Askwar Hilonga

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Featuring patented nanotechnology, the specialised water-filtration system, designed by engineer and university lecturer, Askwar Hilonga, it will help to provide a solution to the mirage of water-related diseases found in contaminated drinking water.

With the many innovations we have covered here at IndustrySA, they all seem to have one very important and correlating aim – to help and inspire fellow Africans.

This month’s innovative concept is certainly no exception and its founder, Askwar Hilonga, a Tanzanian chemical engineer, was awarded first prize in the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation for his specialised water-filtration system in June this year.

In a report from The United Nations, it is estimated that over 115 people die every hour in Africa due to contaminated water and the poor sanitation conditions – so in a 24 hour period, this statistic would equate to well over 2,700 people. With numerous diseases including TB, Malaria and AIDS all spread through dirty water, it is almost impossible to stop the devastating effects and consequences of these diseases without the availability of safe and clean drinking water.

Askwar Hilonga’s design is a sand-based water filter with nanotechnology that helps in the cleaning and purifying of contaminated water and is developed with three main components: firstly, the sand helps in removing water debris, including 97% of bacteria and viruses. Secondly, the nanofilter, which subsequently has now been trademarked, aids in removing the harmful substances sand cannot filter, including minerals, pesticides and hard metals. Lastly, the filter contains a 0.1 µmhollow fibre membrane.

Impressively, the filter helps in removing up to 99.999% of micro-organisms and can be specifically designed and engineered for a specific body of water and pollutants – these can vary depending on the geology of the location and human activity.

The nanofilter will produce 60 l/d of safe drinking water and will only need replacing after filtering 800 litres of water – Hilonga estimates that for an average family of six, this would equate to every three months and cost just US$5 to replace.

The Africa Prize was launched in 2014 by The Royal Academy of Engineering, in a bid to celebrate and reward African engineers and their innovative designs, hoping to inspire Africans to empower their own communities and find solutions to reoccurring issues.

Alongside his accolade from The Royal Academy of Engineering, Hilonga was awarded £25,000 (US$38,348) in prize money. With the water filter costing US$130, he has vowed to start buying in bulk in the hope of reducing costs and for those who cannot afford the filter, Hilonga is also setting up clean water stations and selling it five times cheaper than commercial bottled water.

Head judge Malcolm Brinded at CBE FREng said: “We are proud to have Tanzania’s Dr Askwar Hilonga as our first Africa Prize winner. His innovation could change the lives of many Africans, and people all over the world. He has successfully incorporated the training and mentoring from the last six months into his business plan, and shows great promise.”

Hilonga competed with entrants from 15 other African countries, with the 12 shortlisted entrants receiving six months of complimentary business training, all with the aim to help them develop their business plans, approach future investors and further market their inventions.

The three remaining runner-ups behind Hilonga also received £10,000 in prize money. These were; Musenga Silawa from Zambia with his spot fertiliser applicator, Ernst Pretorius from South Africa who has developed a fence-mounted security system and Samuel Wangui’s team from Kenya for their concept, Chura – a sim card swapping service.

Speaking to Engineering and Technology Magazine, Brinded explained: “There is a big shortage of engineers in Africa, but there is also a great wealth of talent. Many of the talented engineers are not able to get the recognition and the backing they need to become successful business leaders or start successful businesses.

“First of all we were looking for something that is a real technical innovation, but we were also looking for an entrepreneur who we think is capable of building a successful business. And then we are looking for something that we think might make a real contribution to African development. Something that has the chance to succeed and scale while being applicable across many countries and making a real difference to the development.

“It was difficult to pick the shortlist to be honest,” he explained. “First of all, to pick the twelve from the 55, we had at least 20 we wanted to go forward. To pick the four from the twelve, that was again very challenging. We had six or seven that were very competitive.”

With a degree in nanotechnology from South Korea, Hilonga is now a university lecturer at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology. He hopes that his new filter innovation could help up to 70% of households in Tanzania who suffer daily with no access to clean drinking water and is due to be ready for commercialisation as early as next year.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has already announced the opening of the second Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation for 2016.

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