Let's talk about water

Whetting appetites for Bath's water research

Bath researchers in Water Active magazine

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📥  Water Active

Two of Bath’s researchers have been featured in this month’s edition of Water Active magazine.


Dr Davide Mattia and Dr Darrell Patterson, both from our Department of Chemical Engineering, recently secured £1m from the EPSRC to research novel membranes. One of the applications of these will be in water filtration.

Through the project, Drs Mattia and Patterson will work with a number of significant industry partners including Johnson Matthey, Evonik, GlaxoSmithKline, BP, Pervatech, Bluestone Global Tech, Anglian Water, Severn Trent Water, Thames Water and Scottish Water.

The new project has already received widespread media attention, including:

Dr Tim Mays, Head of our Department of Chemical Engineering, added: “This is a fantastic project for the University to be involved in. There is a wealth of water research expertise at Bath, across all disciplines. This new grant will see Drs Patterson and Mattia collaborating with water utility providers and other application areas from across the country, and will cement their already established expertise in membrane research.”


Safeguarding the UK’s Water, Energy and Food Resources

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📥  Sensors and data

EPSRC is investing £4.5 million to safeguard the UK’s water, energy and food security. With the world’s population due to grow to eight billion by 2030, humanity is facing a crisis with predictions of increasing demand and shortages of water, energy and food.

mirella-di-lorenzo3Water and energy are needed to produce food; water is required to produce energy and with the advent of biofuels, energy and food are increasingly competing for land. This means that any shortage or disruption of one resource will impact on the other two. This unbreakable link between all the resources is known as the water-energy-food nexus. Mirella Di Lorenzo from the Department of Chemical Engineering, together with other 25 academics, was selected to participate in January 2015 in a sandpit organised by EPSRC on this topic. She was the only academic representing the University of Bath in this sandpit and the project she was involved in, Vaccinating the Nexus, was awarded £1.6 million (Grant EP/N005961/1).

This research, led by Dr Paul Kemp, University of Southampton, will be conducted by an inter-disciplinary groups of scientists based at 8 universities in the UK.

This project will focus on improving the resilience of water, energy and food systems. It will investigate how nexus ‘shocks’, such as extreme climatic events that cause flooding or drought, energy shortages,  or unsustainable infrastructure development, may help inform the development of more environmentally sustainable and secure systems.

The project will use information collected during the recent flooding on the Somerset Levels to model the potential for alternative flood resistant agricultural systems, including those used to produce bioenergy crops. Further, planning decision support tools will be developed to help develop an environmentally sensitive approach to deliver the UK energy and water infrastructure plan.  Although the project will focus on UK case studies it will have international relevance and help develop expertise and capability of global value.

Dr Pal Kemp, said: “To ensure future security of supply we need to develop innovative approaches to environmentally sustainable resource management.  This can only be achieved by adopting creative interdisciplinary approaches to develop solutions to the complex challenges faced."

Dr Mirella Di Lorenzo said "We have a range of different backgrounds on board varying from engineering to crop science, maths and social science. This a unique opportunity for me to be involved in such an exciting multidisciplinary project. In Bath we will work on the development of on-site sensors for the online monitoring of microbial activity in soils and nutrient depletion/ pollutant release from soils to water systems due to extreme climate changes such as floodings or droughts".

Professor Philip Nelson, Chief Executive of EPSRC said, “This is one of the most important challenges facing the human race, and one of the most complex. The uniqueness of these projects comes from studying all three problems together, something that hasn’t been done before.

"This project is a great opportunity for scientists with expertise in different disciplines to come together to find solutions".


Funding secured to develop next generation membranes

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📥  Other

Researchers from our University have been awarded a £1m Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) grant to research and develop the next generation of long lasting ‘immortal membranes’ that will be able to separate water from problematic particles such as pharmaceuticals or pollutants.


Dr Darrell Patterson and Dr Davide Mattia, in our Department of Chemical Engineering, are part of a collaboration between six UK universities that has been awarded a £6m EPSRC grant over five years.

This funding will enable a collaborative project entitled ‘From membrane material synthesis to fabrication and function’ (SynFabFun), led by Newcastle University, to establish a UK virtual membrane centre that will act to unite the UK membrane research community.

The programme will look at improving membrane performance in four main industry sectors important to the UK and worldwide: Energy, Manufacturing, Pharma and Water. In all these industries, membranes have the potential to, and in some cases already do, provide a lower energy alternative to existing separation technology, requiring significantly smaller capital costs.

Membranes are not yet widely used for some applications due to their operating costs, requiring periodic cleaning and, eventually, replacement. This is caused by the loss of permeability and/or selectivity during service, and is due to both the membrane material changing and degrading (known as ‘ageing’) as well as a build-up of unwanted material on the surface of the membrane (known as ‘fouling’).

Read the full article.


How Bath research could reduce water scarcity in Middle East

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📥  Other

A Jordanian PhD student has come to Bath to investigate how our algae research could help clean wastewater in her country.


As one of the most water-poor countries in the world, Jordan’s current water resources fall significantly below the global water scarcity line. Annual rainfall falls under 50mm in 95% of the country, nearly all the country’s groundwater sources are being seriously overexploited and experts are warning that Jordan could soon face absolute water poverty.

Their geographic location also means that refugee flow, reported in 2014 to be over 600,000, from Syria, Iraq and Palestine puts even more pressure on the chronically scarce resources.

New ways of cutting down water wastage and overuse are in desperate demand and high on the Jordanian government’s agenda. Micro-algae is a diverse group of species with many potential applications including cleaning and improving the quality of wastewater - an application which, at the moment, remains an uncharted possibility in Jordan. This is what has brought Mais Sweiss to Bath.

