Pupils win big for air pollution solution

2014-10-22 00:00

A NOVEL invention that turns polluted air into liquid fuel saw two local Grade 10 pupils named South African Young Innovators of the year at the HIP2B² 3M Innovation Challenge.

The two Durban High School pupils, Sulakhe Nhassengo (16) and Christiaan de Jager (16), created the solar-powered system after being selected to enter the competition by their school.

“The competition is for Grade 10 pupils for students to design or invent something to help their community,” said Sulakhe.

Sulakhe said he comes from the “polluted town” of Richards Bay. “As a result a lot of people have asthma and sinus problems.” Including Sulakhe, who suffers from asthma.

Sulakhe had already been wondering how he could turn green-house gases and other air pollutants into liquid fuel. “Everybody has the idea you must eradicate pollution but why not use the pollution to create something better?”

Sulakhe partnered with Christiaan to turn his idea into reality. Coincidentally both pupils were born in Richards Bay at the same hospital and grew up a few streets apart, but first met at DHS.

Christiaan said when it came to designing the plant the first thing was “to be really sure no one else had this idea — and no one did”.

So they set about designing a solar powered plant that would transform polluting gases into liquid fuel or oxygen. “The plant could be used for anything,” said Sulakhe. “It could take CO2 and turn into petrol or oxygen.”

In the first round of the HIP2B² 3M Innovation Challenge the two presented the basic idea. Then, from a shortlist of 500, they were selected for the final three.

The other two projects selected consisted of a battery-operated “hot nozzle” shower attachment created by pupils from Simon’s Town High School and a pot-hole repair method invented by a pair from Moletsane High School in Soweto.

Last week at a function in Johannesburg, Sulakhe and Christiaan presented their design in 3D print form and had 10 minutes to explain how it worked. Named the winners, they received a R10 000 cheque for science equipment for their school.

They have already copyrighted their idea and now a patent is pending.

• Stephen.Coan@witness.co.za

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