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Curtin students work towards solving world’s water supply threat

Media release

Two Curtin University graduates have won scholarships for new desalination research by the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination Australia (NCEDA).

Curtin postgraduate students Ahmad Jabari Kohpaei and Ashok Aryal have been awarded three year scholarships by the WA state government and NCEDA universities consortium to the value of $30,000 and $50,000 respectively, to investigate improvements in desalination technologies.

Both students will conduct their research under the guidance of supervisor Associate Professor Arumugam Sathasivan, of Curtin’s Department of Civil Engineering.

Mr Kohpaei said he would use the scholarship funds to focus on the enhancement of seawater desalination and wastewater treatment using continuous microbial desalination cells (CMDCs), an energy saving approach involving the use of electricity generated by micro organisms.

“According to the World Health Organization, in 2025, two thirds of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed regions and researchers around the world are looking for new technologies to desalinate seawater using less energy-consuming methods,” Mr Kohpaei said.

“A new approach for water desalination was recently proposed based on using electricity generated by micro organisms in a laboratory-scale reactor called a microbial desalination cell (MDC).

“The concept of MDC is similar to electro dialysis in applying a voltage between the treatment chambers in order to transfer the ions (atoms or molecules) out of the desalination compartment.

“However, in MDC, instead of using an external electrical power, desalination is achieved with the current generated by micro organisms or bacteria.”

Mr Kohpaei said Australia, as one of the driest continents, was dealing with major challenges in ensuring a sustainable water supply in the face of drying climate and rising demand for safe drinking water.

“The current technologies for water desalination are energy and capital intensive and although there have been significant improvements in desalination processes during the past decade, high-energy requirements are still a major concern for the global application of desalination processes for water supply purposes,” he said.

Mr Kohpaei said the main objective of his project would be to understand the mechanisms of the newly proposed technology and to investigate ways of improving it for future application.

Scholarship recipient Mr Aryal said his research would investigate ways of solving the fouling of membranes used for wastewater treatment and re-use.

“A membrane is a synthetically created structure used in wastewater recycling and sea water desalination to separate unwanted elements from water,” Mr Aryal said.

“Membrane treatment is a widely used technology, but its wide application is limited as organic compounds clog water channels of expensive membranes. This process not only reduces the efficiency in a short timeframe but also renders the membrane useless over time.

“The main objective of my research will be to reduce this damage to the membrane by identifying and converting the fouling compounds responsible to non-fouling compounds.

“This innovative process is also expected to lead to other benefits such as solving other critical fouling issues related to excessive bacterial growth on the membrane.”

Media contact:

Andrea Barnard, Public Relations, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 4241, Email: