Scientists from the University of Birmingham have been working on a project using emerging membrane technologies that will help rural farming communities in the Gujarat region of India by allowing saline groundwater and wastewater from industry and domestic properties to be recycled efficiently and safely.
The INDIA-H2O project saw the researchers design a system capable of recovering 80 per cent of unusable groundwater, producing usable water with low energy consumption.
India’s main source of water is groundwater, with 85 per cent of the country’s population dependent on it. But much of it is of poor quality, while water below 60 per cent of the countryside is too saline to drink or for conventional agriculture. Pollution of groundwater, coupled with over-extraction, is also making it harder to access clean water.
They are also now working on ways to grow special crops using the brine solution by-product of desalination, as well as investigating plant-based treatments for the recycling of domestic wastewater and developing solar energy as a way of breaking down pollutants in industrial wastewater.
Over the next ten years, the numbers affected by severe water shortages is predicted to increase fourfold. Of the 2,700 billion m3 rise in water demand that has been forecast for 2030, some 17 per cent of it – or 468 billion m3 – is expected to take place in India.
Wastewater recycling and desalination could potentially fill the widening gap, but implementation of such technologies has thus far been limited by the cost of energy and the investment in necessary equipment.
Professor of water technology at the University of Birmingham Philip Davies said: “INDIA-H2O is developing, designing and demonstrating low-cost water treatment systems for saline groundwater and for domestic and industrial wastewaters in Gujarat, where over-extraction and pollution of groundwater makes it more and more difficult to access clean water.
“Combining novel engineering solutions with new reverse and forward-osmosis membrane technologies should substantially reduce energy consumption – allowing efficient operation of these systems in rural India using solar energy. They should increase the amount of drinking water extracted from groundwater by 50 per cent.”
Water stress and scarcity is a global issue and one that will affect us all, even us here in the UK, with our abundance of annual rainfall. Businesses can start taking action now to protect the country’s water resources by focusing on strategies such as rainwater harvesting, wastewater management, water leak detection and so on.