The winner of the world’s most respected youth award for water-related science was recently announced – here’s why you should be deeply impressed.
To appreciate how prestigious it is to be named one of the finalists in the Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP), consider that each entrant had to vie against thousands of others in their home country, winning local, regional and finally national competitions, before being named their country’s representative at the SJWP. This year there were 63 finalists from 29 countries.
The commitment is clear from the sheer dedication, innovation and often downright genius of some of the entries from young people aged between 15 and 20, who are competing for the top prize of $15,000. And each person or team in the finals has demonstrated a clear understanding of a key water or environmental challenge.
Take the Israeli team that has created a diffusion process that enriches desalinated drinking water with vital seawater minerals, or the Italian entrants who have built a metal cage that can quickly and cheaply remove arsenic from water, without generating microbial or chemical contamination.
The SJWP is in its 17th year and is one of the major events in the annual World Water Week in Sweden. But if you take a step back from the buzz generated by the competitors and the prizes, the real benefit is that insightful and resourceful minds are tackling water-related issues from a very young age. And this is why a long-term sponsor like Xylem continues to champion the event.
The finalists from the Suratpittaya School in Thailand chose to tackle polluted wastewater that is generated in the production of rubber. To create sheets of rubber from the Para tree you need to use acid as a coagulant, but for every kilogram of coagulated latex created, 20 liters of acidic wastewater is discarded. The Thai team found that this wastewater could be transformed into GBC (gelatinous bacterial cellulose) plastic. This GBC has similar properties to petroleum-based plastic – and crucially, reduces the amount of raw rubber production wastewater by 95.15 percent.
Mykhailo Lytovchenko, the Ukrainian entrant, was concerned by the dual needs that face small islands and remote coastal dwellings: lack of electricity and access to fresh drinking water. Mykhailo set out to create a technology that would simultaneously desalinate seawater and generate electricity. To accomplish this he built a prototype that uses wave power to rotate a framework of valved chambers, which triggers a high-pressure pump to force part of the captured seawater through a membrane filter to desalinate it, while the other captured water accumulates in a water tower, where a hydro-turbine generates electricity. This relatively inexpensive prototype has already attracted attention from other water-scarce countries, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Nations that are plighted by heavy metal pollution of groundwater will want to pay attention to the work done by the finalists from The Netherlands. The team has created a small, simple-to-use optical sensor that, when placed in water, can indicate the presence of Cadmium (II) ions. A known carcinogen, Cd II is a particular problem in China and the Dutch team hopes their tool will be useful to even the most remote villager when testing water for drinking or agricultural purposes.
Xylem is the main sponsor of the SJWP prizes, and on September 3, after rigorous judging by the international panel, the 2014 winner was announced by the award’s patron, H.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden. Find out who won here!
Read more about the SJWP finalists on Xylem Watermark’s blog Running Water.