Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Fatbergs: the beasts beneath

On 13th October 2018, STREAM researchers Natalia Jawiarczyk (Cohort IX) and Thomas Collin (Cohort VII) participated in the IF Science and Ideas Festival in Oxford to engage the public with their research relating to fatbergs. Their hands-on exhibit, entitled ‘Fatbergs: the beasts beneath' took the festival attendees on a fatberg journey, from how fatbergs form to what can be done to prevent them and how their research is solving the fatberg problem.

STREAM researchers at IF Science and Ideas Festival Oxford

What are fatbergs?

Fatberg deposit in sewer

Fatbergs are solid, fatty deposits that form in the sewers a result of fats, oils and greases (FOG) and non-biodegradable substances entering the sewage system. The worst culprits are cooking fats/oils, leftover food, supposedly ‘flushable’ toilet wipes and wet wipes. Fatbergs block sewage pipes and cause floods, resulting in huge problems for water companies and the public alike. A recent example of this is the infamous Whitechapel fatberg found in the London sewers. This fatberg weighed the equivalent of 11 double decker buses and was more than 250 metres long, a small sample of which Natalia and Thomas brought along to the festival to show members of the public. Currently, water companies deal with fatbergs by regular cleaning of the sewers and by monitoring water networks; however, fatbergs are able to build up quickly. Once they are found, water companies must spend a lot of time and effort digging the fatberg out, which is then disposed of in landfill. Fatbergs are an expensive problem for water companies and pose health concerns to the general public if they are not detected and removed quickly enough to prevent flooding.

How you can fight back

There are a number of things that everybody can do to help the UK’s growing fatberg problem. Here are a few key tips to help fight fatbergs:

·     Scrape leftover food into the bin rather than into the sink
·     Use strainers to collect any food waste in the sink and empty this into the bin
·     Collect cooking oils, fats and greases and dispose of in general waste – do not pour these down the sink
·     Wipe dishes with kitchen roll to keep oils and greases out of your dirty dishwater
·     Dispose of wet wipes, plasters, condoms, feminine hygiene items, face wipes, toilet wipes, cotton wool, nappies and kitchen roll in bins, even if the packaging says they are flushable

Tips to fight fatbergs

Fighting fatbergs through bio-augmentation

STREAM researcher Natalia Jawiarczyk, sponsored by Cranfield University and Severn Trent Water, is looking at the use of bio-augmentation to both prevent fatbergs from forming and break them down once they begin to form. Bio-augmentation is the addition of a bacteria culture to sewage pipes, which perform two processes: inhibition (preventing deposits from forming) and degradation (breaking down deposits). Natalia is working to improve the efficiency of these processes, by looking at both the composition of fatbergs and the sewer microclimate (e.g. temperature and pH) and how these affect the inhibition and degradation processes performed by bacterial cultures. She is looking at this first in the laboratory and then at a larger scale, using Cranfield University’s Pilot Hall. 

STREAM researcher Natalia Jawiarczyk's work 

Using fatbergs to produce energy

STREAM researcher Thomas Collin, sponsored by Cranfield University and Thames Water, is looking at using anaerobic co-digestion to use the fatbergs that are removed from our sewers to produce energy. This prevents them from entering landfill and adding to our growing waste problem, while providing an alternative source of energy and fuel. In anaerobic digestion, organic material, including sludge waste from wastewater treatment plants, is added to a digestion tank. In this digestion tank, the organic material is digested by bacteria in the absence of oxygen to produce biogas and co-products. The biogas can be used as fuel, electricity production and for heating, while co-products include compost, nutrients and fertiliser. Thomas is looking at adding fats, oils and greases to this process. So far, Thomas has found that fats, oils and greases have a high energy content: 1kg of fats, oils and greases has the same energy content as 14 cans of cola or 88 hamburgers. His research means that, in the future, we may be able to turn the fatberg problem into something more positive for society, while recovering value for water companies. 

STREAM researcher Thomas Collin's work

The public engagement experience

STREAM researchers engaging the public with their work
Aligned with the water industry insights blog, the STREAM IDC is committed to engaging the public in water industry issues and water research. Scientific research is not just for scientists as the aim of the work is to solve real-world problems, problems that are relevant to everyone.

