New collaboration between BioGEMS and Beijing Origin Water
When Beijing Origin Water Technology Co (B.O.W), one of the world’s biggest companies making membrane bioreactors to treat wastewater, wanted to partner with a research group to develop their technology further, they immediately looked to Professor David Waite and his Biogeochemical Engineering, Management and Systems (BioGEMS) team for assistance.
Funded by OriginWater and supported by the new Torch Innovation Precinct at UNSW (an unprecedented $100 million innovation partnership with China that will deliver a major boost in research and development funding at UNSW), the project has its sights set firmly on not only helping B.O.W achieve commercial success but, ultimately, providing affordable clean water to the people of China.
“I know OriginWater well because their Chairman, Wen Jianping, and their Chief Scientist and Research Director of R&D, Dr Jing Guan, did their postgraduate degrees here with me in the late 90s,” says Waite. “In fact, in 2010, we collaborated with them on a one-million-dollar, three year, Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project that looked at optimising the dosage of iron to remove phosphorous and reduce membrane fouling. It was very successful, with real advances in a range of areas relevant to B.O.W.”
Guan, who in addition to completing her PhD in Environmental Engineering at UNSW, was also a former senior research fellow at UNSW’s Centre for Water and Wastewater Technology in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CVEN). She moved back to China a few years ago to take up her current role and says that with already more than 100 membrane patents and 1000 completed membrane projects that provide two billion tonnes of high-quality reclaimed water a year, B.O.W has set itself a boundless but very important task.
“I get great job satisfaction working with such a strong R&D team in an area of significant global concern,” she says.
I get great job satisfaction working with such a strong R&D team in an area of significant global concern
Jing Guan, Chief Scientist, Beijing OriginWater
Waite’s BioGEMS group sits within the Water Research Centre in CVEN. He says that traditional wastewater treatment technologies use either sedimentation or sand filters, but these techniques require a huge space to operate so newer technologies such as B.O.W’s membrane bioreactor units have been developed as smaller and more efficient methods of wastewater processing.
“B.O.W’s membranes are submerged in a tank about the size of a small room. The membranes close at one end, open at the other and a vacuum sucks the water through them, the idea being that the waste and bacteria gets caught by the membranes and the clean water goes straight through. B.O.W’s track record shows how successful the technology has been so far, but the company sees considerable scope for improvement so have funded us to continue to innovate with them,” Waite explains.
One idea they want to pursue is a direct follow-on from their previous ARC project. “The Linkage Project resulted in some great fundamental research, but now B.O.W have said ‘That’s great, but we want to use this commercially, so how do we take it through to application?’” Waite says.
“They also want us to help them create another step in the process to further degrade the problematic organic compounds that are able to go through the membranes using a suite of new technologies centred around what are known as advanced oxidation processes,” he continues.
Creating clean water from contaminated water is about as noble a pursuit as it gets, and Waite says that although B.O.W will benefit in a commercial sense, the real winners will be the people of China and, potentially, people all over the world who will be able to treat their water cheaply and effectively using this technology in the future.