UC researchers invent Storminator™ weapon in battle for survival of healthy waterways

In a world-first, University of Canterbury Hydrological and Ecological Engineering researchers have filed a patent application for their invention the Storminator™, which could be exactly the weapon that our waterways need.

University of Canterbury (UC) engineering academics Associate Professor Tom Cochrane, Dr Aisling (Ash) O’Sullivan and Dr Frances Charters are the inventors of the Storminator™. The three inventors are tackling the issue that waterways throughout Aotearoa New Zealand are increasingly degraded by stormwater, which occurs when rainfall falls onto impermeable surfaces such as roofs, roads and carparks. Stormwater runoff is the largest polluter of urban waterways globally.
“This stormwater runoff contains heavy metals, mainly zinc and copper, which are toxic to the urban rivers because they are frequently untreated,” Assoc Prof Cochrane says.
“In Christchurch, roofs contribute 65% of stormwater zinc that damages rivers. New, renewed and future consents now require stormwater to be treated before leaving the property.”
The trio of UC Engineering academics designed the Storminator™ to remove more than 80% of metals directly from roofs by treating the stormwater runoff as it drains through the building downpipes.

“The Storminator™ is an easy solution to a difficult problem. It’s designed so it can be easily retrofitted to existing downpipes, is quick to install, sits in line with the existing downpipe, has a minimal footprint and uses a waste product to treat the stormwater,” Dr O’Sullivan says.
“Because of these design features, it is the easiest and most efficient way to treat metals from large roof areas before the polluting stormwater enters a nearby river. Theoretically, this means more insects, koura and fish can survive and thrive in the nearby waterway.”
“The coolest thing about the Storminator™ is that it was designed to solve a ubiquitous problem using a simple but eco-logical solution,” Dr O’Sullivan says.
“The recent OECD Environmental Performance Review highlighted that freshwater management is a topic where ‘New Zealand can offer peer-learning to other countries’. Our invention contributes to this.”

Another benefit is that since old and polluting roofs do not necessarily need to be replaced, the Storminator™ can be a much easier and cheaper fix to the problem, with no disruption to business activity to install it, the UC researchers say.

The inventors’ research has been supported by ECan and KiwiNet through funding for the R&D stage and commercialisation process, and their invention has received in-principle support by the Ministry for the Environment. They are also in discussions with the largest developer of stormwater products in New Zealand about product development.
“Our invention follows an ecological approach to engineering which is to design sustainable solutions in partnership with nature for the benefit of both society and ecosystems,” Assoc Prof Cochrane says.

This requires a deep understanding of how nature works (environmental science) along with creative problem-solving (engineering) to develop the innovative solutions. It also aligns with Māori cultural values of environmental stewardship by rehabilitating our urban waterways, he says.
“We have been approached by Ngai Tahu who are keen to maintain engagement as the invention develops because it fosters inherent Māori kaitiakitanga (stewardship) in that it protects our most precious natural capital – water,” Dr Charters says.

Learn about the Storminator™ at the UC Techweek18 event: UC People Making a Difference on Wednesday, 23 May 2018, 5pm to 8pm, in the Ernest Rutherford building, University of Canterbury, Ilam. Register to attend Techweek18: UC People Making a Difference and find a full list of UC presentations here.