Science and Technology Impact Officer at Cranfield University, Zoe Griffiths, says,
“engaging people in scientific research is critical. It ensures that research is relevant to public needs and ensures that people are at the forefront of scientific research. Science should not just be left to scientists; everyone can make a real difference”
The STREAM IDC encourages its researchers to get involved in public engagement and outreach to aid their professional and personal development. STREAM IDC Programme Director Paul Jeffrey says,
“Learning to communicate your work effectively and to different audiences is important to be successful in any career. By offering opportunities for our researchers to gain these vital communication skills, we are preparing them to be successful water professionals”

Further information on STREAM IDC outreach activities can be found here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

STREAM alumnus wins gold at IWA World Congress

The International Water Association (IWA) World Water Congress is, arguably, the biggest event in the water sector’s calendar. Attracting water professionals from over 100 countries, the event connects people working in the water sector from all over the world to share knowledge about the latest trends, innovative technologies and leading practices. A highlight of the programme is the biennial IWA Project Innovation Awards, which recognise and promote excellence and innovation in water management, research and technology. The 2018 IWA Project Innovation Award winners, announced on 17thSeptember, included Severn Trent Water, who received a gold award for their Smart Abstraction Management under the innovation category of Smart Systems and the Digital Water Economy. This award-winning work is based on the research of STREAM alumnus (and current Severn Trent employee) Alemayehu Shitaye Asfaw’s, whose EngD project developed a real-time surface water abstraction management tool. 

Severn Trent Water winning Gold Award for Smart Systems and the Digital Water Economy at  the IWA World Congress

The project

The focus of Alemayehu’s EngD project was to develop new approaches to inform and aid the management of surface water abstraction, with a specific focus on tackling the management challenges associated with increasing demand and diffuse pollution. The project combined the development of a real-time water resources management model with the development of a pollutant prediction model. The project was undertaken at the University of Sheffield, sponsored by Severn Trent Water

Abstraction management: water resources

Variability in the distribution of water spatially and over time poses challenges when supplying drinking water to meet rising demands while protecting the environment. These challenges are particularly potent in the face of a rapidly increasing population and climate change. Surface water is the primary source of drinking water in the UK, supplying two-thirds of the drinking water in England and Wales, which puts these water resources under pressure. UK environmental regulators are working with the water industry to implement environmental improvement schemes to ensure that UK water courses meet national and European targets. Therefore, the careful management of these water resources is necessary to enable their efficient and sustainable utilisation. Current abstraction management tools and decision-making processes are not supported by real-time data on river flow levels, which affect the daily availability of water, and so opportunities to abstract more water are missed. The use of real-time river flow data will also reduce the need to trigger drought management actions, improving the resilience of water resource production systems.

Abstraction management: diffuse pollution

Pesticide use in agriculture
Diffuse pollutants, such as pesticides from farming, are a significant threat to the quality of water resources, with ever increasing levels being found in raw water sources. The cost of water pollution is estimated at £700million to £1.3 billion per year. Water pollution increases the industry’s carbon footprint due to the need to further treat water to meet drinking water standards. Metaldehyde, a pesticide used globally in agriculture, is a pollutant of particular concern due to recently observed high levels. Therefore, a model capable of predicting short-term fluctuations in metaldehyde concentrations in surface waters will enable informed decision-making to improve water quality.


Alemayehu’s work integrated these two aspects through a combined modelling approach. The project was able to show that an integrated modelling framework can be used to develop a flow forecast model that is suitable for surface water abstraction management purposes. Such schemes can play a significant role in recharging reservoir levels during dry periods, which increases the resilience of drinking water supplies. The pollutant model was effective in predicting variability in pollutant concentrations for operational decision-making purposes. Importantly, the predictive model allows abstraction to be suspended up to 48 hours in advance of high metaldehyde concentrations occurring. 

Winning the IWA Smart Systems and Digital Water Economy Gold Award highlights the incredible potential of Alemayehu’s STREAM project for solving water industry issues through environmentally friendly methods. The implementation of his EngD work is ongoing, showing how a STREAM EngD can really make a difference in practice.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Addressing the increasing pressures on water resources in England

The Environment Agency has recently released a report on “The State of the Environment: Water Resources” highlighting the unsustainable levels of water abstraction and the significant volume of water that is lost through leakage. This first major report on the state of water resources in England has warned that the country will face water supply shortages by 2050 unless rapid action is taken. In this water industry insight post, we take a look at the important findings of the report, the main issues for the water industry relating to these findings and how STREAM research is helping to alleviate these issues.

