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Bernelle Verster

Transdisciplinary engagement - playing in the interfaces - involves much more than moving across disciplines in the academic environment to find new knowledge. It is also an approach to integrate and highlight the values and ideologies behind the research. It involves stakeholder engagement across industry and participation with the general public over many years, in a cooperative, fun, non-judgemental way, to understand and integrate different worldviews, resolve complex challenges, and achieve what appears to be mutually exclusive outcomes – the included middle, or the transcendent third. Public interaction through public talks, interviews and discussions contribute to achieving this, and helps to uncover knowledge not specifically confined to a specific discipline or institution – e.g. lived experience, that can then be systematically analysed through formal research to establish facts and reach new conclusions. These interactions assist to cross the divide between the public and science and is very close to my heart.

Academic Background

Undergraduate in Biochemistry and Chemistry (University of Pretoria, South Africa)

Masters in Functional Genomics (University of York, United Kingdom)

PhD in Bioprocessing Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering (University of Cape Town, South Africa, submitted).


Academic interest: Wastewater Biorefineries

My expertise is in Wastewater Biorefineries (WWBR). This work was first conceptualised in the Water Research Commission (WRC) project K5/2000 titled “Introducing Wastewater Biorefineries”, which commenced in 2010 and was published in 2014. The report was co-authored by Ziningi Madonsela, Sanet Minnaar, Brett Cohen and Sue Harrison.

This report coined the phrase “Wastewater biorefineries” and the phrase was first publicly presented at the Renewable Resources and Biorefineries (RRB7) conference 8 - 10 June 2011, Bruges, Belgium.

My PhD thesis was developed in conjunction with the follow-up WRC project titled “Towards Wastewater Biorefineries: integrated bioreactor and process design for combined water treatment and resource productivity”, concluded in 2016 and co-authored by Lesley Mostert, Madelyn Johnstone-Robertson, Tayana Raper, Sharon Rademeyer, Shilpa Rumjeet and Sue Harrison.

WRC reports are available for free online at


Current initiatives

Flagship projects: Wastewater BiorefineriesSustainable SanitationWater Sensitive Settlements, Resilient Futures, Living Neighbourhoods

AquaSavvy Water Sensitive Campaign: Focused on interpreting academic research into action at the individual, neighbourhood, catchments, industry levels... beautifully.

Proposed African centre for sustainable sanitation/resource recovery in the context of water sensitive design.


Passion projects

Dream Zandvlei (several interlinking projects), bringing awareness to catchments and the environment (in a post-environmental context) with adventure and sport.

Smart Wetlands /Smart Swamps (current challenge: making the mesh)


Talks and interviews


Some examples of public interactions, links indicate transcripts of presentations:

Evening talk at the SA Geography teachers’ conference, 24 September 2014. “Permaculture, water and the landscape: the connectedness of things”, Rickety bridge, Franschhoek.

Evening talk at Greendrinks “Tame is not sustainable” 18 September 2011, St. Josephine’s Mill, Newlands, Cape Town.

Radio: RSG interview on getting value from water (in Afrikaans): Onderhoud (Interview): afvalwater herwin en waardevolle produkte (podcast) with Middag op RSG 1 — Ettienne Ludick and Sue Pyler, 24 November 2015

The Mediamatic Foundation, 12 June 2014, Amsterdam, the Netherlands with the transcribed talk:

Articles and online media

Public Understanding of Biotechnology interview, a SAASTA initiative:

Forbes Africa, August 2012 edition “Poop scoop, how to make money from waste” written by Sumitra Nydoo


Initiatives and competitions 

These initiatives were organised by myself and colleagues.

Waterbus Schools Awareness and Education event, 8 October 2010. A trip to look at the water system in the Bergriver catchment, and build connection between students and industry professionals (funded by the Water Institute of South Africa (WISA)).,


TEDxCapeTown, an independent TEDx event committed to ideas worth spreading, held on 16 April 2011 at Ratanga Junction, Cape Town. Themed ‘Be Water My Friend’, the day saw talks addressing the topic in a combination of metaphorical (going with the flow as a way to think and exist at peace in the world) and literal (water treatment and crises) interpretations. The theme comes from a Bruce Lee quote that speaks of the formlessness, adaptability and power of water.

Weblink with links to talks:


The Moola for Amanzi Business Concept Competition was launched at the Small Wastewater Treatment conference held in East London in November 2010 and was a competition ‘by young professionals, for young professionals’. Its aim was to build confidence and partnerships among young water entrepreneurs, help communicate their ideas in a way that makes business sense, and encourage the industry to think a little differently.

The competition, which was part of a bigger initiative – the Dutch-SA water partnership – aimed to generate high quality investment proposals addressing water and sanitation issues and build awareness in the public eye, the water sector and sectors outside conventional water-related industries, so that business can go hand in hand with access to clean and affordable water.

Anyone was eligible to enter – students, SME’s, informal settlement communities, municipalities. Big ideas, small ideas, technological ideas, social solutions, IT solutions, non-profit ideas: any idea in water was welcome. The prize money totalled Euro 15 000 (sponsored by the Dutch government), and some support to implement the winning idea was on offer. The final was held at the UN World Water Day, in Cape Town, March 2011, and attended by the (then) Chair for the United Nations Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB), His Royal Highness Willem Alexander Prince of Orange and the Deputy Minister of Department of Water Affairs.

Coverage for Moola for Amanzi in WISA magazine: Water & Sanitation Africa May-June 2011, in editorial (p3), President's comment (p7), article 'Innovation pays off' (p80-85) .