria

  • We have submitted the supplemental form linked in the description above
  • We are aged between 14 - 20 as of February 11, 2021
  • We live in the United States or its territories (Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa)
  • We are not employed by, or directly related (parents or siblings) to a current General Motors (GM) or Ashoka employee
  • We have been working on this project for at least three months
  • We consent to Ashoka and/or GM featuring our work on their website, social media, and in other materials regarding this Challenge using the information in our application
  • We confirm we have the rights to use and share any content uploaded on this entry form

Date You Started Your Project

September / 1 / 2020

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Dust to Diamonds is working to reduce air pollution via vehicle emissions in Kenya. Vehicles are the leading cause of pollution in Kenya which is well above the recommended PM10 and PM2.5 concentration levels for air pollutants. While we wait for more efficient vehicles, Dust to Diamonds has a novel approach to create awareness of vehicle air pollution.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Dust to Diamonds is an awareness campaign inside of a diamond company. Our goal is to educate individuals in developing countries about the impact of vehicular pollution on health and the environment. To fund this campaign and to bring attention, we use carbon capture technology to collect solid particulate from vehicle exhausts in Kenya. That soot is refined into pure carbon, which we then use to produce synthetic diamonds. The sale of the diamonds fund the local awareness campaigns and brings attention to our mission. Our local awareness program includes an ambassador program with drivers made up of the drivers of the pervasive private transportation two and three wheeled vehicles who use our collection device and bear our advertising. The Dust to Diamonds awareness program supplies commercial drivers with different pieces of advertisement merchandise as they hit certain milestones. Once we are able to scale-up with a high market share, we plan to use additional revenue to subsidize people's purchases of electric vehicles.

3. Please tell us how you are using science, technology, engineering or math to address your environmental challenge.

Dust to Diamonds is developing a novel exhaust filter that attaches to vehicles and collects the soot that these vehicles produce, allowing individual drivers to see how they contribute to the air quality in their community. The goal is to not only collect the soot, but also to create a visual indicator for the driver and its passengers. The design is based on an existing exhaust filter that collects soot but is designed for efficient automobiles. We are conducting laboratory tests of the filters as well as on road testing of vehicles in Kenya. We must not only develop the novel filter, but also determine the chemical composition of the soot we are collecting to ensure we will have enough usable carbon to produce diamonds. We have already worked to understand the volume of miles driven and the type of driving done by these commercial vehicles. Interestingly, turning the carbon into diamonds using temperature and pressure is an existing, off the shelf process.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

Air pollution is one of the leading causes of global warming, and a majority of this air pollution comes from vehicles. The vehicles in Kenya that we are targeting are extremely inefficient and their air pollution represents one of the leading causes of premature death in Kenya. We have chosen to dedicate ourselves to this problem during school and after graduation. We realize there is a huge gap between the problems of today and the technologies of tomorrow, especially with regards to their implementation in low resource settings. THAT is why Dust to Diamonds exists and that is what drives us every day.

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

Since the inception of Dust to Diamonds, we have spent our time developing the business model for our venture. We explored a variety of options including both for profit and nonprofit models before arriving at the awareness campaign. We have worked with individuals in the carbon capture industry, diamond production, and awareness campaigns to begin developing our technology response to this problem. Prototype testing has begun and we are looking to have filters on vehicles in Kenya by May.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

We acknowledge that exhaust soot isn’t a major contributor to air pollution. We are different because we provide drivers a visual reminder of their impact on the air around them. The solution is cleaner vehicles, but such change will only happen if there is market demand. We are using visual collection and unique use of collected carbon to make the case that Kenyans want this technology now. We are setting up a network of Brand Ambassadors to create a personalized connection with the problem and the solution. Our crazy idea tackles the problem in a way that no one else has tried.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made.

