18 May 2021 | Story ANDRE DAMONS | Photo Supplied
Prof Paul Oberholster, the Director of the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State (UFS), received his second nomination in as many years for the NSTF-Water Research Commission Award at this year’s Science Oscars.

Prof Paul Oberholster, Director of the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State (UFS), has been nominated for the second year in a row for the NSTF-Water Research Commission Award at this year’s Science Oscars. 

Prof Oberholster has been nominated with Prof Ivan Turok, who holds the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) Research Chair in City-Region Economies in the Department of Economics and Finance and the Centre for Development Support at the UFS for the 2020/2021 NSTF-South32 Awards. Prof Turok has been nominated in the Lifetime Award category. 

It is a privilege

The NSTF-South32 Awards are referred to as the ‘Science Oscars’ of South Africa and are the largest, most comprehensive, and sought-after national awards of its kind in the country. It was also the first science awards in South Africa. The NSTF Awards honour and celebrate outstanding contributions to science, engineering and technology (SET) and innovation.

“It is a privilege to be nominated for these awards again. It is the same research platform but new research publications e.g. the Sanitation and Wastewater Atlas of Africa sponsored by the African Development Bank and UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which is a first for Africa and strongly related to the sustainable development goals for 2030,” said Prof Oberholster about his nomination. 

Sustainable development and a more circular use of resources

According to him their new work looks at the sustainable development and the global move towards a more circular use of resources where waste is reduced and resources are recycled, have driven a paradigm shift within the scientific community with regards to wastewater solutions. “In this context we have done new research at our phycoremediation pilot plant in Mossel Bay related to the reuse of domestic wastewater and the use of the algae biomass for biofuel and biofertiliser.

“A nomination means for me that the research that I have done throughout my career in collaborations with other researchers, institutes, councils and the government did help to influence water resource management in South Africa,” says Prof Oberholster.

Prof Oberholster, whose research focus area is the use of freshwater algae to treat acid mine drainage or domestic wastewater, says that rapid urbanisation poses major infrastructure, economic, environmental and social problems in South Africa, where the demand for water is increasingly becoming more than the source can provide. South Africa will need to plan much better in the future, especially related to climate change. 

Reuse of wastewater and groundwater will become more important

“Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity both of droughts and of storm events, while higher air temperatures necessitate greater water use. For these reasons, alternative water resources will become more vital, such as rainwater harvesting, wastewater reuse, groundwater recharge and desalination, as well as moving toward a more holistic integrated approach to water management (IWRM) for meeting South Africa’s water needs that may not be satisfied by a single water source.

“Reuse of wastewater and groundwater will become more important in the future. Although water reuse is not a new concept we still need to go a far way to apply this concept in the South African context. African countries, for instance, Namibia already did focus on alternative water resources from the 1960s,” says Prof Oberholster. 

According to him, South Africa has the capacity to solve its own water problems and that alternative water resources will become a very important aspect as a possible solution for South Africa’s water problems, especially if we want economic growth to deal with the water crisis.

• The announcement of the winners will take place at the Awards Gala Event on 29 July 2021. 

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