Water & Wastewater Treatment

WWT April 2018

Water & Wastewater Treatment Magazine

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26 | APRIL 2018 | WWT | www.wwtonline.co.uk The Knowledge Water treatment in southeast England. Desalination tech- nology may also be an option for other water-stressed areas of the UK, such as East Anglia and East Yorkshire. Alternatively, having a water treatment and purification technology that is situ- ated more locally and scaled to become a washing machine-sized unit that could fit comfortably in, for example, a domestic garage could potentially solve a massive infrastructure problem. New technologies, such as G2O's graphene water filters, could be a way to provide more cost-effective and easier- to-maintain treatment systems at a more local level. This is something that could also change lives in the developing world where, currently, only urban areas tend to have centralised water treatment facilities that may also be poorly maintained. Putting graphene filters to the test As part of the water@leeds project with G2O, we're using analytical and experi- mental techniques to assess how well graphene oxide can be applied to differ- ent types of membranes. That involves preparing different concentrations of graphene oxide solution and using filtra- tion and deposition systems to deposit the material onto existing membranes. We need to understand how graphene adheres to the membranes, to be able to control the thickness and, consequently, how well the membranes perform when filtering water. Therefore, our team has – for example – been applying artificial saline solutions to the membranes with varying levels of salt concentration to as- sess the level of filtration performance. Also, looking at the structure of gra- phene on the membranes is giving us an insight into how graphene sticks to the membrane, which also offers clues about its long-term performance. The ultimate goal is to scale up the technology from the thin coatings of graphene oxide being used in the labora- tory to something more significant and applicable to the water industry. This is vital because certain approach- es – such as current desalination technol- ogy – have limited application because of the high cost of membranes and energy involved, therefore restricting its use to wealthy, developed countries. Engaging the UK water industry When developing any new technology for the water industry, it's essential to provide confidence among the decision- makers in different technology choices. Existing regulation and charging rules for customers mean that the UK water industry has been historically risk-averse when it comes to the deployment of new technology. Equally, drinking water is a low-value product costing fractions of a penny per litre to the customer and there- fore yielding fewer funds for research, development and innovation. This has meant the industry has become a tech- nology follower rather than innovator, jealously watching other sectors making greater investments in organisational efficiency. Therefore, it's essential that we ask and answer all the questions pertaining to G2O's graphene filter technology before approaching industry with a proposition. The water industry has not always been good at defining what it needs from new technologies, typically leaving aca- demia and innovative, smaller businesses trying to guess. So, rather than guess incorrectly, water@leeds is taking a more joined-up, partnership approach with companies to develop new technology and follow through to ensure its take-up in different applications and locations. G2O's technology is a good example of a candidate for this, with funding sup- port from Innovate UK, a company board comprising experienced professionals with both water industry and technology expertise and the academic insight of water@leeds. This is about shaping the engineering into something the water industry will want to use. Alongside the main project, G2O is also sponsoring PhD students at Leeds and Sheffield universities to help cultivate a new generation of scientists with exper- tise in two-dimensional materials, seeking new ways for the world to benefit from discoveries such as graphene. Overall, the graphene water filter project is acting as a catalyst for G2O and water@leeds to put the UK firmly on the map for innovation in this area of water and wastewater treatment. About the author: Martin Tillotson, profes- sor of water management and director of water@leeds at the University of Leeds, has spent more than 20 years solving problems in the water industry, including working for United Utilities on its capital programme and working in research and development with Yorkshire Water. A G2O Water Technologies quality control scientist tests the surface of its patented, printed graphene oxide water filter ahead of pilot plant testing

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