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Commercialization of USF-invented sanitation system set to begin

The latest version of the USF-invented NEWgenerator is on its way to South Africa to begin the process of entering mass production. The solar-powered machine generates nutrients, energy and water by safely recovering them from human wastewater ­– a technology built to address global sanitation concerns.

The USF Technology Transfer Office signed a licensing agreement with WEC Projects of South Africa in September 2020. Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Daniel Yeh and his team just shipped an updated version of the NEWgenerator to Soweto, a South African township that receives its water and sanitation services from the city of Johannesburg. The off-grid sanitation technology allows the community to become more self-sufficient without having to rely on a power grid or install a costly sewer system.

“This latest milestone is a testament to the dedication, tenacity and creativity of the USF team and our partners abroad,” Yeh said. “It hasn’t been easy for anyone the past year with COVID and the resulting global supply chain disruptions. Yet, the need for clean water and safe sanitation has never been more urgent given the global pandemic. We are driven by the mission to make our technology available worldwide to all those in need.”

The latest NEWgenerator model is the most “advanced and robust version yet,” Yeh said, with a more intuitive control system that has full remote capabilities. It works by using a novel bioreactor to break down waste organic matter using microorganisms, followed by a fine-pore microscopic membrane filter that traps bacteria and viruses. Clean water that passes through is then disinfected with chlorine, similar to municipal drinking water. The recycled water can also be used for toilet flushing in the sanitation facilities and for irrigation, allowing plants to grow, even in a drought. By functioning remotely, operators can identify potential problems and create remedies, such as adjusting flow rates and chemical levels.

WEC Projects and stakeholders with the South African Sanitation Technology Enterprise Programme will spend the next few months evaluating the NEWgenerator unit to use as a replica of what will be manufactured using local parts and labor. This follows the South African government’s pledge to upgrade its sanitation system in schools, many of which don’t have running water or electricity.

“While NEWgenerator addresses a number of urgent social needs, particularly in rural and informal settlements, it can also be used in other areas,” said Gunter Rencken, technical director for WEC Projects. “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 future development and deployment in Africa.”

In addition to WEC Projects, Eram Scientific Solutions and Elefo Biotech, both of India, also signed agreements to commercialize the NEWgenerator. It was first tested in India in 2016 and has been operating in Durban, South Africa, since 2018. Yeh’s success follows a $2 million grant awarded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through its Reinvented Toilet program to address infrastructure problems caused by worldwide, rapid, unplanned urbanization.

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