The world’s arid regions are experiencing increasing resource scarcity and population growth. Issues of water, energy and food security are ever more important and frequently interlinked. The research takes an interdisciplinary approach to address such issues. It spans a number of related areas including:
Desalination is increasingly important to maintain supplies of water for drinking and agriculture. The research in this area aims to minimise the energy consumption of desalination processes, and to design them so that they can be powered by renewable energy sources. It also aims to minimise problems associated with the brine discharged. For inland desalination, a unique batch reverse osmosis process is being developed to minimise the volume of brine. For seawater desalination, we are investigating means to reap benefit from the brine; for example, by using it to absorb carbon dioxide. We are also developing desalination technologies to reuse and conserve water in industries, such as metal plating, using membrane technologies including reverse and forward osmosis.
Because arid regions are typically hot regions, there is an increasing need for sustainable cooling technologies alongside desalination. This need is being accelerated by climate change. We are investigating solar-power desalination technologies that exploit humidity variations in the air in contact with seawater and seawater brine, using solar energy to achieve the required concentrations of such brine. These technologies also recover freshwater for irrigation.
Seawater greenhouse technology
Seawater greenhouses have been developed to enable crop cultivation along arid coastlines, with installations in the Middle East, Australia and the Horn of Africa. The research on desalination and solar-powered cooling has contributed to the development of this technology. It has included modelling of wind interaction for ventilation and cooling, and system design for the optimal use of electricity generated by solar photovoltaics.
Water re-use for bioenergy
In this collaborative area of research, we are investigating management and treatment of wastewater through irrigation of bioenergy crops in wetlands. This is linked to research into conversion of the resulting crops in bioenergy systems, based on thermal power cycles and on internal combustion engines. Fuel blends have been developed that allow several non-conventional fuels to be used.
Negative emissions technologies
This is an area of growing importance to counter global warming. Besides the research into carbon dioxide removal using desalination brines, research has also begun into removal of other greenhouse gases like methane. We are researching the feasibility of solar chimney power plants serving as giant photocatalytic reactors to destroy atmospheric methane. We are also investigating the net emissions of treatment wetlands.
Current and recent research projects include:
2010-24: Intelligent Water Treatment Technologies for water preservation combined with simultaneous energy production and material recovery in energy intensive industries – intelWATT, supported by the EU Horizon 2020 programme.
2020-24: Batch Reverse Osmosis (RO): Desalination with minimum wastage of energy and water, supported by the EPSRC.
2020-24: STEPforGGR_Solar up-draft tower to enable atmospheric photocatalysis for non-CO2 greenhouse gases removal: an emerging negative emission technology, supported by the EU RISE programme.
2020-22: Investigation and optimization of design parameters for reverse osmosis(RO) and photo-catalytic water desalination and treatment systems to protect groundwater, in partnership with NRC Egypt. Supported by British Council and STRF.
2019-23: INDIA H2O, a consortium involving 20 partners from EU and India. Coordinated by the University of Birmingham, this project is funded by the Horizon 2020 programme and by the Department of Biotechnology (Government of India).
2015-18: Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture in the Horn of Africa, led by Seawater Greenhouse Ltd, and supported by the Innovate UK/DFID Agritech Catalyst Programme.
2018: Green Gown Award, Research with Impact category
2017: Sustainable Water Industry Group (SWIG)