New journal article published in Science of the Total Environment

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Written by Bethany Fox, Research Associate in Centre for Research in Biosciences (CRIB)

A new paper has been published in Science of the Total Environment (STOTEN), “A case study: The deployment of a novel in situ fluorimeter for monitoring biological contamination within the urban surface waters of Kolkata, India”.

This paper details the deployment of a novel in situ fluorescence sensor in the urban surface waters of Kolkata. The case study demonstrates the benefit of this technology with recent advances in understanding and technological capability. Using the new sensor, developed by our technology partner Chelsea Technologies Ltd., the team were able to identify a blackwater contamination event in the Hooghly River (Ganga) in Kolkata, India. The team also conclude that the use of this technology would provide information regarding biological water quality in situ and in real-time, important information which is often missing from our current monitoring practices due limited to time consuming and expensive sampling surveys.

This paper is an output from the NERC-DST India-UK Water Quality project which focused on the development and implementation of technologies for improved water quality. Within this project, UWE has been in partnership with Professor Tapan K Dutta and his team at the Bose Institute in Kolkata alongside multiple UK technology partners.

Sensor boat survey and water quality monitoring of the Hooghly River (Ganga) in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

Biological filtration using different porosities of ceramic media

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By Sadie Hadrill (MRes Student)

Freshwater is essential for life on Earth, and the role of freshwater is fundamental to society and for maintaining healthy ecosystems. Biological filtration is a sustainable biotechnology used to remediate biological and chemical contaminants within water. This is performed by establishing polymicrobial biofilms (diverse microbial communities) on a granular substrate, that can be housed within a column, here referred to as a biofilter. Biofilters develop efficient sorptive (attachment) capacity within diverse microbial communities of biofilms.

Filtration media has come in many forms prior to recent experimentation including sand, charcoal and granular activated carbon. Different filter media properties, including permeability, surface area and porosity, can determine the performance of the biofilter. As such, practical knowledge is needed regarding the impact of the type of filter media used. In this example we used ceramic media, more specifically terracotta clay, varying in porosity as described in the previous blog post. The team at UWE’s Centre for Print Research (CFPR) created ceramic media of low, medium and high porosities to determine the impact of porosity on the biofilter systems.

Biofilter maturation

The three variations of ceramic media were equally distributed into three individual filter columns (9 filters in total) and connected to 25 L tanks containing tap water. To aid the beginning stages of biofilm maturation, the water tanks were inoculated with pond water to introduce environmental organisms.

Figure 1. Laboratory scale biofilters containing three different types of clay media, varying in porosity: A) Low porosity, B) Medium porosity and C) High porosity.

Over four weeks of biofilm maturation, the biofilters were monitored weekly for nutrient concentrations (such as phosphates and nitrates) and bacteria. Samples were extracted from both the filter media and the circulation water for analysis.

Figure 2. Laboratory scale biofilter columns containing ceramic media (A), connected to a four-channel peristaltic pump (B) and circulation tanks (25 L) containing mains tap water (C).

An investigation of porosity of media and pathogen removal

Once the biofilters had undergone maturation, the experiment investigated the removal of Escherichia coli (E. coli)and Enterococci, both are bacterial indicators of faecal contamination. Over a 24-hour period pond water was circulated through the biofilters containing the different porosity ceramic media. Samples of the circulated pond water were collected every three hours and analysed for the presence of the E. coli and Enterococci.

Preliminary results indicated a decline in both E. coli and Enterococci recovered from samples taken over a 24-hour period. However, initial findings suggest that the ceramic media porosity has little impact on E. coli and Enterococci removal as there was little difference between the bacteria counts for the three different porosities of ceramic media.

Further experimental work is ongoing to explore pathogen removal in more detail and to determine if the size of the ceramic media (e.g. smaller ceramic beads) impacts the performance of the biofilter.

Testing Ceramic Methods for Producing Beads for Biofilm Water Treatment

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By Rosy Heywood, Research Associate at Centre for Print Research.

Main image: Fig 1: Boxes of organic foam impregnated ceramic beads and plain ceramic beads adjacent to a pot of traditional beads

In a previous blog post, by my colleague Sonny Lightfoot, we introduced the research being conducted into creating ceramic beads as a medium to grow biofilm within a water filter. We have now created 3 types of ceramic beads which have been tested for water filtration; organic foam impregnating method, clay and sawdust burn off method and plain ceramic. For each method we used the same terracotta clay, made the beads into 20mm pieces, and fired the beads at the same max kiln temperature of 1100˚.

