Dr. Daniel Yeh and his team at the University of South Florida
The conventional means of providing sanitation service in the U.S. is through an extensive sewer network coupled with a centralized wastewater treatment plant. While the approach has been largely successful in protecting human and ecological health, it comes at a great cost of capital, energy, clean water, and infrastructure maintenance. Today, about 40% of the world’s population, mostly in the developing world, continues to lack adequate sanitation. Tragically, every few seconds a child dies from a water-borne disease such as dysentery or cholera. For many communities in the developing countries, especially dense urban slums, the traditional U.S. approach to sanitation is not feasible due to constraints in infrastructure, land, resources, and finance. The NEWgenerator addresses these important problems. This machine recovers nutrient fertilizer, renewable energy, and clean water from human wastes, without relying on sewers. Housed in a mini-container, the NEWgenerator is a compact, modular, decentralized approach to treating wastewater on a neighborhood scale using a net energy surplus anaerobic membrane bioreactor (AnMBR) to extract methane from the organic waste. Coupled with an ultrafiltration membrane which removes all pathogens (parasitic worms, bacteria and viruses), the system operates entirely off the grid on solar energy. Utilizing state-of-the-art membrane bioreactor technology, the NEWgenerator can simultaneously recover nutrients (such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (NPK)), energy, and water from wastewater. These resources are then used for urban agriculture (in a hydroponic system), thereby closing the loop to meet another dire urban need in local food production. This machine has been successfully demonstrated in trials in Kerala, India and Durban, South Africa. The inventors aim to utilize NEWgenerator on islands and coastal communities to form water/sanitation micro-grids powered by renewable energy which are more resilient to storms and disasters, as well as in refugee camps. To enable broad access to those in need, the technology has been licensed to commercial partners worldwide, including India and South Africa.