Water and sanitation solution overcomes social challenges

Daniel Yeh and the USF team
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WEC Projects has been chosen by the Water Research Commission (WRC) under its SASTEP programme as an industrial manufacturing partner to test the new sanitation system, called NEWgeneratorTM, with an intention of commercialisation of the technology and roll out throughout South Africa. Says Gunter Rencken, Technical Director for WEC Projects, “This is a particularly exciting system that we predict will help address a number of critical social challenges facing the country including sanitation, access to  water, energy independence and improved food production.”

A large number of South Africa’s rural and informal communities lack proper infrastructure for water, sanitation and other critical services, relying instead on outdated and unsuitable solutions such as pit or portable toilets. The NEWgeneratorTM has been designed to bring proper sewage treatment and more to communities. It is a compact, portable and modular sewage treatment technology which incorporates an anaerobic digester that uses microbes to breakdown human waste while producing biogas. Clean water is filtered out, with bacteria, viruses and any remaining solid particles removed, and then disinfected through a chlorination system. 99% of the water can be recycled for reuse in the sanitation platform, reducing its reliance on the local water supply. The nutrient-rich treated water is an ideal crop fertiliser for use by local small-scale and informal farmers and the biogas produced can be utilised for domestic purposes such as cooking and heating.


Water treatment without grid power
Says Rencken, “A unique feature of NEWgeneratorTM is that it can run independently of the power grid, using solar power to operate or it can be hooked up to a generator. This makes it particularly suitable for use in South Africa where the country’s unreliable power grid, prone to loadshedding and unscheduled outages, has had an adverse effect on existing infrastructure and equipment, often leaving even developed urban areas without power or access to water for prolonged periods.”

NEWgeneratorTM is the brainchild of USF Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Daniel Yeh, and his research team. With a $2 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through its Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, Yeh has led a team from the university in the design of the system. They initiated development and testing in India before setting their sights on South Africa, working with University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) to test its effectiveness on a pilot scale in the eThekwini area.

WEC Projects was approached by the WRC to help commercialise the system using funds from the WRC’s SASTEP programme, due to WEC Projects’ experience in the area of sewage and water treatment solutions. A licence agreement with USF for NEWgeneratorTM is now in place. Says Rencken, “The ability to scale up the manufacture and roll out of NEWgeneratorTM locally will not only ensure the country’s ability to deploy it rapidly to where it is most needed but also grow an export market into the SADC region. Its modular and portable design means it can be installed in a standard shipping container, moved to site and brought on-line with minimal effort, easing logistical problems and ensuring a quick setup.”


Innovative sanitation solutions
“The Water Research Commission along with its partners have been fostering the adoption of innovative, next generation sanitation technologies to address pressing sanitation challenges in South Africa. Through the SASTEP programme, the WRC has matched several innovative inbound technologies with capable commercial partners – entrepreneurs, SMMEs and manufacturers within the sanitation industry – who possess requisite skills to localise and manufacture these products at scale. This is why we matched and facilitated the licensing of the NEWgeneratorTM to WEC Projects” says Akin Akinsete, Programme Manager, SASTEP.

The system’s first major roll out will be in a large informal settlement on the outskirts of Soweto in Gauteng. The community relies mainly on portable toilets which lack the capacity to operate effectively with a large number of users. The NEWgeneratorTM demonstration plant has been designed to cope with up to 100 users each per day with the potential for expansion of its capacity to meet local requirements. WEC Projects will continuously monitor and test the system during its use, sampling output and reporting regularly to the WRC and USF teams.

“While NEWgeneratorTM addresses a number of urgent social needs, particularly in rural and informal settlements, it can also be used in other areas,” adds Rencken. “These can include eco-tourism, for schools, housing projects and in emergency situations. We are proud to be associated with a project such as NEWgeneratorTM and look forward to its future development and deployment in Africa.”


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