The Environment Agency Report – key findings

The Environment Agency report on water resources in England looked closely at the current state of water resources nationwide and projected how this may look in the future. In 2016, 9500 billion litres of freshwater were taken from rivers, lakes, reservoirs and underground sources, with the biggest abstracter being public water companies (55% of all water abstraction). The report evidenced the impact of current pressures on water resources; in 2017, abstraction was unsustainable for 28% of groundwater bodies and up to 18% of surface waters, preventing 6-15% of river water bodies meeting good ecological status.
Figure 1: Water abstraction from Ladybower Reservoir, Derbyshire

Pressure on water resources is expected to greatly increase as a result of a growing population, climate change and changes in land use, resulting in huge water shortages in England by 2050. The report suggests that, currently, 3 billion litres of water is wasted per day through leakage alone. This is the equivalent to the daily water needs of 20 million people. Further water is lost through wastage in homes and losses in water treatment processes.
The problem is far-reaching and a multifaceted approach is needed to tackle the issues raised. The Environment Agency has suggested three key measures:

  1. Public attitude change towards water use
  2. Industry innovation and behavioural change to reduce water use and water wastage
  3. Water company investment in infrastructure to address leakage issues rather than a reliance on offsetting leakage with water abstraction from the environment
STREAM research tackling these measures

Figure 2: Water leakage from piping
The STREAM Industrial Doctoral Centre is delivering a number of research projects that are already contributing to tackling the issues raised by the Environment Agency report. Especially aligned to water shortage issues is the STREAM work on leakages and improved management of water distribution networks. Previous Industry Insights posts have focussed on STREAM researcher Joseph Butterfield’s work on leakage detection using acoustic modelling (sponsored by University of Sheffield and Northumbrian Water) and STREAM researcher Lucy Irons’ work on data mapping to detect leakages (sponsored by University of Sheffield and Anglian Water). Other STREAM researchers are also working on the detection of leakages in distribution networks, including the detection of leakage hotspots, real-time monitoring of distribution systems and real-time prediction and detection of blockages.

A number of other STREAM projects are also tackling water shortage problems. There is much work on water infrastructure resilience with a long-term outlook on water abstraction rates and aquifer storage and recovery as an alternative to water abstraction from reservoirs. Finally, STREAM researchers have also focussed on water reuse, a process that reduces water abstraction from the environment by treating wastewater and reusing it for a beneficial purpose. Research has included the governance of water reuse and public perception of water reuse for non-potable use, a current barrier to its uptake.

Overall, the Environment Agency report highlights a number of problem areas that, at current rates, will result in water shortages in the not so distant future. STREAM research, in collaboration with water companies, is already working to alleviate some of the issues raised. In light of the report, there is now further motivation to focus on fixing these issues.

For further information, the full Environment Agency report is available for download, and further information on STREAM projects, past, present and future, are available at the STREAM website.

Environment Agency report:

STREAM website:

Monday, April 23, 2018

Using customer flow meter data to inform water companies

Traditional domestic water meter
Water meters are fitted in every home and are vital for customer billing and water conservation. Historically, meter readings are taken manually and infrequently, only when a new bill needs to be generated. However, due to technological advancements, water meters have now become much more advanced. Automated meter readings (AMR) and automated metering infrastructure (AMI) systems are increasingly being adopted by utility providers.  Such meters reduce the manual labour required for water metering and the costs to consumers, while also providing much larger amounts of data on water flow. With large datasets, there is the potential to generate and gather large amounts of information from customer meters. Such information can benefit more flexible payment plans for customers (further reducing costs to consumers) and knowledge on the performance of water networks. This is extremely useful to water providers as such knowledge facilitates improvements to the quality and consistency of water services.

With such large data-sets and variations on what is considered “normal-use”, converting this data into valuable and informative information is a challenge. One method for analysing water flow datasets, such as those produced by customer water meters, is Comparison of Flow Pattern Distribution (CFPD) analysis. This method works by firstly ensuring that all data is in a consistent format and comparable, then ordering each dataset from smallest to largest and finally plotting the datasets alongside one another against a reference dataset. This facilitates the comparison of datasets to identify both inconsistent and consistent changes over temporal and spatial scales. This method has previously been applied at whole-system levels, but not for the analysis of domestic customer data.