Organic foam impregnating method

For this set of beads we laser cut compressed cellulose sponge into 20mm circles, expanded them in water and dipped them into clay slip. The beads were then left to dry and fired. During the firing process the sponge burns off leaving the porous structure behind. This method has been used to test beads with high porosity and high surface area creating lots of sites for the biofilm to grow onto.

Figure 2: Dipping laser cut sponges into terracotta clay slip

Sawdust and clay method

For this set of beads we mixed fine sawdust with clay at a 5:3 ratio. We are currently experimenting with the best ratio and method of mixing but to produce these beads we mixed by hand initially then used an electric mixer to fully combine the two components. We then extruded the clay using a hydraulic extruder into lengths and cut using a 3D printed jig into 20mm pieces. The beads were then left to dry and fired. During the firing process the sawdust burns off leaving a porous structure behind. This method has been used to test beads with high porosity.

Figure 3: Freshly extruded and cut sawdust and clay beads before firing

To produce the plain ceramic pieces we used the same method as above but without adding the sawdust. This method will test the effectiveness of the natural porosity of ceramic.

After firing we then tumbled the beads in a ball mill to smooth the edges. The beads were then dried in an oven and tested for effectiveness by MSc student Sadie Hadrill and PhD candidate Josh Steven in the science labs on Frenchay campus. Stayed tuned for another blog post coming soon where Sadie and Josh detail their process and results from the testing.  

Developing the methods and experimental work

Since creating these beads, the team and I in the CFPR labs have been experimenting with ways of combining sawdust with clay in large batches and the ratio of sawdust to clay. We have also been furthering our design research by modelling a coil pot from sawdust clay to test it’s suitability for pot making and experimenting with high surface area to low volume shapes using the organic foam impregnating method. These shapes could be tessellated or interlocked to create a unique structure for a vessel to naturally purify water using the biofilm method. The idea is to create a uniquely beautiful and practical container to filtrate water with the design inspired by natural biomorphic structures that can tesselate into user determined patterns and shapes. This experimental research is at its early stages and will slowly develop over the course of the project alongside our bead and porosity testing.

Figure 8: Organic foam impregnated ceramic tessellating shapes experiment

Changing water dynamics in uncharted regions

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By Dr Kwok Chun

Environmental datasets provide critical information about our physical environment, helping us to monitor progress towards achieving global environmental targets, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Yet, reliable climate and water data are not available in many parts of the world. In many developed countries, such as the UK and US, there are dense environmental monitoring networks. However, these networks are expensive to establish and maintain. Where on-the-ground data is not readily available, satellite images can help us to fill gaps in data. Moreover, as well as helping us to monitor current conditions it is possible to use remote sensing (RS) datasets to predict future environmental conditions.  Even more to the point, such RS-based analyses can help us understand potential climate change threats to ongoing efforts to achieve SDGs, such as SDG6: Clean Water and Sanitation for All.

For example, in many parts of East Africa, including Uganda, water services development includes options for rainwater harvesting (see Staddon et al, 2018 and Healthy Waters blog, 11/4/2022).  Yet, many climatic factors, such as air temperature, affect household water generation potential from rainwater harvesting as higher temperatures increase water loss from evaporation. If we compare historical air temperature averages (1970-2000) in Uganda with those projected for 2070 (Figure 1), it is clear that without significant change, water loss due to increased evaporation could undermine water harvesting efforts.

Figure 1: Comparison of average historical (1970 to 2000) and projected (2070) temperatures (°C) in Uganda (WorldClim, 2022).

To prevent a global crisis, most governments are committed to keeping the average temperature increase at less than a 1.5°C, yet the projections for Uganda indicate temperatures are consistently expected to increase well above this target (Figure 2). This indicates that country-wide water action is urgently needed.

In regions where the temperature increase is projected to be 5°C or more, this could result in significant evaporation loss (approximately equivalent to the volume of an Olympic-sized swimming pool per year).  Efforts should be focused on collaborating with local communities to combat potential increases in climate change related water stress, especially in Uganda’s Eastern Region, which is expected to see the highest average temperature increase by 2070 (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The projected changes in temperature (°C) between average temperatures taken between 1970 and 2000, and 2070.

