A recent University of Limerick graduate has won the prestigious national James Dyson Award for 2020.

22-year-old Niamh Damery won the award for her Econoc design – a digital hive made for conserving wild native endangered Irish Black Bees.

Niamh, who graduated from Product Design at UL in August, has attempted to solve the problem of the declining population of the native Irish Black Bee by harnessing natural materials to create a conservation hive.

On winning the James Dyson Award, Cork native Niamh said: “I entered into the award because I know James Dyson’s ethos and I think he’s an amazing designer. As designers I think we have the power to make both big and small changes but also make changes in people’s mindsets with what we design and how we design it. 

This is what motivates me as a designer, and it’s amazing to receive the recognition of such a prestigious design award.

Barry Sheehan, Head of Design at Technological University Dublin and judge on this year’s panel said: “We were unanimously drawn to Niamh’s creative innovation around this urgent issue of the declining bee population in Ireland. 

“In the current climate people are spending more time outside and in gardens, and the Econooc demonstrates the crucial role that design plays in a sustainable future and the survival of Irish Black Bees.” 


Winning the national leg of the James Dyson Award will inject €2,000 into Niamh’s project, which she aims to invest into advanced prototyping and further research. Niamh also progressed to the international stage of the James Dyson Award, and on November 19 where her design was shortlisted among the top 20 for the overall award. 

With experts estimating that a third of all bees could be extinct by 2030, which would cause a major crisis for wildlife and horticulture as they are the most effective pollinators and will take many of our flowering plants, fruits and birds with them, 

Niamh’s design aims to combat the issue by creating a mycelium hive which biomimics the shape of a tree hollow, the perfect shape for bees to move around in a cluster during the winter months.

The base is made from mycelium, which is grown from mushrooms and acts as a binding agent when grown on a substrate. This can be any agricultural bi product that would normally end up as waste. 

Mycelium is similar to polystyrene and also has natural substances that can give the bees an extra defence against the varroa mite which can carry viruses into a hive. The Econooc is a segmented self-assembly hive, which makes it smaller to transport, and easier to grow and repair. 

The bottom remoulded waste plastic landing pad and ventilation hole allows people to watch the bees inside the hive. The Econooc also comes with a calendar that teaches the user about biodiversity and how to create a more diverse garden. 

The lower section of the calendar is made from wildflower seeded paper which the user can plant.

She explained: “Although bees are so small, they play a huge such a huge role in nature and the environment all around us. 

“My Dad kept bees, as did my Grandfather before him, and I’ve always been surrounded by bees and had a love for them. With the commercialisation of beekeeping, many are importing other strains of bees which are breeding with the Irish Black Bee, and these strains are not able to survive in the Irish weather as well as the Black Bee. This is leading to population decline of honeybees in Ireland. 

“Through talking to people and through my research I was shocked to find out that so many of of us, both young and old, didn't know that much about biodiversity. I hope the Econooc will encourage more people to think about nature and solutions we can implement to ensure the survival of bees in the future.”

This year marked the 16th year of the James Dyson Award, and the 16th year of championing ground-breaking concepts in engineering and design. This year, the award has also seen its highest number of entrants in the Award’s history across all 27 participating nations.  - Alan Owens