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National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Prof Faizal Bux

For researching wastewater as a resource and not a burden to society.

Sponsored by the Water Research Commission since 2017

The 2019/2020 NSTF-South32 for NSTF-Water Research Commission (WRC) Award was won by Prof Faizal Bux, Director of the Institute for Water and Wastewater Technology, and Chair: DSI/NRF SARChI: Wastewater Treatment, Durban University of Technology for research on wastewater as a resource and not a burden to society.

Professor Faizal Bux, Director of the Institute for Water and Wastewater Technology at the Durban University of Technology, has had an affinity for nature and science since his youth, and has been involved in water research for 30 years.

“South Africa is a water-starved country and the impact has been further magnified by climate change,” he says. “Access to clean water and sanitation is a basic human right [and this right is] entrenched in the Sustainable Development Goals. I have tried to keep my foot on the ground attempting to provide solutions to local water-related challenges, at the same time producing outputs that contribute to the overall body of knowledge in the water sector, both locally and globally.”

Over the last decade his research endeavours have spanned different projects that have been selected, designed, and executed in close consultation with water sector partners and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). His core areas of research are in the field of optimisation of wastewater treatment processes, algal biotechnology and wastewater beneficiation. More recently, in conjunction with one of his PhD students, Bux developed a predictive model to pre-empt bulking in full scale wastewater treatment plants. This has shown good potential for application.

“The novelty of our research can be seen in the projects that have reached pilot and demonstration scale, and the large number of manuscripts that have been published in leading International Scientific Indexing (ISI) journals — more than 80 publications with more than 5 200 citations in the last five years,” he says.

Algae biofuels research (that looks into the optimisation of biomass growth and oil yield) was conducted by one of his research teams at the Kingsburgh wastewater treatment plant in the South of Durban. The harvesting and oil extraction technology was created by Japanese partners in a parallel development. Furthermore, there are at least four projects that have potential for commercial spin-offs in the near future.

Bux has also identified that a key limitation to the success of projects is often a lack of engagement with the end user communities. In many instances, this has resulted in the technology being rejected. One of the PhD projects he is currently supervising is researching public perceptions on the potential use of treated wastewater for potable purposes. The findings will have a significant impact on improving the applicability of wastewater reuse.

“I have been privileged for being recognised by my peers in South Africa and internationally for some of my contributions. But the cherry on the top is seeing postgraduates that I have supervised holding prominent positions and making valuable contributions to the water sector in South Africa,” says Bux.

The professor holds fellowships to the International Water Association, Royal Society of Chemistry, Water Institute of Southern Africa and is a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa. — Kerry Haggard

To read the full Mail & Guardian supplement of articles about the work of all the 2020 Award Winners, click here.

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