Profile: Dr James Barnard
How sustainable is this? Save water and save
chemicals says the winner of this year’s Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize. Dr James
Barnard is seriously advocating the use of urine as a fertilizer to bump up food
production for the world, because the body’s liquid waste contains large amounts
of phosphorus. Reports from Maree Norton for Ecopoint, Feng Zengkun for Straits
Times and from Water World International.
Commentary from Maree Norton, representing
Ecopoint and Envirofriendly, who met Dr James Barnard at Singapore
International Water Week:
In December 1967 Dr Christian Barnard became
an overnight superstar after he preformed the world’s first successful heart
transplant in South Africa. His own brother had died at the age of 5 from a
heart condition so it is not surprising that he was assisted by another
brother, Marius, in the land mark surgery. Together the Bernard’s changed the
face of cardiothoracic surgery.
This month in Singapore, a much lesser known relative
of the heart surgeon, also from South Africa, was acknowledged for his efforts.
Dr James Barnard, who is considered the father of Biological Nutrient Removal,
or BNR, was awarded the fourth Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize. In the 1970′s he was
visiting a weir outside of Johannesburg with his daughter and was shocked to
see that the city’s water supply was chocked with Blue green algae and that the
wild life was dying from microcystis poisoning.
Removing the nitrogen and phosphorous, that
was casing the condition, was traditionally done with chemicals and the cost
was horrendous. Dr Barnard was inspired by this experience to experiment with
the introduction of naturally occurring micro- organisms to eliminate the
nitrogen and phosphorous.
The forward thinking government were so
impressed with his results that three months later they commenced the
construction of the first BNR water purification plant in Goudkoppies. There
are now over one hundred BNR plants in operation around the world taking waste
water and purifying it for reuse. He has adapted the technology to different
climates, environmental limitations and water infrastructures.
Mr Tan Gee Paw, chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew
Water Prize Nominating Committee said of Dr Barnard: “his restless pursuit
of adaptable solutions to resolve the challenge of water reclamation has led to
a highly sustainable technology which protects the quality of precious water
resources and the environment, and delivers immense benefit to mankind”
Dr Barnard is currently exploring the
possibilities of large scale urine separation to recover the phosphate and
nitrogen to use as fertiliser. Phosphate is a non-renewable resource found
naturally in Morocco and China, but supplies are fast running out.
Dr Barnard’s ideas have been far reaching and
have been developed and expanded by others too. About 15 years ago a Brisbane
engineer, Neil Christie, began experimenting with microbes to eliminate wastes.
Today he business – Envirofriendly – has over 4500 commercial and retail clients
using his microbial products in a wide range of applications including
industrial kitchens and associated grease traps, sewage treatment plants, waste
dumps and bins, urinals and toilets.
His clients include McDonalds Restaurants,
the Brisbane Convention Centre, Dunk and Lizard islands, Royal Brisbane
Hospital, Westfield shopping Centres and a number of Jones Lang Lasalle managed
buildings throughout Australia including Riverside Centre in Brisbane and The
MLC and Australia Square buildings in Sydney to name a few. His products have
just been accepted for use in Singapore and are currently on trial and are
being monitored by the Public Utilities Board (PUB) and other environmental
Mr Christie identified 14 different microbes.
By combing them in different intensities and training them to adapt to
different environments he was able to create ‘ designer bug” solutions to
Our best hope for mankind is that we continue
to be blessed with minds like the Dr Barnard’s and the people they influence.
These are the people that explore into the realms of the bizarre for the
answers to our greatest issues.
Source: www.ecopoint.asia; www.abccarbon.com
Feng Zengkun in Straits Times & K Jakarta
Globe (6 July 2011):
The winner of this year’s Lee Kuan Yew Water
Prize has his eye on urine.
Dr James Barnard, 75, is a dogged advocate of
using it as a fertilizer to bump up food production for the world, possible
because the body’s liquid waste contains large amounts of phosphorus, a
“I know it’s a strange idea that gets
lots of laughs, but it’s really serious,” said the South Africa-born civil
He was awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize
last night by Singapore’s former prime minister Lee himself, for his work in
recycling used water. Dr Barnard’s technology recovers phosphorus from used
water such as urine, converting it into pellets or crystals.
The Water Prize recognizes outstanding
contributions towards solving global water problems through technology,
policies and programs. The prize presentation is the highlight of each year’s
Singapore International Water Week.
At the Water Lecture traditionally given by
the winner, Dr Barnard said yesterday afternoon that he would use his position
as the latest winner of the prize to promote the use of urine as fertilizer.
Already, in cities like Kampala in Uganda,
half the food consumed is grown using urine, he said.
Using this waste as a fertilizer could avert
a food crisis caused by natural disasters, changing weather patterns and
speculation in crop prices. Global food prices shot up 30 per cent in the last
With the world population growing, especially
in developing countries, it is crucial to raise food production, Dr Barnard
Research institutes in Sweden and Switzerland
are trying to get developing countries to save and use urine as a fertilizer
for food crops. Sweden is implementing “urine-separation toilets”,
which are toilets with separate channels to collect urine.
“I’m told the only problem is getting
the men to sit down,” Dr Barnard quipped.
He noted that 90 per cent of the world’s
phosphorus mines are found in just five countries – Morocco, China, South
Africa, Jordan and the United States.
Fertilizer from these countries is only going
to get more costly as the supply shrinks, so it is important for developing
countries to find a cheap, sustainable way of producing it themselves, he said.
He plugs the “urine-as-fertilizer”
message wherever he goes, from conventions to lectures – and even on board
Laughing, he said: “Sometimes the person
next to me asks me what I do for a living. I tell them you’re going to be sorry
that you asked. But they always end up finding it fascinating.”