Our venture is just 5 months old, so impact is still on the horizon. We have meaningful connections with Kenyan stakeholders and they are excited about the program to come. We have garnered high levels of interest from customers, end users, and potential partners both in the diamond industry and among public transportation drivers in Kenya. Through outreach, surveys, and extensive research, we have been able to inform and prepare the customer base of the technology to come.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We are headed to Kisumu, Kenya to conduct field tests. We will test our filter prototype for efficiency and ease of use. We will also determine definitively how much soot such vehicles generate and therefore the impact on diamond production and our business model sustainability. We are also testing our distribution and collection model to determine the necessary incentives for drivers of the vehicles to reliably return the full filters. We then plan to start manufacturing our filters and implementing our collection program in the public transportation community in Kenya (it uses private vehicles). If our pilot program in Kenya is successful we plan to expand to other low-resource countries.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

We shared our work with other college students who are also working to help individuals who have been negatively impacted by climate change. These conversations helped us to continue to push our venture forward and led to others being inspired by our extreme idea. Here in PA there is a push to involve more students in STEM. We are excited to work with teachers to use the Dust to Diamonds technology to highlight air pollution here in the US and the importance of STEM in international development.

11. How would you partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

We would partner with other ChangeMakers by learning from them and their successful awareness campaigns that draw attention to important issues. We would also partner with other ChangeMakers for the ideas that they can bring to our venture. If they can find other uses for our technology that can create a bigger global impact, we would be happy to do so if it means helping more people. Part of being in the community of ChangeMakers is helping each other make a larger difference in the world.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

As mentioned previously, Dust to Diamonds will be implementing an ambassador program with the commercial drivers who use the collection devices. Said drivers will get branded T-Shirts, car magnets, and more. They will be encouraged to proudly show off their merchandise and spread our mission to many. Additionally, we will be offering a monetary incentive to all individuals who return filled filters. This way we are able to help drivers financially and teach them the dangers of air pollution.

14. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you? You’ll be able to select only one option.

  • Research

Are you employed, or directly related (grand-parents, parents, sibling) to a GM or Ashoka employee?

  • No

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Word of mouth

Evaluation results

6 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Probably - 16.7%

Maybe - 33.3%

Probably not - 0%

No - 0%

2. CONNECTION to Environmental Sustainability

5 - Absolutely! It is totally clear that the solution is contributing directly to environmental sustainability and/or addressing climate change - 33.3%

4 — Yes, it establishes a connection to environment/ climate change but could be stronger - 33.3%

3 — Somewhat, the entry speaks to this environmental sustainability, but the direct impact is not well established - 33.3%

2 — Not really, the connection to environment/ climate is very weak - 0%

1 — No. The entry does not have a reference the solution’s impact on environment and/or climate change - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

3. Is this entry CREATIVE?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 50%

4 - Yes, I think so - 33.3%

3 - Maybe - 16.7%

2 - Probably not. - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Does this entry demonstrate a COMMITMENT to changemaking?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

4 - Yes, I think so - 33.3%

3 - Maybe - 100%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Does this entry value CHANGEMAKING through collaboration with other stakeholders in its approach?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

4 - Yes, I think so - 33.3%

3 - Maybe - 33.3%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

6. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 16.7%

4- Yes, I think so - 33.3%

3- Maybe - 33.3%

2- Probably not - 16.7%

1- No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

7. FEEDBACK: What are the strengths of this project?

CONNECTION: You have a great understanding and personal connection to the problem - 66.7%

CREATIVITY: You have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions to aid environmental sustainability/combat climate change - 100%

COMMITMENT: You have a thoughtful plan for growing your business, and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 100%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: You value thinking around how to activate other changemakers and empower them to care about your cause. You also have a clearly defined plan on how to collaborate across multiple stakeholders - 100%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 100%

VIABLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 33.3%

Other option - 0%

8. FEEDBACK: What are some areas for improvement for this project?

CONNECTION: Why you care about the environment/ climate was unclear – It would be great to elaborate on what this solution means to you, personally and how it affects you and/or your community. - 0%

CREATIVITY: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 0%

COMMITMENT: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 20%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming. How will they care about environment/climate if they currently do not? Think about how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 20%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 40%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 100%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 0%

Other option - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Isabelle Seidenberg

This is so cool! Looks like you have put a lot of thought into this. I'm excited to see how you move forward with this idea!

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