Developing solutions to improve the world’s water problems

Developing solutions to improve the world’s water problems

The world’s grand challenges require interdisciplinary solutions – and this style of research is a key feature of how water@leeds operates and has found considerable success.

Since we launched nine years ago, water@leeds has become the largest water-related research and training centre of any university in the world. Our membership stands at over 330 researchers, drawn from all faculties at the University of Leeds. We are inspired by the local and global challenges presented by water, and we come together to take a leading role in addressing them.

waterleeds

Changing climate and rainfall patterns, the effects of a growing global population, inadequate and deteriorating infrastructure systems, increases in waterborne pollution, and in consumption of fresh water, are just some of the environmental and humanitarian challenges which drive our research.

Key to our ethos is working with government and businesses to understand the information and knowledge or systems they need to develop, and providing expert advice and evidence to help achieve this.

For example, we’re currently working with Manchester’s G2O Water Technologies to support its development of graphene water filters. This is a £1m project to bring the technology closer to market and to address world-wide water scarcity and pollution problems. The ultimate aim is to develop the capability to treat water at a much lower cost than at present, therefore making it more accessible worldwide.

The company’s chief executive and founder, Tim Harper firmly believes the technology could help solve real-world water problems and has told me that joining forces with water@leeds is key to bringing the latest science and knowledge to development of his product.

waterleeds lab

During the first half of this year, we will be working with G2O and using our School of Civil Engineering’s Public Health Laboratories, to test the sieving of molecules or ions and the removal of salts, oil, dyes and other chemicals from water. A pilot water treatment plant designed to test and develop the graphene water filters is scheduled for operation during the second half of this year.

An example of how we use our expertise to support the local business community is our Yorkshire Integrated Catchment Solutions Programme (iCASP) project, led by my water@leeds co-director Joe Holden. iCASP is predicted to generate benefits worth £50 million to the economy of Yorkshire by 2023.

iCASP supports partnerships between regional organisations and researchers to use Natural Environment Research Council-funded science to manage flood and drought risk in the context of climate change, make improvements to water quality, enhance carbon storage, and increase the productivity and resilience of the region’s soils and woodlands.

This is done through joined-up approaches to land and water management in the River Ouse basin. It involves the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York as well as 16 regional industrial, governmental and trade representative organisations.

The relationships we have with business and industry are invaluable to us, to ensure we continue to shape what we do and have an impact in the world.

Of course many water challenges are global and water@leeds has collaborated with academic, industrial, charitable, and governmental organisations in over 110 countries. Many of our research outputs and outcomes have been independently reviewed as world-class or world-leading.

Among them is the ongoing work carried out by Barbara Evans through the Water, Sanitation and Health programme which studies and develops methodologies supporting governments to link community sanitation and water investments with city networks, lifecycle planning, costing and management of city-wide sanitation services in Africa and Asia.

Another project we are proud to have affiliated to water@leeds is the International Solid Waste Association’s Marine Task Force, led by Costas Velis, which has published a report highlighting the extent of marine litter and identifying potential areas of intervention. No doubt everyone has seen through the media during recent months the seriousness of plastics in our oceans, and I’m pleased to say water@leeds scientists and engineers are providing a proactive response to the issue.

Whether carrying out fundamental research, or working on applied projects our approach is to provide expertise and evidence-based analysis together with practical advice to secure improvement and change in how humans interact with water in all its forms.

To continue this work, during the last year, water@leeds members have secured new interdisciplinary funding bids from Horizon 2020, Global Challenges Research Fund, UK Research Councils and industrial collaborations.

The relationships we have with business and industry are invaluable to us, to ensure we continue to shape what we do and have an impact in the world. I’m looking forward to strengthening them further later this year when the University launches its Nexus innovation and enterprise centre, which will make interacting with us and many of the university’s other experts even easier.

Professor Martin Tillotson is Chair in Water Management and Co-Director of Water@Leeds, based at the University of Leeds.

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