The Water Prize attracted a record 72
submissions from 29 countries this year. It includes an award and a $300,000
Dr Barnard said he would donate part of the
money to the University of Stellenbosch, his alma mater, and the University of
Texas and the University of Johannesburg, which supported his work. He will
also launch programs for young scientists.
Article from WaterWorld:
The Godfather of Biological Nutrient Removal
The widespread adoption of BNR-based processes
in thousands of water plants around the world, including the developing nations
of China and Brazil, has been helped by one man: Dr James Barnard. A look at
how the winner of this year’s Lee Kuan Yew Prize helped to develop the
technology and protect water resources and the communities that depend on them.
This year’s Lee Kuan Yew Prize winner may be
seen as the pioneer of Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) technology but he
originally had his heart set on a career as a structural engineer. It was only while
working at a sewage treatment plant near Johannesburg that the South
African-born technologist was steered towards a career in water treatment.
Working with water quality challenges in
South Africa and arid Namibia in the 1970s, Dr James L. Barnard conceived the
idea of using naturally-occurring micro-organisms to remove phosphorus and
nitrogen from used water and pioneered the BNR technology.
The Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize
Named after Singapore’s first Prime Minister
and present Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew, this international award recognises
outstanding contributions towards solving global water problems by either
applying technologies or implementing policies and programmes which benefit
humanity. Past winners of the prize include the Yellow River Conservancy
Commission, honoured in 2010 for its outstanding accomplishments in integrated
river basin management which has brought about widespread and sustainable
social, economic and environmental benefits; Professor Gatze Lettinga from the
Netherlands whose ground-breaking development of anaerobic technology for used
water treatment won him the prize in 2009; and Canadian researcher and
technopreneur, Dr Andrew Benedek who received the inaugural prize in 2008 for
pioneering the development of low-pressure membranes.
Prior to Dr Barnard’s development of BNR
technology, used water reclamation plants commonly used chemicals to remove
nitrogen and phosphorus. Left to accumulate, nitrogen and phosphorus can lead
to excessive algae growth, which adversely affects the ecology in water bodies
and contributes to poor water quality in rivers and lakes. Dr Barnard’s led the
sustainable alternative to conventional chemical processes, which make it
possible to return treated used water to rivers and lakes with minimal detrimental
impact on the environment.
Dr Barnard’s discovery of BNR
By the mid-20th century, used water treatment
plants were successful in removing organic pollutants, ammonia, suspended
solids and pathogens using the biological method. However, nutrients such as
nitrogen and phosphorus could only be removed with use of chemicals. After
completing his doctorate work in Water Resources and Environmental Health
Engineering at Vanderbilt University in the United States, Dr Barnard returned
to his native South Africa, where water shortages and poor water quality as a
result of algae blooms were already serious problems. Conventional chemical
treatment methods for used water were costly and generated large amounts of
sludge that has to be disposed. As senior chief research officer at the
National Institute for Water Research in Pretoria, Dr Barnard began to consider
ways in which micro-organisms – biology – could be used to remove nitrogen and
By 1972, he had achieved a four-stage process
that removed nitrogen from water at a rate of more than 92%, without the
addition of chemicals. Within just three months of this achievement, Dr Barnard
had convinced the city of Johannesburg to use his design for the new
Goudkoppies Nitrogen Removal Plant. Two years later, by 1974 Barnard had
developed the foundation for Enhanced Biological Phosphorus Removal (EBPR).
More research followed – through small-scale
experiments and full-scale plant studies – until eventually, Dr Barnard
achieved simultaneous nitrogen and phosphorus removal through the creation of
the process that came to be known as Biological Nutrient Removal. Over the last
40 years, he has adapted his BNR technology to suit different climates,
environmental limitations and water infrastructure around the world. This has
led to the widespread implementation of BNR-based processes in thousands of
water treatment plants around the world such as in the US, Europe, Canada,
Australia and New Zealand. In recent years, the technology has also been
adopted in developing countries such as China and Brazil. BNR is widely
regarded as one of the most important innovations in used water treatment of
The future of BNR
In the quest for smaller footprint plants
with improved efficiency, Dr. Barnard believes that membrane assisted BNR
plants [MBNR] will benefit from the extensive research in improving membrane
characteristics. The same biology could be used with membranes acting as a superior
BNR also helps reverse the dwindling supply
of phosphorus – something that Dr Barnard is passionate about. Referring to
phosphorus as “the battery of life”, he shares the concern that the
limited deposits of phosphorus rock in the world would drive prices of
phosphorus fertilizer up. Even at current prices, half of the world’s
population cannot afford it. Some estimate that the supply of high grade
phosphorus will be exhausted in 50 years.
A welcome by-product of the BNR process is
the collection of phosphorous. Phosphorus and magnesium absorbed in the
biological process is released to a concentrated form solution, from which it
is possible to recover struvite, an excellent slow-release fertilizer.
About Dr James Barnard
Dr James Barnard is a Global Practice and
Technology Leader for Black & Veatch Corporation in Kansas City, Missouri.
He studied civil engineering at the University of Stellenbosch in the Republic
of South Africa before obtaining an M.S. in Environmental Health Engineering at
the University of Texas at Austin, followed by a PhD in Environmental
Engineering and Water Resources at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.
He also served as Senior Chief Research
Officer at the National Institute of Water Research in South Africa, where he
pioneered BNR to conserve scarce water resources in the 1970s. He is at the
forefront of the recovery of phosphorus, a vital nutrient on which all life