Transforming big data into valuable information to inform water companies and direct management practices
Research by STREAMer Lucy Irons has attempted to apply this method to domestic customer datasets. In the analysis, datasets from 2000 Anglian Water customers were evaluated using CFPD analysis to test if this the information generated could be used to identify events of inconsistent change, such as a period of inoccupancy. Two approaches were tested: block analysis and rolling average reference (RAR) analysis. The block analysis was able to identify different types of leakages at the customer site, as well as periods of non-occupancy.  RAR analysis was able to also identify leaks and provide information on their duration.

The study was able to successfully demonstrate the potential use of CFPD analysis when applied to customer meter datasets to generate valuable information, with further refinements needed before application by water companies. If such analysis were able to be refined and effectively utilised by water companies, this would progress and facilitate better management of water leaks, reducing costs to both water companies and customers, and reducing water stress and water loss.


Irons, L. M. et al. (2015) Data driven analysis of customer flow meter data, Procedia Engineering. Elsevier, 119, pp. 834–843.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Clear water: reducing water discolouration

Water discolouration is becoming an increasingly difficult problem for water companies to manage. In 2013 alone, 2 million UK customers were affected by water discolouration. Rising customer expectations, tighter regulatory demands and ageing water systems means that predicting, managing and reducing water discolouration is a key priority for the improvement of water quality provision to consumers in the UK.

How does water discolouration occur?

The formation of water discolouration is a complex process and is not completely understood. Water discolouration is believed to be primarily caused by the mobilisation of discolouration material. This is thought to be caused by hydraulic changes detaching and transporting the discolouration material through the network, resulting in discoloured water at the tap. Trunk mains (the motorways in a water transport network) are thought to be at especially high risk as their large size acts as a reservoir, allowing discolouration material to build up.

How is water discolouration currently managed?

At present, water discolouration is managed in a reactive way – once a sufficient number of customers have notified their water provider of discoloured water in their area, the water company responds by cleaning parts of the water network to try and alleviate the issue. Trunk mains cleaning programs, where trunk mains are periodically cleaned in an attempt to reduce discolouration material build-up, are also a current management tool for water discolouration. However, these programs are expensive and difficult to implement without disrupting supply and so to reduce costs for both the water company and consumers, this only occurs infrequently. Therefore, there is a strong need to develop new methods that predictive where water discolouration might occur and provide the intelligence required to plan preventative maintenance.

How can water discolouration be managed better?

STREAM researcher Gregory Meyers has developed a new, data-driven method of forecasting water discolouration. The developed system can detect the mobilisation of discolouration material and estimate if sufficient turbidity will be generated to exceed a preselected threshold and approximate how long the material will take to reach a downstream meter and taps. This new method could therefore be used as an early warning system, which will allow water companies to deal with water discolouration proactively rather than reactively. In addition, the method is cheaper than traditional periodic trunk mains cleaning programs.

The method designed by STREAM researcher Gregory Meyers is a data-driven modelling approach. In order to predict water discolouration, three processes need to be considered by the model. The model must detect if sufficient hydraulic force capable of mobilising discolouration material has occurred. Secondly, the model must be able to assess the resultant turbidity. Finally, it must be able to estimate where mobilisation of discolouration material has occurred and how long it will take to reach downstream turbidity meters. Meyers compared two different modelling approaches and three different machine-learning methods using flow, turbidity and hydraulic data collected from a trunk main network. The best performing model was able to reliably predict turbidity up to 5 hours ahead of its detection at downstream meters.

In order to further validate this method, the method needs to be tested on multiple water systems. Once validated, the method can be used to improve management processes regarding water discolouration. This will reduce the amount of water discolouration experienced by customers throughout the UK.

For full reference:
Meyers, G., Kapelan, Z., Keedwell, E., 2017. Short-term forecasting of turbidity in trunk main networks. Water Research 124, 67–76.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Smarter planet Smarter water monitoring

Smarter planet Smarter water monitoring

Author : Wendy Wu, PhD student. Her host university is The University of Sheffield and her project, ‘Microwave sensing of turbulent flow processes for intelligent drainage monitoring and management’ is sponsored by Dynamic Flow Technologies Ltd (DFT), Network Rail and Environmental Monitoring Solutions Ltd (EMS).

