In profile: Keng Han Tng, PhD Candidate
Water utilities are arguably one of our most important modern resources, responsible for sustaining healthy urban communities and thriving economies by supplying unlimited clean water to millions of people in Australia alone.
With a finite supply of freshwater on earth, and water availability subject to peaks and troughs, water utilities use advanced water treatment plants to produce high quality water through desalination and water recycling, which is used to augment drinking water supplies.
However, with climate change, increasing population growth and urbanisation comes an unprecedented burden on water infrastructure. Typically, low investment in the maintenance of water treatment plants further exacerbates the pressure on these resources, compromising their ability to continue producing a consistent, clean water supply without disruption.
Keng Han Tng (‘Han’), a PhD student with the UNESCO Centre for Membrane Science, has identified the need to better manage these treatment plants by gaining a more in-depth understanding of the membranes used in the wastewater treatment process.
His research explores the way membranes age, how and why membrane failures occur and how mechanical failure can affect the reliability of advanced water treatment plants.
“With advanced water treatments plants using membranes to remove the biological pathogens and chemical contaminants present in wastewater, any compromise in the membranes’ integrity would result in an increased risk of waterborne disease contagion,” said Han.
Australia alone has 15 major water utilities which are each responsible for providing over 100,000 properties with clean water supply, and one utility alone servicing over five million people. With pressures mounting on water utilities to provide larger quantities of high-quality water, Han’s research will help water utilities to develop strategies to ensure the longevity of their assets and equipment, ensuring the continued supply of safe and reliable water into the future.
“I was drawn to my PhD topic because I knew that mechanical failure in water treatment plants was a problem experienced by water utilities, and given the increase of ageing water infrastructure in Australia, mechanical reliability was an issue that needed to be addressed urgently,” said Han.
“Findings from my PhD project identified and established the failure modes of membranes in water treatment systems, and also helped develop strategies to improve the resilience of water treatment plants,” said Han.
The knowledge attained through this work will help water utilities to predict the reliability of their assets, as well as develop best practices for the maintenance and management of ageing assets.
I also have supportive supervisors and mentors, who have exposed me to various aspects of research (...) enabling me to broaden my knowledge and develop additional skills that will be useful in my career
Keng Han Tng, PhD Student
Han has always been interested in understanding how things work and solving problems. After completing his bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, he wanted to apply his acquired knowledge to a real-world problem.
After a great experience throughout his undergraduate degree at UNSW, Han was certain he wanted to remain at UNSW to complete his PhD.
“I was impressed by the diverse research projects available and I enjoyed my past research experience at the UNESCO Membrane Centre,” said Han.
“I also have supportive supervisors and mentors, who have exposed me to various aspects of research ranging from collaborative industry projects to attending local and international conferences—enabling me to broaden my knowledge and develop additional skills that will be useful in my career.”
In the immediate future, Han hopes to continue his research at the UNESCO Membrane Centre. He is also hoping to do some humanitarian engineering work in the field of water, sanitation, and hygiene in developing countries.