Austrian Companies amongst Agri-Water Open Innovation Challenge

The 17 innovators were chosen as finalists in the Agri-Water Open Innovation Challenge out of a pool of 70 high-quality submissions from the two countries. Innovators from South Africa and Austria have met with potential partners and investors in Cape Town to present ideas to reduce the amount of water currently used in agriculture.

Austrian Trade Commissioner Johannes Brunner says the news earlier this year that Cape Town may be the first major city to run out of water was a major wake-up call and had prompted a project in which South African and Austrian businesses could work together more closely in the water space.

“We were not simply looking for any solution to the water crisis. We put a particular focus on the agricultural sector, which is of crucial importance for food security, employment and the overall economy in South Africa.”

The 17 finalists were chosen by an expert jury from 70 high-quality submissions and range from information technology solutions to monitor and control water use to desalination and demand-based irrigation controllers.

A novel solution was proposed by Limpopo-based innovator, Murendeni Mafumo. He has developed water filtration systems that use macadamia nut shells as carbon filters, as well as nanofibre membranes.

“We source the waste shells from a farmer. We burn the shells and add chemicals, making it into a slurry. Macadamia nut shells are extremely effective, as they don’t burn out completely when you incinerate them,” he explained on Friday.

He told Engineering News Online he had developed a simple mechanical filtration system which would be suitable for emerging farmers in rural areas and to produce clean, safe drinking water.

Mafumo, who has worked as a water technician and water treatment specialist for the City of Cape Town and for Johannesburg Water, said he started running the first prototype last year and hoped to interest retailers in the water treatment units.

The judges said they were impressed with Mafumo’s novel applied innovation which had a unique selling point.

Austrian innovator Thomas Griessler told Engineering News Online he had developed a water treatment solution using forward osmosis, a technology which follows the basic principle of every living cell. His solution was described as cutting-edge and a lead innovation.

His innovative system does not use chemicals and can be used to produce drinkable water from waste water or sea water.

Apart from use in agriculture, Griessler sees great opportunities in the mining and oil industries, where mobile units could be set up to purify water on site.

“About a quarter of the money that has to be spent during the lifetime of an oil well comes from water handling. By using a mobile unit and treating the water on site, it would reduce operating costs. Forward osmosis also uses 50% less energy,” said Griessler, who has a background in experimental physics and leads a research consortium in Austria which deals with forward osmosis.

Senisha Moonsamy of the Department of Science and Technology’s Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), said the agency was interested in joint innovations and partnerships.

“Some of the Austrian innovators are at a commercial phase. Rather than simply importing products from Austria, we’d like to see technology and skills transfer. In terms of globalisation and innovation, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel but we want to localise the tech for companies.”

She said the TIA was supporting South African entrepreneurs with tech development funding, as well as market readiness and business readiness.

“We want to assist young entrepreneurs by looking at enabling opportunities so that we can better innovate and increase critical thinking skills.”

The innovators had the opportunity to pitch their solutions to partners and investors in a World Café matchmaking session in Cape Town.

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