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Protecting clean drinking water for rural Australia

27 September 2018
How our chemical engineering students are addressing the big issues

As the impact of global warming increases, so does the importance of managing Australia’s most valuable resource: water. Our chemical engineering students are stepping up to the fight alongside their industry partners.

Aya Tafech and Patrick Schnelle, both in their fourth year of a Bachelor of Engineering Honours (Chemical and Biomolecular) recently completed a six-month placement with Shoalhaven Water and Parkes Shire Council respectively.

During their placement they worked on water management and quality aimed at solving current challenges faced by these organisations and their communities. So promising were their research results, the students presented their findings at the 2018 Local Government Water Management Conference in Armidale. “It made me realise just how important research in industry is, and the value of innovation in what is generally perceived to be quite a mature industry,” Aya said of the experience.

We caught up with Aya and Patrick to learn more about their research projects.

Aya, Shoalhaven Water

Testing unit for water filters in waste water treatment

Testing equipment that can predict five years' performance in under three days

What was the project and your role?
Filtration is a crucial operation in the water treatment process. I was able to design and trial a unique accelerated testing system that, in 30 days, could predict how a filter would perform for the next 50 years. I also developed a testing system that could predict day-to-day filter operation.

From this, I was able to design a new and improved filter system for Shoalhaven Water and recommend directions that could be taken to prolong the filter lifespan, while adhering to the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

How will your research have real-world impact?
Currently industry procedure uses a reactive approach to monitor and control filtration. My research allows for a proactive management approach by predicting short and long-term filter performance. Water utilities can now have more confidence in their operations and ability to reliably supply clean drinking water and better comply with regulatory guidelines.

Patrick, Parkes Shire Council

What was the project and your role?
The aim was to investigate water quality risks in the council’s rural supply network, specifically how to manage backflow at the customers' property boundary. This involved analysing current industry approaches and legislative requirements as well as undertaking risk characterisation and field verification.

We carried out workshops and engaged stakeholders to design, model and assess potential program options. I took the backflow prevention program from the initial concept, through the design stage, to readiness for implementation. I also made recommendations and developed project management resources to assist the Council in integrating the program.

How will your research have real-world impact?
Effectively managing the Council’s water quality risks across the supply network of over 12,000 consumers in regional NSW is essential to protect public health and provide safe and reliable drinking water.

My benchmarking data indicates that less than half of NSW water utilities and plumbing regulators have a functional backflow prevention program. The project outcomes and approach can be scaled to similar organisations to ensure the ongoing provision of safe and reliable drinking water across NSW.

Patrick walks across the footbridge over the Parkes Shire Council wastewater treatment plant

Patrick inspecting the operation of Parkes Shire Council’s new wastewater treatment plant


Aya and Patrick's placements were a part of the Engineering Sydney Industry Placement Scheme (ESIPS), a program designed to give students in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies industry experience before they graduate; it also counts towards their degree with credit points. For Patrick it was “a unique opportunity to immerse myself in industry and to work on a challenging project and deliver meaningful outcomes”.

Chemical engineering encompasses a diverse range of industries, and the ESIPS program provides the opportunity to gain valuable insight and career opportunities in many of these. “ESIPS taught me how to apply my studies in an industrial context and, more so, how to think like an engineer”, says Aya.

For more information about our undergraduate engineering degrees visit our website and learn why we’re ranked number one for graduate employability.

 

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