The University of South Florida has signed licensing agreements with two international companies, allowing them to manufacture a portable wastewater treatment system invented at USF.
India-based Elefo Biotech and the WEC Project of South Africa have agreed to manufacture the NEWgenerator, a solar-powered machine that generates nutrients, energy and water by safely recovering them from human wastewater. These companies join existing licensee Eram Scientific Solutions of India as part of a global access portfolio. Civil and environmental engineering Professor Daniel Yeh and his research team designed and built the NEWgenerator over the past decade to help solve global sanitation concerns.
“USF is excited to work with our new and existing licensees to ensure the global accessibility of the NEWgenerator technology,” said Neeraj Visen, senior licensing manager of the USF Technology Transfer Office. “These commercial partners play a critical role in localizing, optimizing and scaling the technology to ensure its availability to those most in need worldwide.”
As part of a $2 million grant awarded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through its Reinvented Toilet program, the NEWgenerator has been operating in Durban, South Africa since 2018 following the success of a 2016 field test in India. Worldwide, rapid, unplanned urbanization strains water, power and sewer systems. The NEWgenerator aims to ease that pressure on infrastructure by operating off the grid to complement sanitation facilities. Each unit of NEWgen 100 is capable of serving 100 people per day. The newly invented NEWgen 1000 has 10 times the capacity and is currently under evaluation in Durban.
The agreements come as the South African government has pledged to upgrade its sanitation system in schools, many of which don’t have running water or electricity. Most schools are only able to provide children pit latrines, a type of toilet that collects human feces through a pit dug into the ground. Some consider them a public health risk and dangerous, as some children have fallen inside and died.
“Working with WEC and other partners, our ultimate goal is to use our off-grid technology to help upgrade the sanitation and hygiene experience for school children by providing flush toilets where they didn’t exist previously,” Yeh said. “Upgrades of this nature can contribute to enhancements in health, comfort and learning.”
The NEWgenerator works by using a multistage disinfection process. A fine-pore microscopic membrane filter traps bacteria and viruses. Clean water that passes through is then disinfected with chlorine, similar to municipal drinking water. The recycled water can be used for toilet flushing in the sanitation facilities, thereby drastically cutting down on water demand, especially during times of drought. The water can also be used for irrigation, allowing plants to grow. During the 2016 trial, the NEWgenerator was utilized to treat and recycle wastewater at a school in southern India, creating a near closed-loop sanitation platform. Yeh plans to work with commercial partners in India to scale up the approach across the country.
Due to the NEWgenerator team’s significant contribution to global sanitation, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has named it a winner of the 2020 Patents for Humanity Award. The prestigious award recognizes innovators who use game-changing technology to meet global humanitarian challenges.
Using some of same principles as the NEWgenerator, Yeh and his graduate students have also developed the Organic Processor Assembly, a closed system that converts human waste into fertilizer and water that allows astronauts to grow fresh vegetables in space. It is being tested at the Kennedy Space Center for its effectiveness under simulated space mission conditions. NASA is considering the technology for its lunar exploration program, Artemis, which is working to return humans to the moon in 2024.