UNSW Global Water Institute - Clean water in India

Cutting-edge technologies to provide clean water to regional India

In 2015, a new water research initiative was established at UNSW-GWI with funding from the Tata Trust of India. In partnership with the Trust and their teams, the initiative, which is being led by UNSW-GWI member Scientia Professor David Waite, aims to provide safe drinking water to regional India through low-cost water purification solutions.

India has serious water accessibility and quality issues, with an estimated 77 million people living without access to safe water. According to a 2016 report by international NGO Water Aid, of all the world’s people living without sufficient water, more than 10 per cent are living in India. Left with no other options, these people are forced to either use water which has been contaminated by human waste, arsenic, or other dangerous chemicals – or buy water for exorbitant prices. Sustainable Development Goal six aims to achieve water and sanitation for all by 2030, and UNSW-GWI is making real strides towards achieving this goal.

UNSW-GWI’s research is split into two projects. Both have the same end goal of allowing access to clean water – but through vastly different processes. While one water filtration system is intended to be permanently located, operated and maintained within a village, the other is a mobile plant that can be moved between smaller, more remote villages as the need arises.

In the first of these two projects, a team from the UNSW School of Civil and Electrical Engineering is developing a low-energy, solar-powered filter which uses capacitive deionisation—a low-energy, eletrochemical water filtration technology—to remove salt, fluoride, arsenic and nitrates from water sources. A prototype for this sophisticated filter has been manufactured and is undergoing the testing phase, with preliminary results expected by September.

A second team, from the UNSW School of Chemical Engineering and the UNSW School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, is creating a larger reverse-osmosis water filtration plant that can easily be mounted on small utility vehicles and moved between villages. The motivation behind this concept is not only to ensure the filtration plant is mobile, but also for these same utility vehicles to be used to transport goods between villages, enabling communities to exchange local produce and goods for filtered water.

UNSW’s Michael Crouch Innovation Centre is also collaborating on the social and entrepreneurship aspects of this second project, while the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is assisting with strategies to engender social acceptance of these technologies.

The decision on which technology to introduce to any given area will be based on each community’s capacity to maintain the equipment or pay for water. Villages in India where the water quality is the poorest will be targeted first, before the intervention is scaled up across various states, providing significant health and livelihood benefits for potentially millions of people across the country.