The Hartbeespoort dam 2021-07-25


Normally big dams and lakes are a tourist attraction and people enjoy living next to the water. It is a source of life to the entire community that lives around it. Sadly, the Hartbeespoort dam like so many other lakes and dams across the world are in a state ecological disaster due to a hyacinth infestation fuelled by pollution. This affects every living organism that depends on the water for it lively hood.

The ecological disaster at our dams is not caused by the Hyacinth or the Algae but by pollution. The pollution coming into the dam from the catchment area is caused by urban pollution, raw sewage spills from dysfunctional water treatment plants and farming with synthetic fertilizers.

South Africa has 824 wastewater treatment plants but fewer than 60 discharge clean water. The rest, which are state of disarray, overload streams, rivers and dams with nutrient-rich water, choking them with hyacinth and algae. It also packs the rivers with faecal matter and E. coli that make people sick. The continued lack of municipal maintenance means green water and sick people will remain the status quo for many. In fact, it is a huge problem across the world.

The pollution brings in high levels of nutrients (nitrates and phosphates) and the dam act as a concentrator which create an ideal environment for the Hyacinth and the Algae to flourish. The Hyacinth and the Algae absorbs the nutrients as it grows, but as these plants go through their lifecycle and eventually die and sink to the bottom with all the nutrients captured with it. As the nutrient level keep on rising it creates a downward spiral of pollution in a process called Eutrophication. Therefore, introducing bugs to control the hyacinth or spray an herbicide to kill off the hyacinth does not solve the problem, it only compacts the problem because it does not reduce the nutrient level. The nutrient level in the Hartbeespoort dam for example is currently 7x higher than what is deemed acceptable. Killing off the hyacinth opens the door for an even bigger problem an Algae bloom.

Due to the high nutrient level in a dam, an Algae bloom can happen at a massive scale. The algae release toxins in the water killing both animal and plant life, creating decomposing biomass with a bad smell and a breeding ground for E. coli. This makes the water unusable for human and animal consumption. It greatly impacts the ecosystem, tourism industry, property market, property development industry and all the jobs associated with it. The algae also caused water filters at water treatment plants to clog up very quickly greatly increasing the cost of water purification. As the biomass decompose in the water it releases methane gas which contributes to global warming. An algae bloom should be avoided at all cost.      

Another sad reality that we face is that once Hyacinth has entered a water system there is no eradicating it because of the way that it propagates. It reproduces in two ways, firstly vegetatively by growing sister plants. A patch of hyacinth can double in size in two to three weeks during the summer season. Secondly it produces millions of tiny seeds (1.5x0.5mm). These seeds can remain viable for more than 28 years and one tiny seed contains all the DNA information to reproduce the entire infestation. The seed back in Hartbeespoort dam has been growing for more than 50 years. Spraying the hyacinth with an herbicide or introducing bugs will kill it off for the current season but next season it will be back with a vengeance germinating from the seed back and the constant pollution. Eradicating the hyacinth is unfortunately impossible.

Unfortunately, though many measure have been put in place and will be put in place, the pollution is not going to stop it will only get worse. We need to develop a way to deal with it. This sad reality sparked the vision between us as a group of engineers to transform these Ecological disasters into “Aquatic Bioenergy farms” and HyaPOWER was conceived, with the goal to fight the effects of pollution while growing a Green Economy.     

The Solution

Most people see this a huge problem, but we see it is a huge business opportunity. If we can’t eradicate the problem, then we need to develop a way to manage it and make money from it. Our mission is to transform this ecological disaster in to an “Aquatic Energy Farms” and to create a profitable business from it. The hyacinth infestation in our eyes is a huge bioenergy crop cultivated by nature.

Our main service to the community is to restore and maintain the ecology of our polluted dams and lakes. We have developed a system to harvest it and a process it on an industrial scale to produce a highly valuable renewable fuel from it called BioLNG. The problem at the Hartbeespoort dam for example is so huge that we will have to harvest at least 1000t per day just to make an impact. The hyacinth is very resilient and will grow back at an enormous rate. This makes our business plan sustainable and renewable.

Our environmental strategy is not to eliminate the hyacinth but to purposefully farm with the it as a bioenergy crop with the following goals:

  • To reduce and maintain it at an acceptable level
  • To clean the water by reducing the nutrient level
  • To suppress an Algae bloom which is toxic to the water
  • To capture the methane and carbon dioxide gases that would have normally released into the atmosphere as a result on the natural anaerobic decomposing of the dead plant material on the bottom of the dam. It is a source of clean energy that would otherwise been lost to global warming.

As the hyacinth grows it extracts nutrients from the water and CO2 from the air, but in its normal lifecycle it will eventually die and sink to basin with all the nutrient and CO2 captured in it. This creates a downward spiral of pollution and increase the overall nutrient load of the dam. By harvesting the hyacinth, Algae and flouting plastics on an industrial scale of at least 1000t per day, we will be able to break this downward spiral. The hyacinth will be processed through an Advance Anaerobic Chain Reactor (AACR) to produce 8000GJ worth of BioLNG per day. BioLNG, a highly valuable carbon negative replacement fuel for coal, petrol, and diesel. It can be used in many industrial applications to generate power and heat.

The CO2 recovered from the upgrading process of the biogas to BioLNG will be used as an aerosol fertilizer in Greenhouse. The capturing of the biomethane and the recycling of the CO2 will enable us to create a process with a negative emission footprint. Imagine an energy company with a negative emission footprint. It is more than possible. Our ambition is not just to start a small company but a new renewable energy industry with global footprint.  

The methane gas that would have normally released into the atmosphere as a result on the natural anaerobic decomposing of the dead plant material. The CO2 recovered from the upgrading process of the biogas to BioLNG will be used as an aerosol fertilizer in Greenhouse. This will enable us to create a process with a negative carbon footprint. Imagine an energy company with a negative carbon footprint. It is possible. 

Our process will be upscaled until we reach a point where we can maintain the Water Quality, and biodiversity on the back of the pollution entering the dam on a yearly basis.