“There is no one at my university in Jordan who does algae research and only a handful of people in the whole of Jordan doing research in this field”, Mais says.

Read the full article.




New Chair appointed to lead Bath water research

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📥  WIRC @ Bath

The University of Bath has appointed Professor Jan Hofman to lead its new Water Innovation & Research Centre: WIRC@Bath.

Prof Jan HofmanA chemical engineer with 25 years of experience working in the water sector, Professor Hofman joins the University in March 2015 from his current role as senior researcher at KWR Watercycle Research Institute near Utrecht in the Netherlands.

The University of Bath has created its Water Innovation & Research Centre ‘WIRC @ Bath’ with the aim of providing a unique environment to engage globally in research and policy on water technologies and resource management.

Research carried out at Bath being brought into the new Centre covers five core themes that tackle the fundamental issues surrounding water: water treatment; water resources; water management; water and public health; and water, environment and infrastructure resilience.

Professor Hofman said: “The University of Bath has an ambition to grow WIRC@Bath into a world leading centre for innovative water research. To reach this ambition we will focus on three components; excellent research, collaboration with the water sector and the development and training of young water professionals.

“The University already has funding in place from Wessex Water which has provided a kick-start to reaching this ambition, and the collaboration between the University and Wessex Water supports the development of industry communication and knowledge dissemination.

“My initial plans for the Centre are to secure additional funding in the UK and internationally, establish further industry collaborations and to start new research programmes. I believe it is important to demonstrate the results the centre achieves, and I am looking forward to working in an excellent environment with an exciting team.”

Find out more in the full University of Bath news item.



Climate change is talking

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📥  Other

Here at Bath our water research is truely multidisplinary. In today’s blog we explore how underwater listening technologies can be used to track the changes in icebergs as they melt.

IcebergWhat happens to a glacier when no one is around? In July 2014, at the height of the Arctic summer, Dr Philippe Blondel travelled to the Hornsund glacier in Svalbard to listen to icebergs.

It wasn’t his first arctic field trip and he certainly didn’t have a shortage of field experience in his research team — an international group with members from Poland and New Zealand. But the extremely variable Arctic conditions still led them into a few close shaves.

You can read all about Philippe’s trip and the research he is doing to help understand the impact of climate change on melting glaciers here: http://www.bath.ac.uk/research/case-studies/listening-icebergs


Researchers to use algae to clean up mine water

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📥  Waste water collection and treatment

We can announce today that our researchers are part of a ground breaking GW4 research project that aims to clean up water from a Cornish tin mine, using algae to harvest the precious heavy metals and produce biofuel at the same time.

mine-waterGW4 is the South West Research Alliance that brings together the South West and Wales’ four leading, research-intensive universities: Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.

Researchers from all four universities, in collaboration with Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) are now working with the Coal Authority and Veolia to take untreated mine water samples from Wheal Jane tin mine in Cornwall into the laboratory and grow algae in them. The research will explore whether algae is effective in removing materials such as arsenic and cadmium from the mine water.

Researchers will then look to convert the algae into a solid from which it’s expected that precious heavy metals can be extracted and recycled for use in the electronics industry. The remaining solid waste will then be used to make biofuels.

You can read more about this project here: http://www.bath.ac.uk/research/news/2014/12/05/mine-water-clean-up/


New Water Innovation and Research Centre Approved


📥  WIRC @ Bath

The Board of Studies of the Faculty of Engineering & Design has approved the establishment of a Water Innovation and Research Centre at the University: WIRC @ Bath.

hands-with-waterThe new Centre will provide a unique environment in which research into water technologies and resource management will be conducted, contributing to future water policy and the development of innovative and integrated sustainable water treatment systems.

The University of Bath is home to many water research projects, including a series of programmes carried out in collaboration with Wessex Water. The new Centre will build on these projects to develop major research in five themes: water treatment, water resources, water management, water and public health, and water environment and infrastructure resilience.

You can find out more about the new Centre through its webpages, or a recent University of Bath news item.


The a-maze-ing Leidenfrost Maze


📥  Other

While this isn’t strictly a blog about our water research, it does (loosely) involve water so we couldn’t resist sharing it with you!

Our colleagues in the Department of Physics here at Bath have been making international headlines with their Leidenfrost Maze, which sees water travelling uphill.

When droplets of water on a heated surface reach a certain temperature, the droplet surface starts to boil rapidly allowing it to float or levitate on the evaporated gas vapour. This is known as the Leidenfrost effect and is commonly seen during cooking – when sprinkling water onto a hot pan which is above the Leidenfrost point, droplets skitter across the pan and take longer to evaporate.

Watch the Leidenfrost effect in action and read more about the research.


Electric bugs used to detect water pollution


📥  Water supply from source to tap

In a new report out today, a team of researchers from our Department of Chemical Engineering have developed a low-cost device that could be used in developing countries to monitor the quality of drinking water in real time without costly lab equipment.

Current methods of detecting pollutants in water are costly, time-consuming and require specialist technical expertise. However, our researchers, in collaboration with Bristol Robotics Laboratory at the University of the West of England, have created a low cost sensor using 3D printing technology that can be used directly in rivers and lakes for continuous water quality monitoring.

The sensor contains bacteria that produce a small measurable electric current as they feed and grow. The researchers found that when the bacteria are disturbed by coming into contact with toxins in the water, the electric current drops, alerting to the presence of pollutants in the water.

Read the full story about this research.