Making contaminated mine water safe for local communities
South Africa is facing a water shortage crisis. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) has warned that significantly less rain will fall across South Africa (particularly the south-western region) over the next century. Temperatures are on the rise due to climate change, which means less water to meet the needs of the human population and environment.
Boitumelo Nkatlo, an innovator from the Scaling Out for Impact (SOFI) programme and founder of BN Aqua Solutions has turned to acid mine drainage water to provide a solution to this challenge. Acid mine drainage is the runoff produced in mines when water interacts with exposed rocks. The sulphur minerals in the rock react with the water and air to form sulphuric acid and dissolved iron. The increase in acidity contaminates the water.
BN Aqua Solutions has developed a water treatment plant based at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa. The Intellectual Property of the plant is owned by the University of Johannesburg and licensed to Boitumelo as the inventor. Their plant purifies the acidic water so it can be used for drinking and irrigation. This collaborative innovation is improving food security by providing a safe source of water for crops and livestock.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, water was restricted to domestic use and for hygiene. But the successful commercialisation of this project will increase the amount of drinking water available to local communities by 30%.
For example, the South African city of Germiston has a population of 172,000 people. Thousands of litres of contaminated water sit underground in a disused gold mine. Using this innovation, the water can be treated and sold at a cheaper price to the surrounding communities. This is improving local livelihoods by increasing the accessibility of clean water.
Through the SOFI programme, the UK based company Sensor IT and BN Aqua Solutions are now working to install monitoring sensors on the plant. This will help to monitor how much water people are using and pre-empt operational disruptions such as plant stoppages. The collaboration with Sensor IT will support technological capacity training and transfer. This includes elements of 'Industry 4.0' - the latest transformation in the way we manufacture products. Industry 4.0 uses data to drive smart, autonomous systems. This should aid the team in the next stage of the project as they look to commercialise their innovation.
The treated water can be used in low income communities, for drinking and irrigation or agricultural purposes in order to increase our food security - Boitumelo Nkatlo
The SOFI project teams benefited from the programme through funding opportunities as well as non-financial support. This includes mentorship, as well as access to networks that will support the innovators to scale-up their business models. Launched in 2020, SOFI is a UK-South Africa co-venture between South Africa’s Technology Innovation Agency, the Black Business Council, and Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation. It is supported by the Department of Science and Innovation in South Africa and delivered through its commissioned partner Liminal through its commitment to the Newton Fund. The 15 projects supported under SOFI all have the potential to tackle critical development issues whilst delivering inclusive social, environmental, and economic impact in low-income townships and rural communities in South Africa.
IOT Monitored Acid Mine Drainage Water Treatment
Project leads: Boitumelo Nkatlo
Delivery partners: Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, UK and the Technology and Innovation Agency, South Africa