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Water filtration system wins $500,000 innovation award

Friday, 17 February 2017

Source: University of Technology Sydney

A low-cost, easy-to-operate project to remove arsenic and deliver safe and clean drinking water has won a Technology Against Poverty prize of $500,000. Distinguished Professor Saravanamuth Vigneswaran and Dr Tien Vinh Nguyen of the UTS Faculty of Engineer

A low-cost, easy-to-operate project to remove arsenic and deliver safe and clean drinking water has won a Technology Against Poverty prize of $500,000. Distinguished Professor Saravanamuth Vigneswaran and Dr Tien Vinh Nguyen of the UTS Faculty of Engineer

A low-cost, easy-to-operate project to remove arsenic and deliver safe and clean drinking water has won a Technology Against Poverty prize of $500,000.

Distinguished Professor Saravanamuth Vigneswaran and Dr Tien Vinh Nguyen of the UTS Faculty of Engineering and IT received the prize for their project to remove pollutants from groundwater in the Red River Delta of Vietnam.  This densely populated area is beset with serious public health issues caused by high levels of arsenic in the groundwater.

Arsenic poisoning is a slow process, with people often unaware they are being poisoned as they suffer major health problems including cancers, gastrointestinal disorders, muscular weakness, nerve tissue injuries, blackfoot disease and intellectual impairment.

Current systems are neither cost-effective nor efficient at removing arsenic. The UTS team is working with Vietnamese partners on a local solution to a local problem in an area of about 20 million people. Partners include the Vietnam National University (VNU), Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology (VAST) and local manufacturers.

They are deploying inexpensive technology to provide a model for clean water, which can be adopted worldwide to improve water quality for more than 130 million people in the 70 plus countries worldwide experiencing toxicity from naturally occurring arsenic. 

“There are three key components to this system: an organic membrane, a tank/drum in which the membrane is inserted, and an absorptive cartridge made from locally available industrial waste products,” Distinguished Professor Vigneswaran said.

Local manufacturers can produce, install and maintain the membranes and the cartridges, creating local jobs in an area of high population growth.

“The filtration can be powered by gravity or solar or by hand pump. Membranes will last up to three years, while the cartridges absorb the arsenic and are periodically replaced with new ones (every three to six months). The waste cartridges will be turned into safe building materials, so the system safely disposes of arsenic waste.”

The system will also remove bacteria and solids from the contaminated groundwater, delivering water that is clean and safe to drink, and is scalable: for example, a 10-cubic-metre system will provide uncontaminated water for 100 people. 

“This sustainable system will both maximise locally sourced resources and minimise arsenic waste and environmental pollution, improving health and quality of life," Distinguished Professor Vigneswaran said.

About the Prize: Technology Against Poverty is a partnership between the Australian Government’s innovationXchange and Google.org

The prize winner receives $500,000 to support their work in improving the lives of people in the Indo-Pacific region through the innovative use of technology.

The innovationXchange identifies, trials and scales innovative new approaches to foreign aid to improve the effectiveness and impact of Australia’s aid program. The partnership with Google.org used an open call for innovation to encourage entrepreneurs, not-for-profits, experts and academics to bring new technologies to Australia’s aid program.

For further information: Grainne Murphy, Media Manager, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, phone 0427 564 973.