About me, About the project.

I am a first-year PhD student based in the University of Sheffield with mechanical engineering background especially in fluid mechanics and numerical analysis. My research topic is ‘Microwave sensing of turbulent flow processes for intelligent drainage monitoring and management’. The need to accurately monitor flows within large drainage system is an emerging challenge. Driven by the effects of urbanisation, population growth and climate change that alter the hydraulic load on drainage assets.

The modelling and measurement of the hydraulic flow conditions in rivers and open channels are of great importance for the forecasting of flood risks, the study of sediment transport, and for the conservation and enhancement of riverine habitat. Traditionally, wastewater collection and drainage collection transport in urban areas is carried out using an extensive and complex system of underground pipes. The underground water mains and sewers has developed rapidly over many years. There are over 668,000km of pipes now in UK. There is a growing need to increase the quality of measurement sensors in order to reduce their uncertainty.

Why smarter?

For the traditional flow monitoring, sensors are immersed in the flow. This increases the need and costs of maintenance, limits the flexibility of the measurement system, and involves higher risks for the operators. The idea of non-contact measurement techniques enable the sensor to remote monitor the flow. It is robust, relatively cheaper and can be safely operated compared to the traditional flow monitoring techniques.

Traditional monitoring VS Remote monitoring

Experimental data has shown that the turbulence properties at a point near the free surface relate directly to the properties of the free surface pattern. This would suggest a direct linkage between the free surface and the underlying turbulence field. However, the mechanism and physical principles behind these are yet to be investigated. So far, ability to measure the pattern is limited and it has only been examined in detail for flows in rectangular channels. My project will focus on the free surface data in a partially filled circular pipe rigs under various structural and operational conditions in Sheffield.

Areas covered by this project.

My project will require extensive laboratory tests to measure the bulk flows properties, turbulence properties, free surface dynamics and microwave transducer data. The free surface acts as the information exchange mechanism between the hydraulic and acoustic systems. Therefore, my work is accordingly divided into two related parts: understanding of the hydraulic processes and acoustic responses. The objectives of this study are shown as follows:

  1. Establish a facility to enable hydraulic and acoustic analysis of the flow characteristics associated with partially filled pipes.
  2. Use this facility to measure the flow conditions which vary in depth, discharge, bed slope and bed type.
  3. Develop acoustic instrumentation to measure the propagating sound characteristics in a pipe.
  4. Develop relations between the flow properties, free surface roughness and acoustic response.

By achieving thesis objectives, the overall goal of my work is to develop a technique to determine the free surface behaviour and hence the bulk flow properties based on remote acoustic measurement of the free surface dynamics.

The Future!

The new understanding of this study will contribute to deeper study of process that interact with turbulent flow surfaces, such as greenhouse gas evasion, acoustic scattering, and pollutant mixing. The new outputs of this project will enable end users reduce cost on monitoring system with more effective and accurate asset management. For public, we can have a lower risk of harmful flood events and better network rail services.

Lindsey Furness

Lindsey Furness

Author : Lindsey Furness, EngD student. Her host university is Newcastle University and her project, 'Advancing the use of flow cytometry (FCM) in the water sector' is sponsored by Northumbrian Water.

I have just begun a 4-year Engineering Doctorate programme funded by the EPSRC and Northumbrian Water as part of the STREAM programme. As someone with a background in microbiology and no particular reputation for engineering ingenuity, this has come as somewhat a surprise to myself, my family and my friends. The STREAM programme supports researchers through providing a number of technical and transferable skills modules designed to prepare us to ‘drive innovation in the water industry’. Myself and 11 others make up cohort IX of the STREAM programme. We have a diverse range of backgrounds that includes mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, biological sciences and geography, but our new occupations unite us neatly under the umbrella of environmental engineering.

And to refer back to the beginning of this blogpost: that’s how a microbiologist becomes a research engineer!

Cohort IX on a field trip to Cambridge sewage treatment works

Now all the acronyms are cleared up, it seems a reasonable time to introduce my research project. This will be based at Northumbrian Water (which resides mainly in the north-east of England but interestingly also owns Essex & Suffolk Water- I note this as I am very excited for the commute!), with additional support from Newcastle University. The title is ‘Advancing the use of flow cytometry (FCM) in the water industry’. This is a rather broad scope, something I hope to narrow very quickly as meetings with my industrial and academic supervisors progress.

