UTS water filtration system wins Technology Against Poverty prize
A water filtration system developed by a team led by Professor Saravanamuth Vigneswaran and Dr Tien Vinh Nguyen of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has won the Technology Against Poverty $500,000 prize.
Technology Against Poverty is a partnership between the Australian Government’s innovationXchange and Google.org. It awards a $500,000 prize to support the winner with their work in improving the lives of people in the Indo-Pacific region through the innovative use of technology.
The prize-winning, low-cost water filtration system removes pollutants from groundwater in the Red River Delta of Vietnam to deliver safe and clean drinking water. This area is densely populated and has high levels of arsenic in the groundwater, which has led to serious public health issues.
Arsenic poisoning is a slow process and people are often unaware they are being poisoned as they suffer health problems including cancers, gastrointestinal disorders, muscular weakness, nerve tissue injuries, blackfoot disease and intellectual impairment. The systems currently in place to prevent this are not cost-effective and do not efficiently remove the arsenic.
The UTS team is working with local Vietnamese partners on a local solution for the area, which is home to approximately 20million 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 over 130million people in over 70 countries that are 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,” says Saravanamuth.
Local manufacturers can produce, install and maintain the membranes and cartridges, creating local jobs in an area of high population growth.
“The filtration can be powered by gravity, water pump solar or by hand. Membranes will last up to three years, while the cartridges absorb the arsenic and are periodically removed (3 – 6 months) and replaced with new ones. The waste cartridges will be turned into safe building materials, so the system safely disposes of arsenic waste,” says Saravanamuth.
The system will remove bacteria and solids from the contaminated groundwater, delivering water that is clean and safe to drink. It will also be scalable, for example a 10 cubic metre system will provide uncontaminated water for 100 people.
“This sustainable system will both maximize locally sourced resources and minimize arsenic waste and environmental pollution, improving health and quality of life,” says Saravanamuth.