Dr James Barnard wins Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize
By Joanne Chan | Posted: 17 March 2011 1723 hrs
SINGAPORE : The inventor of an eco-friendly method of treating used water has been named this year's Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize winner.
The international award recognises outstanding contributions towards solving global water problems.
It will be handed out at the Singapore International Water Week in July.
In fish farming, algae that grow in the water is an important part of the ecology - as a food source for the marine life. However, excessive algae bloom can quickly turn fatal.
Dr James Barnard, winner of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize, said: "Other organisms feed on the algae, fish feed on the other organisms, and of course we eat the fish. That is the normal chain of events.
"The main problem is when the system becomes imbalanced, the algae growth becomes excessive, and when it's excessive, it disturbs the water balance so the fish can no longer survive in it."
This happens when nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are not removed from used water before being discharged into lakes and rivers.
In 2008, the outbreak of algae bloom in waters off China's Qingdao disrupted the Olympics sailing competition and damaged marine life.
Dr Barnard's technology, known as Biological Nutrient Removal, uses micro-organisms already present in the water to remove the nutrients.
Pioneered in the 1970s, this technology is currently used in thousands of water treatment plants worldwide.
It is more eco-friendly compared to traditional treatments as it does away with the use of resource-intensive chemicals. It can also result in up to 90 per cent of cost savings.
The Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize received a record 72 nominations from 29 countries this year. Dr Barnard's technology stood out from the competition for his innovative and cost-effectiveness in treating used water.
Dr Barnard said he would donate the S$300,000 cash prize to charity. The South African native also hopes to use the money to improve school systems in his country.
Past winners include Professor Gatze Lettinga from the Netherlands for his anaerobic technology for used water treatment, and Dr Andrew Benedek for pioneering low-pressure membranes.