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In profile: Clare Bales, PhD Student

UNSW PhD Student Clare Bales has been busy over the past year and a half, putting her UNSW Master of Engineering Science in Water, Wastewater and Waste Engineering to good use to research a game-changing new technology with the power to improve—and save—millions of lives around the world.

Water quality issues across the world are prevalent, especially in rural areas where water sources are limited and resources restrict communities’ ability to improve the quality. With climate change and other pressures set to further reduce the availability of freshwater, we need new technologies that are both effective and cheap to implement for the communities that need it most.Clare Bales working with bean plants as part of a crop trial using mCDI desalinated water in the UNSW glasshouse

Clare is exploring how an emerging electrochemical desalination method called Membrane Capacitive Deionization (mCDI) can be applied in the real world, reducing the salinity of water so that it can be utilised for multiple purposes. Focusing on the treatment of inland brackish groundwater, Clare begun by assessing mCDI’s applicability for agriculture and is now also investigating trialling mCDI for potable water use in regional Australia.

“In Australia and globally, access to water of reasonable quality in rural communities is becoming increasingly difficult. Often conventional technology is not the best option due to the specific constituents in the groundwater, lack of reliable electricity supply or a need to reduce maintenance requirements,” says Clare.

“MCDI is a possible answer in some of those locations, so we’re hoping to trial the technology to get some better data. If the trial performs well, it will hopefully be part of the suite of water supply options available to farmers and communities into the future.”

One of the biggest benefits of mCDI is that it can be solar powered, which makes it both an environmentally sustainable solution and fit-for-purpose among communities with limited resources.

Prior to her Masters, Clare completed a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering and Bachelor of Science (Molecular Biology) at UNSW. She has also worked as a Mechanical Engineer in rural water supply for almost 10 years and has found the study of water treatment a great way to combine her science and engineering background.

“I like working with mCDI. As it’s an electrochemical removal process, there are lots of interesting ways of manipulating and testing depending on the influent water chemistry,” says Clare.

Clare chose UNSW for her studies because she was living and working in Sydney and was aware of UNSW’s unmatched reputation in the field of water engineering.

“I really enjoyed my Masters and learnt a lot, so I decided to convert to fulltime and undertake a PhD,” says Clare.

“Since starting my PhD, I’ve enjoyed interacting with people researching so many different aspects of water engineering.”

Clare’s research is being supervised by Scientia Professor David Waite from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Professor John Fletcher from the School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications.

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