A limitation of some modelled environmental datasets is their coarse spatial resolution (e.g. each pixel in Figure 2 is 50km by 50km). This is therefore not high enough resolution to allow for local projections that could inform water planning.  To further explore how possible climate change scenarios will affect local environmental conditions, UWE Bristol staff and intern students have collaborated with the University of Rouen Normandy. This collaboration has allowed the for the creation of numerical models to simulate local weather conditions to better investigate African water issues, that help to provide real-life solutions for problems such as rain harvesting. If such numerical models successfully simulate the regional climate conditions, the team hopes to conduct water trials with local communities to generate safe and healthy waters.

Healthy Waters Research Cluster sets sights on four research challenges

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When it comes to healthy water there is no shortage of challenges – indeed the difficulty is often in finding sufficient focus to not feel paralysed by the extent of problems. In April, UWE Bristol’s Healthy Water Research Cluster did just that. On a Friday afternoon, in a room kitted out for the training of primary educators – complete with thrones and creative mobiles – researchers from across disciplines as varied as engineering, biosciences, creative industries, science communication, economics and supply chain management came together to identify research priorities for the cluster.

Over the coming months, UWE Bristol’s Healthy Water research cluster will be developing the following project ideas:

Managing Water Resources through Smart Landscapes

Data is collected for water systems all over the world by different organisations and for different purposes. The challenge is that these data sets are not integrated and not always accessible – even within a single country let alone across borders. As technology moves on there are additional challenges around integrating data from old technology with that of the new. Imagine having integrated data sets at a landscape level, where industry, government, researchers and communities can interact with data to improve ecosystem resilience, exchange knowledge and engage communities in their local environment.

Management of water quality through community-based value chains in water technology

Innovation in water treatment technologies is important but not enough – we also need to create localised production systems that are sustainable and take into account the whole life cost of the process, including maintenance, final disposal, recycling or reuse.  This workstream focuses on articulating models for creating affordable community-based value chains, that build on the use of local, readily available materials and expertise, employing water technologies such as ceramic filters, rainwater harvesting systems and gravity supply schemes.

Development of rapid water quality assessment technologies

New advances in water quality monitoring strategies are urgently needed for both water catchments and drinking water supplies. Improved temporal and spatial water quality data will require new and multiple real-time monitoring technologies and approaches that enable rapid chemical and biological assessment at a single point-source or through an integrated catchment network. Such data is imperative if effective water quality management frameworks are to be implemented and realised.

Scalable and sustainable water treatment solutions and technologies

Safe water in the context wastewater or drinking water is essential in minimising potential contaminants and pollutants from entering water systems or reducing the possibility of disease in humans. Many current treatment solutions or technologies are centralised in nature, where a large-scale facility will treat vast volumes of water across a large area and then distribute throughout extensive networks where necessary. This is a costly approach to build and maintain and is unattainable for some communities, such as rural communities or communities in low-income countries. Developing scalable and sustainable solutions that are decentralised and can be easily maintained by communities, with minimal resource requirements are key to ensuring waters are reliably treated to a high standard.

The Healthy Waters research cluster is looking to engage with people interested in these projects – other researchers, industry, government agencies, NGOs, community organisations and other stakeholders. Please do get in touch research@uwe.ac.uk for more information.

Running, safe water

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Written by Bethany Fox, Research Associate in Centre for Research in Biosciences (CRIB)

Access to safe water should be a basic right for all. Turning on a tap to drink from seems so natural to many of us, but with 1 in 3 people around the world not having access to safe drinking water, there is still much to be done. The COVID-19 pandemic has only further highlighted the importance of clean water, sanitation and good hygiene, with those without access to water being disproportionately vulnerable.

Frank Water is a Bristol-based water charity that began life in 2005 as a social enterprise which donated all profits to an NGO in India for water projects. It is now a registered charity providing safe water, sanitation and good hygiene to communities in India and Nepal, helping almost 500,000 people to date. Frank also works within the UK providing education regarding sustainable approaches to water.

UWE Bristol has an ongoing relationship with Frank Water and have been actively working together on a NERC-DST India-UK Water Quality project for the past 4 years. This project focused on the development and implementation of technologies for improved water quality.