Flow cytometry at its most basic is using a machine to count cells through suspending them in a stream of fluid and passing this through a laser beam (or other electronic detection mechanism). At a broader level, flow cytometry allows the instant collection of data on individual particles by applying fluorescent stains and using an array of different lasers. Additionally, some flow cytometers have cell sorting capabilities in order to isolate and retain populations of cells according to tailored parameters.

A BD Accuri C6 flow cytometer (picture taken at Severn Trent Water)

FCM can be used to detect individual bacterial cells in water samples. These are differentiated from other particles in the sample using dyes to stain their DNA, producing a specific measurable fluorescence. For each individual cell, information is given on its size and complexity. An additional dye can be applied to highlight live cells, allowing a ‘total count’ and ‘viable count’ of bacteria in a sample to be achieved.

Analysis of bacteria in water is currently through culture based methods. This involves mixing a selected range of nutrients in an agar or broth, applying the sample and incubating this in an environment the bacteria of interest would be expected to grow. A major disadvantage of this is that bacteria do not always grow; in fact, we are able to grow only ~1% of bacteria that are found in water. There is also time-lag in results acquisition, as bacteria can take from 16 hours to 1 week to grow, depending on the organism. The pros and cons of this method are extensive and perhaps a subject for another blogpost.

Example of culture based methods using chromogenic media. Picture source FischerScientific.

The advantage of using flow cytometry for analysis is that a true representation of bacterial populations in a water sample can be acquired. Additionally, after ~15minutes sample preparation, results can be seen in real time. This should allow a much more reactive approach to bacterial control through the water treatment process.

I hope that my research will help highlight areas in both water and wastewater treatment where flow cytometry could help control and solve bacterial issues in processing, by providing a more accurate and rapid methodology. Application of FCM can also be used to optimise processes such as disinfection, reducing over-processing of water.

I could go on but I think that’s enough introduction for now! More posts may or may not follow.

Anaerobic Digestion: A central feature of the Circular Economy

Anaerobic Digestion: A central feature of the Circular Economy

Author : Ildefonso Rocamora Miguel, EngD student. His host university is Cranfield University and his project, 'Batch-dry digestion: optimising the science behind it' is sponsored by Amey.

After some time out of the university I never thought that I would be back at Cranfield University and back to science again. But with the support of Amey Plc, Cranfield University and the STREAM program here I am again, ready to tackle an EngD program with the goal of improving the current anaerobic digestion processes that Amey currently runs in their two energy from waste plants in England. The goal being to improve biogas production for the production of renewable energy and at the same time minimize gas emissions and contaminants.

The company is currently using anaerobic digestion as part of the United Kingdom’s agenda to solve the problem of the high amount of organic matter (food waste, garden residues, etc..) still present in the waste bags of the people that do not separate them properly at their homes and is never reused. The organic matter in our black bin bags currently finishes its life in landfills, contributing to increasing the footprint of our way of life and increasing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, aggravating the greenhouse effect that worryingly raises global temperature.

With the aim of reducing the disposal to landfill to the bare minimum, Amey’s process plants perform a mechanical treatment, where recyclables still present in the plant are recovered, the organic matter is recovered from the general waste and the rest is sent to produce electricity by incineration or gasification. This reduces the disposal to landfill to less than three percent, which reduces dramatically the use of landfills, although further studies are being carried to minimize this amount to zero.

The organic matter obtained from the general waste is then sent to an anaerobic digestion process, storing the biodegradable organic matter in the absence of oxygen, where microorganism will break down the organic matter, producing biogas and a solid residue. The biogas produced in the anaerobic digestion is rich in methane, a gas with high calorific value, that can be burned in engines to produce electricity to be supplied to the grid, and all of this using a residue that before was being disposed to landfill. On top of that, the solid residue obtained from the anaerobic digestion is a product rich in nutrients, and will be used as a fertilizer for agriculture and landscaping, reducing dramatically the amount of product sent to landfill after the process and providing a natural and high quality fertilizer for local farmers at cheap price.

