The research of Mr. Dirk Myburgh – our St. Nicholas STEM teacher is published on Springer Link Magazine, an online collection of researchers with access to millions of scientific documents from journals, books, series, protocols, reference works and proceedings:

Mr. Dirk and SNS Students in STEM class

This interview caught up with Mr. Dirk to share his research: 

1. What was your inspiration to start this research?

Three years into my studies I was introduced to the Environmental Engineering Research Group at my university. They focus on the treatment and reduction of various types of wastewater, since South Africa is a drought prone country. We worked on many projects over the next few years, including the production of potable drinking water from Municipal wastewater, by using Reverse Osmosis membranes. Soon after I started my own project, the treatment of Biodiesel wastewater. We have many Biodiesel producers that create “environmentally friendly fuel” but simultaneously pollute the environment with the wastewater they produce. So, we set out to try and mitigate this problem.

2. Can you explain more about the difference between the traditional treatment and yours?

Biodiesel wastewater is a very oily substance that contains high levels of oils and other toxic materials. For every 1L of biodiesel, about 3L of wastewater is produced. This type of wastewater requires specialized treatment to effectively remove and contain the toxins from entering the environment. Traditionally, companies do little or no treatment of their wastewater, they would send the wastewater down the drain and it would be treated together with other industrial wastewater by the local municipalities and their facilities. There the wastewater undergoes various processes such as aerobic digestion, anaerobic digestion, sedimentation and other biological processes, after which, the water is released into the rivers.

Our process first removes most of the oil by changing the pH of the water, second, it uses electrochemistry to further remove and destroy the oil and toxins in the wastewater. The last step uses a natural absorbent made from Shrimp-skin to remove the last bit of oil and toxins. At the end of the process water can be further treated using Reverse Osmosis membranes and then re-used to produce biodiesel. Thereby, creating a closed circle process that creates very little waste and saves large amount of water.

3. Which one is more economic?

The initial setup-costs would be higher, as is the case with most newer technologies. However, once the setup is complete and the process is operational it would lead to significant cost savings as the user would recover most of the water from its process and could reuse it. Besides the economic gain in the long run, the immediate and long-lasting environmental effects are much more valuable.

4. Which country do you think is suitable to apply this technique?

This treatment process can be applied to any large- or small-scale biodiesel producing facility. It can therefore be used in any country that produces biodiesel and would like to lower their environmental impact./.