Dutch Environmental Engineer Wins Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize 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.

Professor Lettinga’s revolutionary treatment concept, which stood out among 39 international nominations, enables industrial used water to be purified cost-effectively and produces useful by-products such as renewable energy, fertilizers and soil conditioners. He has pioneered the widespread use of anaerobic technology which uses micro-organisms in an oxygen-free environment to purify used water. 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.

The Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize is an international award recognising an individual or organisation for outstanding contributions in the field of water. Such works have to solve the world’s water problems through application of revolutionary technologies or the implementation of innovative policies and programmes that benefit mankind.

Although anaerobic technology has been around for over 100 years, Prof Lettinga’s invention showed that it could be operated as an energy-efficient, cost-effective and self-sustaining process.

By treating polluted used water from industries such as breweries, beverage, paper and pulp manufacturing, sugar, starch and alcohol distilleries, the process 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.

Before Professor Lettinga’s breakthrough, the untreated, highly-contaminated water would have polluted the environment, affected aquatic life, and even endangered public health. Today, countries like Brazil and India have benefited from the use of the process to treat municipal used water as well.

He chose not to patent his 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.

Professor Lettinga says, “I’m a realist but I’m also a anti-monopolist. I think some things which are useful for everybody, for happiness, safety and clean worlds, these should be available for everybody.”

“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,” he adds.

Today, the technology is in use in almost 3,000 reactors, representing about 80 per cent of all anaerobic used water treatment systems in the world.

Mr Tan Gee Paw, Chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize Nominating Committee, says, “Prof 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. 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.”

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.

Named after Singapore’s first Prime Minister and present Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, the award comes with a cash prize of S$300,000, an award certificate and a gold medallion. 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 2009.

Promoting Singapore as a centre for research

The prize money for the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize comes from a S$1.5-million grant sponsored by the Singapore Millennium Foundation (SMF), a non-profit organisation set up in 2001 by Singapore Technologies Private Limited and Temasek Holdings.

The grant, pledged over five years since 2008, is in line with SMF’s primary mission of promoting research, developing human capital and enhancing Singapore as a centre for research.

Besides the Water Prize, the Foundation sponsors scholarships and fellowships for outstanding research scientists from various countries, supporting their full-time research efforts at Singapore-based universities and research institutes at the PhD and post-doctoral levels.

A total of 228 scholarships for postgraduate studies and post-doctoral research have been given out, including 28 in 2008. They are for areas such as engineering, physical and material sciences, life sciences, and environmental sciences, including water and renewable resources. More recently, awards were given to medical doctors to pursue translational research.

SMF also focuses on cutting edge technology in niche areas and cross-discipline research. Its partners include the universities in Singapore as well as research institutes like Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory, National Cancer Centre, Singapore, National Neuroscience Institute, Singapore General Hospital and the Institute of Mental Health.

To date, SMF has awarded $25.25 million over the next 3 to 5 years for research in Liver Cancer, Mental Health, Bio-diesel fuel, Parkinsons Disease and Neuro-muscular disease.

Source: PUB

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