This process is one example of the types of solution that we need to adopt to extricate ourselves from the current resource use model of take, make and dispose, where any used materials end up in landfill without any reuse or recycling. Recovering reusable fractions of solid waste supports a circular economy philosophy, where minimizing the use of naturals resources, reuse and recycle are the main priorities. Anaerobic digestion promises an ideal long-term option to support multiple recirculation of resources, transforming a waste stream to produce renewable energy and fertilizer without the need of using any fossil fuels related technology.

My project brief

My project brief

Author : Anastasia Doronina, PhD student. Her host university is The University of Sheffield and her project, 'Understanding the fate of metals, organics and the role of service reservoirs in delivering high quality drinking water' is sponsored by Northumbrian Water, Scottish Water, Anglian Water, Welsh Water and Bristol Water

Now, this really will be brief as in all honesty I have no idea precisely what direction my project will take at this stage… In fact, I imagine that none of us will properly understand what we are doing until around mid-second year when we are neck deep in mistakes, trials, empty coffee cups, and, if we are fortunate, some sort of conclusions that give us direction. But whilst I still have the ability to maintain an optimistic view on this endeavour, here’s an overview of my project and the idea behind it…

My goal is to try to understand the fate and transport of metals and organic compounds (carbon containing molecules) from catchment (source), through the water treatment works, and the water distribution network (pipes, and customer taps). I will be doing this in order to try and derive an appropriate and cost-effective management strategy which will ensure that high quality drinking water remains high from source to tap.

My approach to achieving this will come from the understanding of how and where certain materials get in to the water supply, and at which stages they sink to the bottom. These behaviours will give some insight into the distribution of these materials at different stages of the network. I will also be looking at how the final treatment processes influence the above behaviours.

One of the main components that I will be focusing on is a metal called manganese (Mn), which is abundant in water sources and is one of the main causes of discolouration of the water supply at customer taps. It can make the water appear to have a green/brown tinge, add a strong metallic taste, and in some cases block valves and other pipe lines in the household; so, it can be quite a nuisance. The hope is that I will be able to determine whether manganese alone poses a challenge to water quality, or whether that happens in combination with other factors.

My work will require extensive fieldwork across the country, which I am really excited about, although I am sure I will be slightly less eager about analysing the, hopefully, large data-set at the end.

The rationale behind this work is that the water quality at the source will influence the final water quality coming out of a water treatment works, which will have a direct impact on the distribution pipework, and therefore the water that comes out of customers taps. Despite this known fact, not much research has been performed in this area which would link the source to tap relationship of constituents in the supply.

We all want high quality drinking water, we rely on it, and we demand it of our water companies. What most of us don’t realise, is that behind the scenes there is a vast amount of work that goes into making this happen. I aspire to make my project a part of that incredible knowledge base.

I hope that this very brief overview has been of interest, and has inspired you to check in on me from time to time to see how I’m getting on at https://www.streamacademe.tumblr. com.

Anastasia Doronina

Below is a picture of our culprit (manganese) for you to observe.

Optimisation of Anaerobic Digestion

Optimisation of Anaerobic Digestion

Author : Steve Oxtoby, EngD student. His host university is Imperial College London and his project, 'Improvement, validation and implementation of predictive models on full scale anaerobic digestion assets' is sponsored by Thames Water and Severn Trent Water.

In my copious (2 week) experience of the STREAM programme, I’ve discovered that what makes it more exciting and (arguably) better than other doctorate options is the community feel between us streamers (the collective noun for people who are doing a stream EngD or PhD) as well as the wide variety of backgrounds and projects we are tackling. One 2017 streamer is a forestry student, others are geographers, chemical engineers (like myself), microbiologists, and assorted other science and maths disciplines. The projects are varied as well, mine is titled ‘Improvement, validation, and implementation of predictive models on full scale anaerobic digestion assets’ and is sponsored by Thames Water. I’ll be building on a previous project by improving a model and using it in order to improve industrial operation of anaerobic digesters, but more on that later. Other projects include using flow cytometry (… I know) in the water sector as well as such brilliant titles as “Rooting out Resilience” which I believe is a study into problems created during the transport of potable (drinking) water and lots of studies into various methods for wastewater treatment.

