WEC Projects to Test and Commercialise Off-Grid Sanitation System – NEWgeneratorTM – for South Africa

NEWgeneratorTM off-grid sanitation South Africa
An off-grid sanitation system developed by the University of South Florida (USF) and designed to turn sewage wastewater into clean water, energy and nutrients will soon be rolled out to rural and informal communities in South Africa, providing not only water for reuse as toilet flushing water, but also biogas-based energy and nutrient-rich fertiliser.

Water and Sanitation Solution Overcomes SA’s Social Challenges

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.

“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.”

Gunter Rencken, Technical Director for WEC Projects

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informal communities lack proper infrastructure for water, sanitation and other critical services, relying instead on outdated and unsuitable solutions such as pit or portable toilets.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 that incorporates an anaerobic digester that uses microbes to break down 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.

Daniel Yeh and the University of South Florida team in front of a NEWgenerator unit.

Water Treatment Without Grid Power

Says Rencken, “A unique feature of NEWgeneratorTM is that it can operate 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 the 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 the site and brought online with minimal effort, easing logistical problems and ensuring a quick setup.”

A NEWgeneratorTM test unit installed at the University of South Florida
A NEWgeneratorTM test unit installed at the University of South Florida.

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 the 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 rollout 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.”

Update: 2nd December 2021

To celebrate World Toilet Day, the NEWgeneratorTM was launched in Sloville, Soweto on the 19th of November. The community of Slovoville were using portable, chemical toilets before the NEWgeneratorTM was installed. Now, they have the high performing and compact, reinvented sewage treatment unit.

Watch the video below to learn more about it.

Below are some images that were taken during the event.

Thank You to everyone involved!
Water Research Commission
University of South Florida
University of KwaZulu-Natal
City of Johannesburg
Johannesburg Water
The South African Sanitation Technology Enterprise Programme (SASTEP)

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