Ben Biggs makes waves in Durban

24 Jun 2016 - 09:00

A presentation at the Water Institution of South Africa 2016 Conference by Ben Biggs, an MSc student in the Urban Water Management Research Group, made quite an impression. An article on his presentation ‘A water supply from roads’ appeared in The Mercury.

Below is a copy of the article written by Tony Carnie:

Harvest water from roads, pavements

Instead of diverting rain-water into raging torrents in storm drains, South Africa needs to look more closely at harvesting water from the numerous roads and hardened pavements common in big cities.

Presenting a paper entitled ‘A water supply from roads’ at the Water Institute of South Africa conference in Durban, University of Cape Town engineering student Benjamin Biggs said it was becoming feasible to harvest water by creating more permeable road and pavement structures.

Rather than letting rain gush away into the storm water drains, researchers were hoping to develop more sustainable drainage systems which mimicked the natural water cycle.

This included new permeable roads and pavements which allowed more water to infiltrate the soil to recharge groundwater, or to be harvested into underground tanks for flushing toilets and other uses.

These emerging drainage systems would also help to reduce the velocity of storm-water flows and filter out pollution and impurities so that run-off water could be put to better use. Biggs, studying for his Master’s degree in engineering, is researching ways of improving the quality of run-off water by designing new permeable pavements to filter out impurities.

He and fellow students had created four different pavement designs in the UCT laboratories that included a variety of different stone sizes, sand and geotextile layers.

The experimental surfaces were irrigated with watering cans at regular intervals to mimic dry and rainy seasons.

While geotextile layers helped to filter out pollutants such as ammonia, nitrates and organophosphates, they were also vulnerable to getting clogged up if the stone mixtures were not pre-washed.”

Article ends.

Ben graduated with a first class honours for his BSc in Civil Engineering in 2013. His master’s supervisors are Professor Neil Armitage and Dr. Kevin Winter and his project leader is Dr. Kirsty Carden. Ben is aiming to graduate in December.

He was the ‘Best Presenter’ awardee at the recent African YWP (Young Water Professionals) Conference and will be off to represent South Africa at the next International YWP Conference. Ben values involvement in community upliftment programmes and skills development for underprivileged children.

Ben is also one of South Africa’s top canoeists and has represented South Africa on four occasions. He enjoys competing in various paddling disciplines but his focus is on sprint kayaking and his ultimate goal is the 2020 Olympic Games. Apart from his love of the outdoors – particularly running in the mountains and surfing in Cape Town’s icy waters, he enjoys reading and spending time with his family, friends and dogs (Australian Cattle Dogs).

Follow his journey as he strives to change the world, one stroke at a time:  


Instagram: @benbiggsie 

Twitter: @BenBiggsie