One of the key aims within this project was to provide a low-cost small-scale sustainable technology to treat biologically contaminated stored water, such as that from a borehole or harvested rainwater. Working with Frank Water, Indian NGO Bala Vikasa and technology partner Centrego, we have begun the deployment of two prototype systems: one in a government school in Hyderabad, Telangana, to ensure a safe supply of drinking water for the school children and staff; and, a second system in Massampally, a remote tribal village in the Warangal district of Telangana, where the systems are treating water from a contaminated open well to provide a source of safe drinking water to the village’s 33 households which rely on this well for all their water, sanitation and hygiene needs.

Having seen first-hand the amazing work undertaken by Frank Water Projects and their collaborators in India, UWE researcher Dr Bethany Fox has chosen to fundraise for Frank Water by running the Bristol Half Marathon in September 2022. This will be Bethany’s first half marathon but she hopes to raise awareness and money to support Frank Water and the amazing work they do.

Initial Ceramic Research

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Written by Sonny Lightfoot, Research Associate and Technician at Centre For Print Research (CFPR)

In the latest issue of Craft Magazine they look at the work of Potters for Peace (PFP)  ‘a non-profit, social justice organization focused on using clay based solutions to address the problems of poverty.’ The amazing work PFP have implemented and published around locally made ceramic water filters has been a big inspiration for us here at UWE working on Heathy Waters. The literature produced by PFP has been a useful resource to start our own research especially around the use of burn-out material to be added to clay to increase precocity. Where PFP have developed a process where the ceramic filters are produced with a mould and a hydraulic press, we are looking at the already existing skills and process of local potter’s to hand building and pit fire water filter, like that of the craft potters in Kisoro Uganda, who currently produce ceramic cooking stoves.

Foam Impregnated Ceramic

Our initial ceramic tests have been focused on producing ceramic beads of different porosity to work as a medium for a biofilm to grow within a water filter. We have looked at two processes for these beads, extrusion, a well-established industrial process, and a organic foam impregnating method in which we laser cut compressed cellulose sponge that is then expanded in water then dipped in a ceramic slurry.

Extruded clay with added burn out material

Our next tests will be looking at producing a hand build ceramic water filter using a basic hand building technique known as coiling, which is more in line with the hand building process of the Ugandan potters. The pots will be made from terracotta clay with sawdust added in different percentages they will then be tested to establish the balance between increasing precocity to reduce time taken for the water to pass through the filter but still maintain a high efficacy of removing bacteria and pathogens.

Mixing clay and saw dust in preparation to coil build ceramic water filter

Sustainable Solutions to Water Quality Challenges in Rural Uganda

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Written by Chad Staddon, Professor of Resource Economies and Policy.

A lack of access to safe, piped water services in many parts of the world means that alternative water supplies, such as rainwater harvesting (RWH), are often all that is available.  However some studies have shown that RWH may pose a health risk because of its potential to carry microbial pathogens through wet deposition (bonding of chemicals in the air before hitting the roof), transit via the catchment area (usually a rooftop), drainage gutters and pipes, and the residence time in the storage tank itself. Indeed, water quality testing undertaken by a UWE Bristol team in southwestern Uganda in 2019 suggested that up to 50% of water samples from RWH systems could be contaminated in excess of WHO limits.

To improve the microbiological quality of stored drinking water, ceramic pot filters (CPFs) may be a robust point-of-use technological solution. Through a combination of mechanisms including ultrafiltration, adsorption and biofilm metabolism CPFs have been demonstrated to be effective at removing >99% of protozoa and 90-99% of bacteria. CPFs are associated with a 60-70% reduction in diarrheal disease incidence reported by users in some studies.

In 2018 and 2019 UWE Bristol staff and students worked to better understand the extent of the water quality challenge associated with RWH and to options assess possible solutions including granular media, solar disinfection and ceramic pot filters.  Now, the UWE Bristol Healthy Waters team, including Chad Staddon, Tavs Jorgenson and Jiseon You, is working to determine if CPFs can be manufactured in accordance with appropriate technology principles stipulating that technologies should be locally reproducible and maintainable with essentially existing skills and resources.  The team aims to develop a trial for locally produced CPFs using existing ceramics making processes including open pit firing during 2022.  If successful the team hopes to support and encourage the scale up of production by local producer groups, enterprises or cooperatives, thus addressing capacity gaps identified in earlier research.

