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SA-made solar toilets a breakthrough in sanitation, dignity


The greenest school in Gauteng is the modest establishment at Orefile Primary School in Olievenhoutbosch. It is now the site of a breakthrough toilet installation that provides flush sanitation with minimal water usage – and it’s all designed, developed and manufactured right here in South Africa.

Mustek decided to sponsor the toilets as part of its CSI initiative, but the implications of the technology go way beyond the comfort and dignity of the 120 schoolchildren at Orefile: it has the potential to help preserve South Africa’s scarce water resources while saving millions on the construction of expensive sewerage reticulation.

The toilets are powered by a small solar panel that drives the two pumps contained in the sealed unit. Orefile is no stranger to solar technology, as this already supplies its electricity, while the school itself is built from environmentally-friendly razor board and waste water is re-used for other purposes.

“When we add the new solar toilets, it becomes even more interesting and challenging,” says Clever Shukwambani, Principal at Orefile Primary School.

Michael Cassidy, head of Renewable Energy at Mustek, explains that the technology distributor has a division focusing on photo-voltaic solutions.

“We wanted to give renewable energy some exposure and we came across this new technology: the solar-powered toilets. It’s a unique and different concept and we decided to sponsor a school.” The total investment, to install four structures and toilets at Orefile, was R50 000.00.

The SmartSan sanitation system was designed and developed by Professor Mulalo Doyoya and Jurgen Graupe specifically to meet the needs of the emerging market, where the infrastructure to provide traditional flush toilets is often not in place.

Prof Doyoyo explains that one of the biggest challenges with most traditional sanitation systems – whether regular flush toilets or mobile toilets – is what to do with the waste. “You have to dump it somewhere,” he says.

With the SmartSan system, biotechnology is used to process the waste within the unit itself. “It’s a mini waste treatment plant,” Prof Doyoyo says.

How it works is that the unit is installed as a closed system with either two or three tanks, depending upon the installation. The system recycles toilet flush water so it doesn’t have to be connected to municipal water, while rain water can be accommodated as well in the cistern supply tank.

A combination of biological anaerobic process and nano-filtering are used to clean the water once the toilet is used and flushed. The nano-filtration system ensures 100% removal of all dissolved contaminants such as nitrates, nitrites and phosphates in the filtered water, while the disinfection of the nano filter ensure the destruction of any possible harmful pathogens.

A ventilation system cap ensures removal of all possible odours, and there is no danger of leakage so water-borne diseases like cholera, diarrhoea or malaria cannot be spread.

The whole system requires very little maintenance, while the solar panel means it is independent from any external power supply.

More importantly, the SmartSan system uses just 600 litres of water per year, compared to a typical household usage of 32 000 litres per year used to flush the toilet.

Not only does the SmartSan system address a critical need for sanitation in a way that is sensitive to the realities of a water-scarce and infrastructure-poor country – because it is developed and manufactured in South Africa it is keeps vital intellectual property (IP) on our shores, while providing jobs and keeping the money in the economy. There are also export opportunities to countries that experience similar challenges.

The two partners started developing the systems in 2007, and have installed 1 300 units to date. Most of the sales were initially in the private sector, but the Free State Provincial Government has started using the toilets in its bucket eradication programme, and about 1 000 units have been installed so far.

Source: Environment Africa


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