SINGAPORE, March 9, 2009 -- Professor Gatze Lettinga from The Netherlands has been awarded this year's Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize for his environmentally-sustainable solution for the treatment of used water using anaerobic technology.
His revolutionary treatment concept, which stood out among 39 international nominations, enables industrial used water to be purified cost-effectively and produces renewable energy, fertilizers and soil conditioners. Professor Lettinga has chosen not to patent this invention so that his water treatment technology can be universally available. As a result, his technology has been widely adopted in industrial as well as municipal use. Today, the technology is in use in almost 3,000 reactors, representing about 80 percent of all anaerobic used water treatment systems in the world.
The Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize is an international award recognizing an individual or organization for outstanding contributions in the field of water. Such works have to solve the world's water problems through the application of revolutionary technologies or the implementation of innovative policies and programs that benefit mankind.
Energy-efficient, cost-effective process
Professor Lettinga pioneered the widespread use of anaerobic technology, which uses microorganisms in an oxygen-free environment to purify used water. Although anaerobic technology has been around for over a hundred years, his invention proved that it could be operated as an energy-efficient, cost-effective and self-sustaining process. His anaerobic reactor is able to pre-treat polluted used water from industries such as breweries, beverage, paper and pulp manufacturing, sugar, starch and alcohol distilleries. The used waters produced by these industries contain a large amount of organic contaminants. Some of these contaminants cannot be efficiently removed by conventional aerobic processes, while others are toxic.
With energy-efficiency concerns becoming more pressing, this technology is being increasingly applied, not just to industrial used water, but also to municipal used water in countries like Brazil and India. The anaerobic system is a simpler system compared to aerobic systems as it does away with the use of oxygen, generating energy savings of 30 to 40 percent.
Before Professor Lettinga's breakthrough, highly contaminated industrial used water was treated mainly by aerobic biological processes, which were expensive and energy- intensive due to the use of oxygen. In countries which could not afford the aerobic process, the untreated, highly-contaminated water would have polluted the environment, affected aquatic life, and even endangered public health.
At the same time, the process also produces methane which is the principal component in natural gas and can be used as a fuel to generate electricity. Treatment plants using Prof Lettinga's technology are able to offset part of their plants' operating costs by generating this renewable power. Other by-products are fertilizers and soil conditioners.
Says Professor Lettinga, "I believe that innovative technologies for treating used water, waste, and gas, especially those that focus on closing the loop and recovering resources, will contribute to more sustainable living which the world urgently needs."
"Professor Lettinga's invention has played an important role in addressing the world's growing concern over finding environmentally-sustainable solutions. In choosing not to patent his Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket reactor, many developing countries now have access to a low-cost, sustainable used water treatment system. Besides contributing to water management with his technological breakthrough, he has also imparted his knowledge to young water engineers and professionals all over the world so that they can apply the knowledge in their countries. His altruism is indeed highly commendable," says Mr. Tan Gee Paw, Chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize Nominating Committee.
Nominations for the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize went through a rigorous selection process. The Nominating Committee, comprising chief executives of multi-national water companies, leading academics and government officers, conducted a thorough examination of all the submitted nominations. It recommended the winner to the Water Prize Council, which is chaired by Dr. Tony Tan, Chairman of the Singapore National Research Foundation for its endorsement.
Professor Lettinga says, "I feel deeply honored and grateful to receive this award because it originates from the small yet astoundingly successful city state, Singapore. More importantly, the Water Prize bears the name Lee Kuan Yew, the impressive and inspiring first Prime Minister of Singapore."
Named after Singapore's first Prime Minister and present Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, the award comes with a cash prize of SGD300,000, an award certificate and a gold medallion. The award is solely sponsored by the Singapore Millennium Foundation, a philanthropic body supported by Temasek Holdings that has pledged SGD1.5 million over five years since 2008.
The award ceremony and banquet will be held at the Istana -- the official residence and office of Singapore's President -- on 24 June 2009 during the second Singapore International Water Week. Professor Lettinga will deliver the Singapore Water Lecture at the Water Week on 23 June.
The inaugural Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize was presented to Dr Andrew Benedek in 2008. Dr. Benedek is a Canadian researcher and successful technopreneur who pioneered the development of low-pressure membranes that enabled drinking water to be produced from even highly polluted water.
About Singapore International Water Week
The Singapore International Water Week is the global platform for water solutions. It will bring policymakers, industry leaders, experts and practitioners together to address challenges, showcase technologies, discover opportunities and celebrate achievements in the water world.
Comprising the Water Leaders Summit, Water Convention, Water Expo and Business Forums, it culminates in the presentation of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize, a prestigious international award to recognize outstanding contributions in solving global water issues. The second Singapore International Water Week will be held from 22 to 26 June 2009 at Suntec Singapore. The theme is Sustainable Cities -- Infrastructure and Technologies for Water.