World Water Day 2022

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To celebrate World Water Day 2022, we are highlighting some of our research on river abuse:

Slow Violence and River Abuse: The Hidden Effect of Land Use on Water Quality

Associated staff, researchers and companies:

In England, no river achieves good chemical status, only 14% achieve good ecological status and none achieve both good chemical and ecological status according to the European Water Framework Directive. The deteriorating quality of our river systems is a result of pollution runoff events from storm water discharge, sewage discharge and land mismanagement. Pollution from sewage discharge and land misuse (e.g. agricultural chemical runoff) can result in diminishing water quality through increased nutrient availability in rivers. The increased availability of nutrients in rivers can lead to algal blooms and eutrophication events. Eutrophication events negatively impact the quality of freshwater systems as light penetration becomes limited as sheets of algae cover surfaces. This then leads to reduced oxygen availability, which greatly impacts the microbial and aquatic life beneath the surface. The addition of excess nutrients or contaminants into our river systems can be describes as “slow violence”. Slow violence in the environment is the mid- to long-term damage or mismanagement that results in adverse effects may not always obvious: out of sight, out of mind.

An ongoing collaborative project between the Centre for Research in Biosciences, the Centre for Fine Print Research and Somerset Wildlife Trust is seeking to address slow violence in the form of how land-use can affect freshwater quality. This project intends to identify the effect of key nutrients and contaminants that are associated with excessive algal growth. This data will be integrated and interpreted in the form of traditional printmaking and experimental photographic processes. The printed outputs will investigate and respond to the relationship between land use and aquatic health. Produced artwork will be exhibited to allow for engagement with audiences and seeks to start conversations around the issue of declining water quality of our rivers and the effect of slow violence.

This multidisciplinary project is an example of interdisciplinary collaborations that are being created and nurtured as part of a new UWE Bristol-wide Healthy Waters Initiative Research Cluster. The Healthy Waters Initiative seeks to restore and enhance the health of freshwaters for people, businesses, and nature. This will be addressed through developing projects that cut across three interdisciplinary core themes: science, design and technology, and society.

Welcome to the Healthy Waters Research Cluster blog

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Welcome to the Healthy Waters Research Cluster blog where we plan to share with you the latest the Healthy Waters updates.  

People and ecosystems require both an adequate quantity of water as well as an adequate quality of water if key development objectives such as health, food security and water security are to be realised. Actions to protect water quality should be embedded in the larger concepts of sustainability, resilience and appropriate technology. There is an urgent need to explore and develop scientific, technological and societal responses to deteriorating water quality at all scales from cellular to global, but especially at the biophysical and community scales.

The Healthy Waters Research Cluster centres on three core themes, with integrated cross-disciplinary management, each drawing upon a wider sphere of scientific, societal and technological knowledge:

Theme 1 – Science:

Led by Professor Darren Reynolds with support from Dr Jason Matthews, this theme will consolidate and expand the scientific knowledge base, facilitated through the collection of water quality data. Ultimately this will enable science discovery that underpins the development of existing and emerging water technologies. This theme is essential for developing the understanding needed for monitoring and evaluation of water resource management strategies.

Theme 2 – Society:

Led by Professor Chad Staddon with support from Dr Andy Ridgeway , a key to managing water quality is the active participation by the public and stakeholders. For example, new data sources from citizen science sensing are required to supplement national monitoring data. Barriers to effective change arise from a lack of access to the science and knowhow of what is possible. This theme will address these barriers by active engagement with the public and stakeholders.

Theme 3 – Design and Technology:

Led by a management group co-chaired by Dr Robin Thorn and Dr Tavs Jorgensen. This theme will draw upon the multiplicity of high and low TRL technology platforms and approaches already available within UWE Bristol to address water quantity and quality. This will include water quality sensors (exploiting existing knowledge in electrochemical, metal oxide [VOCs], fluorescence and microbial sensors), treatment systems (nature-based, ceramic, ultrafiltration) and novel approaches to process integration and water distribution, collectively these approaches are required to improve water quality monitoring and management. This theme will undertake the co-creation of new technology approaches and establish demonstrator projects to show how both components and complete systems can be sustainably produced in local and global contexts. In addition, such progress will simplify data acquisition and strongly expand data availability for a range of practitioners and water end-users.

We look forward to sharing developments from this research cluster.


This research cluster is funded through the Expanding Research Excellence scheme at UWE Bristol. The scheme aims to support and develop interdisciplinary, challenge-led research across the University. It is designed to bring together research clusters or networks that will work together to respond to challenges (local, regional, national, global) aligned with major research themes.

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