Lettinga Wins Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize

Professor Gatze Lettinga from The Netherlands has been awarded this year’s Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize for his environmentally sustainable solution for the treatment of used water using anaerobic technology.

His revolutionary treatment concept, which stood out among 39 international nominations, enables industrial used water to be purified cost-effectively and produces renewable energy, fertilizers, and soil conditioners. Professor Lettinga has chosen not to patent this invention so that his water treatment technology can be universally available.

As a result, his technology has been widely adopted in industrial as well as municipal use. Today, the technology is in use in almost 3,000 reactors, representing about 80 percent of all anaerobic used water treatment systems in the world.

The Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize is an international award recognizing an individual or organization for outstanding contributions in the field of water. Such works have to solve the world’s water problems through the application of revolutionary technologies or the implementation of innovative policies and programs that benefit mankind.

Professor Lettinga pioneered the widespread use of anaerobic technology, which uses microorganisms in an oxygen-free environment to purify used water. Although anaerobic technology has been around for over a hundred years, his invention proved that it could be operated as an energy-efficient, cost-effective, and self-sustaining process. His anaerobic reactor is able to pretreat polluted used water from industries such as breweries, beverage, paper and pulp manufacturing, sugar, starch, and alcohol distilleries. The used waters produced by these industries contain a large amount of organic contaminants. Some of these contaminants cannot be efficiently removed by conventional aerobic processes, while others are toxic.

With energy efficiency concerns becoming more pressing, this technology is being increasingly applied, not just to industrial used water, but also to municipal used water in countries like Brazil and India. The anaerobic system is a simpler system compared to aerobic systems as it does away with the use of oxygen, generating energy savings of 30 to 40 percent.

“Professor Lettinga’s invention has played an important role in addressing the world’s growing concern over finding environmentally sustainable solutions. In choosing not to patent his Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket reactor, many developing countries now have access to a low-cost, sustainable used water treatment system. Besides contributing to water management with his technological breakthrough, he has also imparted his knowledge to young water engineers and professionals all over the world so that they can apply the knowledge in their countries. His altruism is indeed highly commendable,” says Mr Tan Gee Paw, chair of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize Nominating Committee.

Professor Lettinga says, “I feel deeply honored and grateful to receive this award because it originates from the small yet astoundingly successful city state, Singapore. More importantly, the Water Prize bears the name Lee Kuan Yew, the impressive and inspiring first Prime Minister of Singapore.”

Named after Singapore’s first Prime Minister and present Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, the award comes with a cash prize of SGD300,000, an award certificate, and a gold medallion. The award is solely sponsored by the Singapore Millennium Foundation, a philanthropic body supported by Temasek Holdings that has pledged SGD1.5 million over five years since 2008.

The award ceremony and banquet will be held at the Istana – the official residence and office of Singapore’s President on June 24 during the second Singapore International Water Week. Professor Lettinga will deliver the Singapore Water Lecture at the Water Week on June 23.

Lettinga was a professor of environmental technology from 1988 until his retirement from Wageningen Agricultural University in 2001. He remains an active board member with the Lettinga Associates Foundation, a not-for-profit knowledge center that develops and implements sustainable environmental protection technologies. Lettinga continues to support the education of young scientists working on sustainable environmental technologies through his donations to scholarship programs administered by the foundation.

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