Thanks to the University of South Florida and a team led by Professor Daniel Yeh, there is a new weapon in the global fight to provide clean water and sanitation.
USF has invented a solar-powered machine to generate nutrients, energy and clean water by safely separating them from human wastewater. The team from USF built the NEWgenerator to address global sanitation concerns, and the latest version has recently shipped to South Africa, where it will enter mass production.
In September 2020, the USF Transfer Office signed a licensing agreement with WEC Projects of South Africa. Yeh, a Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor, sent an updated version of the NEWgenerator to the South African township of Soweto, which receives its water and sanitation services from the city of Johannesburg. Powered by the sun, the sanitation system works off-grid and allows communities that utilize it to become more self-sufficient. NEWgenerator was designed for developing areas that do not have access to a reliable power grid or sewer systems.
“This latest milestone is a testament to the dedication, tenacity and creativity of the USF team and our partners abroad,” said Yeh.
Yeh said that with the Covid pandemic and ensuing global supply chain disruptions, “the need for clean water and safe sanitation has never been more urgent.”
“We are driven by the mission to make our technology available worldwide to all those in need,” he added.
Yeh called the latest NEWgenerator model the “most advanced and robust version yet.” He said that it features a more intuitive control system that can be fully operated remotely. The remote operating function allows operators to identify and address problems, such as adjusting flow rates and chemical levels, without being onsite.
The machine uses a novel bioreactor to break down waste and organic matter using microorganisms, and a fine-pore microscopic membrane filter to trap bacteria and viruses. Similar to city drinking water, the clean water that passes through the membrane is then disinfected with chlorine. The recycled water can also be used for toilet flushing and irrigation, which will allow crops to grow – even in a drought.
WEC Projects and the South African Sanitation Technology Enterprise Program will use the NEWgenerator unit as a model for what will now be manufactured using local parts and labor. The South African government has pledged to upgrade its sanitation system in schools, many of which still do not have running water or electricity.
Gunter Rencken, Technical Director for WEC Projects, said that while the NEWgenerator “addresses a number of urgent social needs, particularly in rural and informal settlements, it can also be used in other areas.
“These can include eco-tourism, for schools, housing projects and in emergency situations … we are proud to be associated with a project such as NEWgenerator and look forward to its development and deployment in Africa.”
WEC Projects is not the only company commercializing the NEWgenerator. Eram Scientific Solutions and Elefo Biotech, both based in India, have also signed agreements to mass-produce the system. The original NEWgenerator model was first tested in India in 2016 and has operated in Durban, South Africa, since 2018.
Yeh’s latest success followed a $2 million grant awarded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through its Reinvented Toilet program. The program aims to alleviate infrastructure problems caused by rapid, unplanned urbanization.