“Urine recovery” may be way forward in future water supply: expert

An international water expert has predicted a future where mankind’s main water resource comes from used water.

With a growing population, water is a prized commodity, and increasingly, pure drinking water has become a scarcity in many countries.

According to Dr James Barnard, recipient of this year’s Lee Kuan Yew Water prize, one solution countries need to seriously consider, is using treated waste water – something Singapore is already doing with NEWater.

Singapore currently has five NEWater plants, which treat waste water for both industrial and potable use.

Together they supply 30 per cent of the country’s current water needs.

In Singapore, treated waste water or NEWater is used mainly for industrial purposes. Only about 2 per cent is pumped back into the reservoir. And by 2060, it’s estimated that NEWater will meet about half of Singapore’s overall water demand.

Some parts of the world are already quite advanced in what Dr Barnard calls “urine recovery”.

Dr Barnard said: “It’s already happening, a lot of people just don’t know it and accept it therefore.

“There is a reservoir feeding some of the suburbs in Washington DC, Fairfax County, and that reservoir, 60 per cent of the flow into that reservoir is used water. So you can say, call it indirect, but they are having a higher recycle rate of used water than Singapore has.”

Dr Barnard also has a radical idea to better facilitate the process – have dual flushing toilets where urine flows through separate pipes, directly to waste water treatment plants.

Dr Barnard said: “They have a suburb in Stockholm where they are already doing that. It is more like a demonstration project.

“I’m thinking in new developments like perhaps golf courses. Most of these developments have housing around them. Why should we not separate the urine in that and re-use it on the fairways? I think that’s where we can make a start in the developed world. We cannot go into the buildings and change those toilets.”

He said urine, when treated could be a resource for drinking and agricultural use. Its by-products could also be used as a source of energy and fertilisers.

Meanwhile, Dr Barnard, the fourth Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize winner, was officially honoured at the Riz-Carlton Millenia on Tuesday evening.

He received the award from former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, whom the award is named after, for his work in enabling Singapore to attain a sustainable water supply.

Besides the certificate and gold medallion, Dr Barnard also received S$300,000, which he said would go to charity.

Dr Barnard is recognised for his invention of the Biological Nutrient Removal technology, which uses naturally occurring micro-organisms instead of conventional chemicals to remove chemicals from used water.

The Lee Kuan Yew Water prize is awarded to those who have contributed towards solving global water problems.

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