Tim Egan

Tim Egan engaging with chemical engineering students in the tea room

Tim Egan, a graduate from UCT Chemical Engineering, is the inaugural “Visiting Engineer” in a programme recently initiated in that department.  The Visiting Engineers Programme aims to bring in experienced engineers who can share some of their expertise with undergraduate classes from first year through to fourth year.  In his inputs with undergraduate students, Tim shared some of his work at Sanergy, based in Nairobi, Kenya, where they have a full-value-chain approach to sanitation (build - franchise - support - collect, treat - convert and distribute).

                The cost of sewered sanitation is untenable: in studies this cost was estimated at $57 per person per year, but the Kenyan government can currently only afford $3 per person per year, and hopes to increase this to $12 by 2030. On the other hand, the impact of safe, hygienic and dignified sanitation is significant. In Sanergy's model, people can potentially generate $1 000 income per toilet per year. Landlords can get higher rents and occupancy rates because they have functional toilets, and schools have higher enrolment rates. To date Sanergy has collected over 11 342 tonnes of waste over 5 years, and this number is growing. 

Tim shared how Sanergy achieves such a feat as a social enterprise - both the provision of a service and being financially viable are important to the company. Process challenges include that fecal sludge is very difficult to move around: it sticks to everything and has an unpredictable and changing consistency.

This visit is a highlight of the continuing relationship between alumni and the university. Sanergy is also considering partnering with the Centre for Bioprocess Engineering Research (CeBER) in considering solids and wastes from a process-engineering perspective to improve the agricultural processes.

The whole value-chain approach is also very promising in terms of the circular economy. Members from the Future Water Institute attended Tim’s lunchtime seminar as they also have an interest in waste to value, and biorefineries, specifically, as it pertains to complex wastes. As Tim mentioned, there are 1 100 cities in the world and all have these challenges, representing a massive opportunity to work towards water-sensitive, liveable cities.