Nanotechnology and Innovation
by Dr. Steven Mufamadi
There are rumours that “water-shedding” could be the next form of “loading-shedding” in South Africa. In addition, rural South Africa is still affected by waterborne diseases as a result of drinking contaminated water. As such local government needs to act quickly towards addressing the above challenges.
Vestegaard, a Swiss company, has developed the LifeStraw® technology, which has potential to convert dirty and/or contaminated water into clean water, safe for drinking purposes. The Lifestraw® technology is a nanotechnology product that is made up of a nanofilter with a pore size of 20 nanometres (nm) and has the potential to eliminate all waterborne pathogens such bacteria (99, 9999%), protozoan parasites (99. 99%) and viruses (99. 999).
In a recent comment made by Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen, the CEO and owner of Vestergaard, Mr Vestergaard Frandsen stated that the “Lifestraw® nanofilter is a powerful tool to improving the health of vulnerable people, especially those who live in developing countries”. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported that the Lifestraw® technology could be used as a household water treatment (HWT) intervention, particularly for those who are living in areas that lack basic sanitation services or necessary water treatment tools.
To date, LifeStraw® products are available in more than 64 countries, the majority of which are African countries. The good news associated with this technology is that it doesn’t require electricity or batteries, it is portable and reusable with a lifespan nearly 1 year, and a shelf life of nearly 2 years.
If a developing country such as South Africa wishes to avoid an outbreak due to waterborne diseases and a water crises in the future, the country should start to develop its own nanotechnology-based water treatment technologies that are affordable and can be used as a HWT intervention.
In Tanzania: Dr Askwar Hilonga, a chemical engineer, has developed a novel nanofilter that has the potential to absorb contaminants such as copper and fluoride from fresh groundwater. This ground breaking technology won him the African innovation prize earlier this year, an award organized by United Kingdom’s Royal Academy of Engineering.
In South Africa, researchers at the University of Stellenbosch have designed a ‘tea bag’ filter based on nanomaterials, which has the capability to absorb toxins, filter toxins out and kill all waterborne bacteria. Other South African research organizations that are working towards nanotechnology-based water treatments are the CSIR, Mintek, University of North West, University of Johannesburg and University of South Africa.
Nanotechnology-based water treatment technologies have the potential to revolutionise the existing water filtration methods at a low cost and can provide clean water, safe for drinking purposes.