Monday, 18 June 2018 11:15

Chemistry students save 3000 litres of water per week in lab

Three chemistry students at Stellenbosch University (SU) have reduced their laboratory’s water consumption by at least 3 000 litres per week by coming up with innovative and relatively inexpensive ways of saving water.

Four months ago PhD students Monica Clements, Jonathan Hay and Anton Hamann started to conduct trials in the medicinal and organic chemistry laboratory in the De Beers Building in response to a challenge put out by their head of department, Prof Peter Mallon, to develop ways of saving water.

“With the water shortages in the Western Cape, we started talking about how we could reduce water consumption in our lab. This has led us to a number of changes in the way we operate water-consuming instruments,” they explain.

They first identified the largest consumers of water and then developed a system – called a Closed Cold-Water Recycling System (CCWRS) – to be used with various water thirsty lab equipment.

The closed system consists of a cooler box, a garden hose and laboratory silicone piping, as well as a garden fountain pump of 80L/h. The basic principle is that the water is cooled down with ice and then recycled in a closed system, whereas previously perfectly potable tap water would have gone down the drain.

The first major water-user identified was the lab’s rotary evaporators, which used over 100 litres of water per day when running directly from the tap.

The evaporator’s condenser is now connected to the closed system and not to a tap, and only uses about five litres of ice water per day.

“All three of our rotary evaporators have been running on this setup, without failures of any kind even though running eight hours a day, Monday to Friday,” Jonathan explains.

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