So impressed were the Area Managers from Büchi Swtizerland on a recent visit to their local suppliers Labotec after reading this article, “Chemistry students save 3000 litres of water a week in the lab”, they donated a recirculating Chiller to the student’s university to further enhance their water-saving efforts. As their very clever innovative and pragmatic way still needs water (in the form of ice), says Büchi, a leading solution provider in laboratory technology, we supported them with a recirculating chiller. Now they can cool the Rotavapor or other instruments more precisely; at a constant temperature, for a longer period of time without the need of any water.

The article that captured the attention of Büchi was authored by a group of PhD students from Stellenbosch University who responded to the country’s water crises by designing ingenious water-saving solutions that save the department an estimated 3000 to 5000 litres of potable water per week. “We wanted to show that by using a little initiative, creativity and effort, we could save a great deal of water and money by using items that can be bought at low cost from local hardware stores”, said Monica Clements, Jonathan Hay, Anton Hamann, Margaret Blackie and Willem van Otterlo the PhD students from the department of Chemistry and Polymer Science at Stellenbosch.

“We are delighted and humbled to see our water saving initiative rewarded with the donation of a chiller to our laboratory by Labotec and Büchi”, they said. “We are very excited to have it coupled to one of our rotary evaporators where up to ten postgraduate research students have access to it for daily use. As our water crisis in the Western Cape intensifies, being able to substitute one of our water-saving cooler-box systems for a chiller that reduces our daily water consumption on the rotary evaporator to zero is truly remarkable”.

“Before we began our water-saving initiatives, our rotary evaporators were using potable tap water for cooling the condensers, and in a short space of time we have been able to drastically reduce our monthly water consumption and switch to recycling systems. We have now taken a step further to reduce one of our rotary evaporator’s consumption to zero with the new chiller. However, the impact this chiller has far exceeds the simple need to save water. It also provides the opportunity for our laboratory to grow and advance in the technology that its research students are exposed to”, say the students.

The whole initiative started with a simple challenge from HOD Peter Mallon to start saving water. The Stellenbosch PhD students from Chemistry and Polymer Science developed a closed-water recirculating system that uses a cooler box, garden hose, laboratory silicon tubing and a small garden fountain pump. Ice and water is placed in the cooler box, which is fed through the condensers for rotary evaporation or distillation by the pump. This method also lowers probability of solvents pooling inside the Büchi vacuum pump, thus prolonging the lifespan of the pump. This setup cooler-box has been extended to large scale distillation of common organic solvents, and many of the synthesis and undergraduate labs (including nearly 900 students in first year) are now operating these simple water-saving devices to carry out reflux and distillation reactions.

It is great to see that industry and academia are working together to create a working environment that promotes the conservation of water and energy, as well as the use of technology to do so, say the innovative PHD students. “We are moving forward to relying more on technology to assist us in these attempts, and we are grateful to companies like Büchi and Labotec that are able to support us by donating state of the art instruments, like the chiller to our research laboratories”.