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UNSW Canberra researchers have partnered with Australian Pork Limited (APL) in an effort to turn waste into water.
The UNSW Canberra research team, led by Dr Adrian Garrido Sanchis, have developed a bubble column evaporator (BCE) pilot plant, which was designed to produce sterilised water by destroying bacteria and viruses in wastewater, and pure water from the condensation of saturated gases.
The BCE creates a continuous stream of hot, fine bubbles, which rise up through the solution being treated. The collision of the hot rising bubbles with pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, protozoa and blue-green algae, inactivates them.
The sterilised water is then safe to be re-used in a range of agricultural settings, including washing down sheds and watering fields.
“This could become a new sterilisation technology candidate able to compete with the existing ones,” Dr Sanchis said.
“The fact that the process can use heated CO2 gas, instead of heated water, and the possibility of reusing exhaust gas from combustion processes, makes the new process potentially more energy efficient.”
APL has invested significantly in this technology as part of its commitment to producing environmentally sustainable pork.
“The pork industry is very progressive and innovative in the environmental and sustainability space,” APL Climate Friendly Farming Program Leader Gemma Wyburn said.
“We've always been very keen to innovate and try new things, and we've been investing steadily in the environmental space for a long time now.”
This includes looking at more innovative ways of dealing with liquid effluent and manure, which is made up of about 90 per cent water.
“APL was interested in looking at all aspects of environmental management, and water recycling came up in terms of exploring an optional better use of water,” Ms Wyburn said.
Dr Sanchis said his team has been working on the BCE device for about six years. The opportunity to work with APL enabled the team to move the technology from a lab scale, into a prototype and then into a commercial prototype.
“The questions were: 'If this idea works in the lab, will it work in the real-life? And could we escalate this idea or this lab technology into a usable, real technology?’,” Dr Sanchis said.
“That was the motivation and the results of the trials demonstrated that it is possible, but we still need more investment to fully achieve the final goal that is to commercialise the technology within the sector.”
UNSW and APL have patented the combustion gas technology and are now looking for private sector partners to take the device to the next level, with additional research followed by the development and manufacture of a commercial scale unit, ready for sale.
While APL are keen to see the initial focus remain on bringing the device to market for use by the Australian pork industry, this technology has much wider possibilities both in Australia and overseas.
In addition to other intensive agriculture production systems, the device could be adapted to sterilise water in environments that produce large amounts of combustion gases, such as landfills, wastewater treatment plants, biogas plants and coal power plants.
Upscaling the pure water production capacity in these settings could also help to alleviate water security issues in rural communities.