01 October 2021 | Story André Damons | Photo Supplied
Prof Paul Oberholster is the Director of the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State (UFS) and the newest recipient of the NSTF-Water Research Commission (WRC) Award.

Prof Paul Oberholster, Director of the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State (UFS), won the NSTF-Water Research Commission (WRC) Award for his contribution to water resource management in SA over the past five years, with special reference to the field of biological passive wastewater treatment.

The gala event for the NSTF-South32 Awards – for outstanding contributions by teams, organisations, and individuals to science, engineering, technology, and innovation in South Africa, took place on Thursday (30 September).  

This was the second year in a row that Prof Oberholster was nominated for the NSTF-Water Research Commission Award at the Science Oscars. 

Current research goals are on the right track

“It feels unreal. There are so many excellent water researchers in South Africa, so receiving this award is really an honour for me. Also, the fact that I could represent the University of the Free State. For me, it meant that my current research goals are on the right track, which is to improve the environment and serve all South Africans through my research,” explains Prof Oberholster the significance of winning this award. 

According to him, winning came as a surprise, as the other finalists in his category are all well known in the water research field, and excellent researchers.

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.

Research helps to influence water resource management in South Africa

Prof Oberholster, whose research focus area is the use of freshwater algae to treat acid mine drainage or domestic wastewater, was nominated this year for the same research platform as the previous year, but with new research publications added, 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 is strongly related to the sustainable development goals for 2030.

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, which has driven a paradigm shift within the scientific community with regard 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.

Prof Oberholster has previously noted that a nomination means the research he has done throughout his career in collaboration with other researchers, institutes, councils, and the government, helps to influence water resource management in South Africa. 

Watch the recording of the event below:

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