SA Nanotechnology saves historic buildings


When polymer scientist Siegfried Domröse was at the University of Stellenbosch, he couldn’t help noticing the poor state of repair of some of the 300-year-old buildings in the town.

Poorly baked bricks, no damp course, inferior plaster and centuries of limewash had left the walls of many historic monuments in a dangerous state. Domröse set about inventing a cost-effective, simple solution to the problem. The result was a unique South African innovation, a powder that, when mixed with water, produced a nanotechnology membrane with exactly the right size apertures to allow water vapour through, but prevented liquid water from passing through the membrane. breathecoat

What this meant was that any damp could evaporate out of the structure, but no new water could penetrate the surface. The process is similar to human skin or tree bark in allowing the interior to breathe. This breathing ability, gave the invention its name – BreatheCoat.

A bonus was that BreatheCoat bonded perfectly with the old limewashed surface and gave the walls a whole new integrity that could even be scrubbed.

Because it contains no toxins or pollutants, BreatheCoat is very environment friendly. It is made, stored and transported in powder form, reducing the carbon footprint, volume and weight.

Now available as a commercial paint range, BreatheCoat has many other benefits, such as international certification by Thales, France, for use in wine cellars.

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Since 2008, Ushahidi has grown to nearly 2 million users and has 17 million unique visitors.

Juliana, who is a TED Senior Fellow, was also nominated as one of the Top 100 women in Technology by the Guardian Newspaper in the UK.

“Ushahidi is one of the few social enterprises that have, in just a few short years of existence, dramatically changed the face of how individuals and communities can influence democracy and economic development around the world. With Ushahidi, an individual with a cell phone can be instrumental in enhancing the availability and accuracy of information that makes governments more transparent, responsive and accountable and makes markets more efficient. It is a social enterprise that was born out of the frustrations of what was not working in the world and it was started by a team of young, driven and passionate African professionals. It serves as superior example of how social entrepreneurship can and will change the world,” said Abigail Noble.

The Africa Social Entrepreneur of the Year Awards were presented to the winners by Hilde Schwab, Co-Founder of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

“The next chapter for Africa requires us to look both at the tremendous opportunities for economic growth, and the challenges the continent in being able to tap into this growth. Social entrepreneurs, and the innovations they bring to make this economic growth inclusive of all is critical to improving the state of the world, and therefore the work we do at the World Economic Forum,” said Schwab.

Mirjam Schoning, the Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship explained, “Social entrepreneurs have an important lesson to share in today’s economic climate. They emphasize long-term sustainability instead of short-term gain.

Their primary focus is to maximize benefits for society and the environment through innovative and effective business models.

Their approach to entrepreneurship is one of sustainable economic growth across sectors and industries, from renewable energy and education to waste management, health and rural development.”