Polymer scientist honoured for work on water purification
The Water Research Commission (WRC) has honoured Prof Ed Jacobs of the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science at Stellenbosch University with a Technical Excellence Award for developing innovative water purification technology that are commercially viable.
The WRC’s inaugural Technical Excellence Awards were established to honour WRC funded technological inventions that have been commercialised to the benefit of the South African water sector.
Prof Jacobs received the award along with Prof Lingam Pillay of the Durban University of Technology, with whom he collaborated on the development of the South African Capillary Ultrafiltration (SACUF) water treatment system.
The development of SACUF arouse out of a unique collaboration between Stellenbosch University, seen as a historically White university, and the then ML Sultan Technikon (now Durban University of Technology), seen as a historically Black university. The project is seen as an excellent model for inter-institutional collaboration to accelerate South Africa’s technological development.”
Prof Jacobs was the driver of the project, and developed the core technology at Stellenbosch University. This included capillary ultrafiltration membranes which can purify water to very high standards. He then initiated collaboration with Prof Pillay to develop the technology into viable water treatment systems.
Prof Jacobs and Prof Pillay were responsible for the engineering development of the technology.
With funding from the Water Research Commission the researchers could develop the ultrafiltration membranes and modules over a period of seven years and extensively test them in various parts of South Africa.
The outcome of their research is a very simple, robust, inexpensive and sustainable water technology that addresses the challenges of water provision to peri-urban towns, schools, clinics and farms.
It guarantees the 100% removal of E.Coli, cholera, Giardia, cryptosporodia and similar pathogens.
“It consistently produces a very high quality of water that exceeds all drinking water quality standards, and equals or exceeds the quality of many bottled waters,” says Prof Jacobs. “The product quality does not change as raw water quality changes.”
Their ultrafiltration membrane technology has since been commercialised and is currently licensed to a BBBEE company, Ikusasa Water Pty Ltd, based in Somerset West, as the commercial partner.
According to Prof Jacobs, one of the benefits of the system is that it is fully automated and does not require skilled operators.
It includes a servicing and maintenance strategy that is very viable in underserviced regions. Systems are modular and can be produced in a range of sizes.