A YOUNG civil engineer is poised to become a multi-millionaire after winning the 1999 Science, Engineering & Technology Student of the Year award with an ingenious device to treat wastewater.
Twenty three year old Andrew Laird scooped the award from hundreds of other entrants with a system which treats polluted water without the need for power or chemicals.
His success is all the more remarkable as the device was assembled from 'borrowed and scrounged' components and cost just £30 to build.
The commercial potential of the device was thought to be so great that judges had to sign secrecy agreements before being allowed to see it.
Speaking after the awards one judge commented: 'This brilliant invention will have a major impact on environmental clean-up technology - and we wouldn't be at all surprised if it also makes Andrew a very wealthy man.'
Laird is continuing to keep the details of his invention under his hat until a patent application has been submitted in the next few weeks. He would only say: 'The system uses the inherent potential energy of water to generate compressed air which aerates the wastewater and removes pollutants.'
The device was designed as part of his fourth year project at Newcastle University to remove ammonia and iron from landfill leachate on a site owned by Northumbrian Environmental Management. It is now being developed into a more robust form which will work for the biological treatment of sewage.
'As long as there is a driving head this will work. It could be scaled up for a sewage treatment works or used at the household scale,' said Laird.
Intellectual property rights to the device are still being discussed with Newcastle University. But Laird claimed he would get the lion's share of the ownership and any royalties earned from the invention.
'I am in the process of deciding whether to manufacture the system, license it or sell the design as a job lot,' he added.
In the meantime Laird has his feet firmly on the ground and has taken up a graduate engineer post with Newcastle-based consultant Cundall, Johnston and Partners.