So that’s a fountain of wisdom about STREAM, now for a splurge regarding my project. In most (all) modern wastewater treatment plants, there is an initial settling/ dewatering stage. This splits into a liquid stream which will often be treated by an activated sludge process in which a tank is aerated to digest solids in the liquid, and a more solid rich stream, known as sludge. This sludge is where my project comes in. This sludge is anaerobically (without air) digested in order to produce methane (CH4), a gas most famously produced by cows. This can be burnt to produce energy and is generally valuable. This digestion takes place throughout several stages, acidogenesis and methanogenesis being a couple. The problem with this is that these stages make it quite a complex system to solve. When that is coupled with the competing constraints including that the sludge must be digested to produce a solid that can be used as fertiliser, as much methane as possible, and water that can be put back into the activated sludge process, it becomes even more complex. In short, it’s not easy to model but there’s obviously a lot to be gained from doing so. For the past 4 years a previous EngD has tackled that, my mission is to complete and capitalise on his work. Bet you wish you were reading the Geographer’s project now eh.

By now it should’ve become clear that this isn’t quite a traditional PhD, partially because its not. What made me want this project so much is the ability to make a difference in the short term. Potentially during the project but if not at the end of the 4 years I should have some tangible results and suggestions on how the process should be ran. That or a big fat failure of a model that oversimplifies or worse, overcomplicates, the problem such that it is beyond solving. A traditional PhD, a friend of mine is researching graphene, can end with neither progress nor failure, I don’t think I’ll have that luxury.

This is all for blog Episode 1, Episode 2 is set to arrive whenever it feels pertinent.

Resiliently resilient, a brief history

Resiliently resilient, a brief history

Author : Elizabeth Lawson, EngD student. Her host university is University of Exeter and her project, 'Rooting out resilience' is sponsored by Northumbrian Water.

As I explained in my last post I am currently enrolled on an EngD in collaboration with Northumbrian Water and Exeter University, however so far, I am yet to explain exactly what my project is and more to the point, what I am going to be completely engrossed in over the next four years. So here I thought I would provide you with a quick introduction.

My official project title is 'Rooting out resilience: developing and embedding metrics in the water industry'. This essentially means that it is now my job to investigate and evaluate the capacity of Northumbrian Water, and other water companies within the UK, to deal with risks posed to them both as a business and as a supplier of a critical resource, and ultimately make suggestions on how the business can overall become a more resilient organisation. To put it even more simply, I need to find a way to make sure the water industry is ready to deal with and bounce back from any crisis or shock that they may face, independent of whether it is operational, financial or corporate. Whilst maintaining their ability to provide high quality water and waste water services now and into the future.

So, 'what really is resilience, where did it come from, and why is it so important?' I hear you ask. Well luckily for you I thought I would give you a brief history.

Recently the term 'resilience' has been appearing increasingly, in specialised articles, national strategies, business publications or just day to day conversation, covering anything from psychology to business strategy. However, where it has suddenly come from and why resilience is now so 'on trend' is a question that many people continue to pose.

The term itself is believed to have originally come into use via French from the Latin verb resaltare which means to bounce back, to get moving again or to result from. Others consider it to come from the verb resilire which literally means to jump backwards. Either way in more modern language the word continues to be used in a range of nuances which ultimately express the 'notion of adapting to circumstances in the face of, or as a result of a shocking event'.

The word has long since been used in a range of scientific fields whether it is in ecology to 'define the ability of an ecosystem to maintain its function when faced with a disturbance', or in metallurgy, in which it is simply a 'measure of the resistance of a metal bar to shock'. However, it is the field of psychology where the concept of resilience has been more widely used and repeatedly promoted, on an individual level over the past few decades. Here the term was introduced by Boris Cyrulnik as the 'capacity to carry on regardless, in environments that ought to lead to breakdown'. In a broader sense resilience here refers to the capability to continue, post suffering or post shock therefore defining a form of immediate or rediscovered stability.

Even more recently the term has been expanded to cover and apply to an organisation as well as the individual. With the view that 'resilience does not offer the possibility to resist wind and tide, but is instead the ability to create a structure that crisis or shock, even when completely unpredictable can be withstood by a company, with the possibility that the company could become even stronger after the event'. It is this organisational level of resilience, including financial, corporate and operational, what it comprises of, how it is achieved and how it is implemented, that my specific project will be focussed on.

It is therefore my aim that, through the application of a range of methodologies I will ultimately be able to provide a grounding in the business for different types of resilience (e.g. infrastructure, environment- supply and demand, customer, business), how it is currently managed and any challenges for the future. Well that's the hope any way. As for how this works out, I'll keep you updated!