PE man, 77, develops system which could make clean water available to all

CLEAN AND GREEN: Bryan Mayhew and his Clean Water Drinking Tank which uses nanofibres to purify water
Bryan Mayhew and his Clean Water Drinking Tank which uses nanofibres to purify water

A Port Elizabeth entrepreneur is set to launch a tank that can turn dirty water into topnotch drinking water through a revolutionary nanofibre filter.

The technology was first presented in the UK in 2014, but after a year of research Bryan Mayhew of South End has perfected a South African pilot design that would include certification and ongoing water sampling and testing by field workers, which would generate jobs.

His Clean Drinking Water Tank also ensures there are no leaks around the filter, which was a design problem with the initial model.

Mayhew, 77, learned about the technology at an Oxford University presentation two-and-a-half years ago and was immediately inspired.

“Potable water poverty is the scourge of developing nations and nowhere is this more evident than in Africa,” he said.

“Here was a lifeline, a solution to a terrible social and environmental health problem.

“Part of the attraction is the system uses no electricity or chemicals so there is zero carbon footprint and no added costs.”

Mayhew said the first 1 000l Clean Drinking Water Tank would have to be made in Johannesburg, but the roto-molding allowing for roll-out of tanks after that could be done in Port Elizabeth.

They would be ideal for urban or rural use, for individual household and townhouse complexes or whole communities, he said.

“Each filter would be good for two million litres of water, after which it would have to be replaced.

“In urban areas it would probably be filled with municipal water or rainwater, harvested by whatever means.

“In rural areas the business of water collection would not change, so from muddy rivers for instance – but now this water would go into the tank and come out 100% pure.”

Mayhew has not had the capital so far to develop the project but his design plan shows how a hand pump increases internal pressure, forcing the clean water through the filter and into the user’s bucket or bottle.

Nanofibres were too small to see with the naked eye, but woven into a mat they provided the all-important filter that purified the water, he said.

The nanofibres are produced by electrospinning, in which an electric field is applied to a newgeneration plastic fibre solution.

The solution is transformed into elongated strands that are woven together with a rotating drum to make the mats.

Mayhew has been in talks with the only recognised nanofibre manufacturer in South Africa, the Stellenbosch Nanofibre Company, and is probing other nanofibre production possibilities at NMMU, Rhodes and a Botswana university.

He entered his Clean Drinking Water Tank into the international Clean Tech Competition in Arizona last year and was judged a South African semifinalist before he had to pull out due to illness.

The tanks were priced provisionally at R50 000 but, divided by the volume of clean water each filter could deliver, they were cheap at the price, he said.

“If the government or a non-profit could come on board perhaps this product could be subsidised,” Mayhew said.

“I believe it could make a fundamental difference in people’s lives.”

With the worsening drought, NMMU is happy to engage on any entrepreneurial initiative in this regard.

That’s the word from Professor Jannie Neethling, who heads NMMU’s Centre for High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy.

Neethling said he would have to scrutinise the design and technology used before he could comment fully.

“But with the dams drying up, filtering is coming increasingly to the fore to allow us to access remaining water resources and even to allow for re-use,” he said.

“The centre is not involved in nanofibre production but if there is a commercial demand this could be considered.

“Either way anyone who has the ability to be an entrepreneur must be supported, so we would be happy to look at his project.”

Dr Mike Cohen, a senior environmental consultant and former head of Eastern Cape conservation, said while the initiative should be welcomed, it should not diminish human responsibility to tackle pollution in rivers and other fresh water sources.

“They’re polluted because we made them that way,” he said.

“Even if we get this new technology that purifies drinking water there is a much wider role rivers and wetlands play in supporting ecosystems.

“These ecosystems in turn benefit us with food, clean air, pest control, tourism opportunities and much more.”

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