Production and Prototyping Equipment for Manufacturing Ceramic Media for Water Biofiltration

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Image: Research Associates Rosy Heywood and Sonny Lightfoot using the extruder

Written by Rosy Heywood, Research Associate, Centre for Print Research

The production and prototyping of ceramic media has been predominantly based at the Centre for Print Research labs. The centre has expansive facilities with an array of technical equipment. Specialist machinery used in this project includes a hydraulic piston extruder and 3D printer. Other workshop equipment was utilised including an industrial dough mixer, ball mill and laser cutter.

During the design phase of creating the ceramic media it was considered a requirement that the production methods are able to produce 160 pieces of each type of media efficiently and consistently in size and also, the production method should be scalable and easily repeatable for future experimentation.

In our research, the importance of the porosity of the ceramic media was being analysed. And three production methods were established for the creation of three sets of media of varying porosities. Low porosity media was produced through extruding standard terracotta clay, medium porosity was produced by extruding a clay and sawdust composite and high porosity media was produced using an organic foam impregnation method. The specialist technical equipment used for low and medium porosity media is detailed below.   

Extrusion

With its origins in the production of bricks, extruders are now used in many different industries. According to Frank Handle in Extrusion in Ceramics, notable applications are in the production of foodstuffs such as pasta, shaping of aluminium profiles, wrought copper alloys and steel and for the extrusion of hard metal, graphite, coal and plastics.

The extruder housed at The Centre for Print Research was built by the technical team for the specific use with clay and clay composites. The clay is pushed through a die by the manually operated hydraulic ram. The die determines the extruded profile shape and size which can be extruded to different lengths.

To create the desired extrusions, we designed dies and 3D printed them to fit the ram cylinder. The benefits of using a piston extruder for this research is; it is easy to clean so small chance of contamination, little material is wasted and bespoke extrusion profiles can be produced with ease and precision using desktop 3D printers.

3D Printing

3D printing technology was utilised in this research to create bespoke manufacturing tools. Additive manufacturing is the production of 3D objects printed from a CAD (Computer Aided Design) model.

Filament is fed through the printer and the model is printed layer by layer. In prototyping we used a recycled Polylactic Acid (PLA) filament for the tools. PLA is a bio-plastic made from fermented plant starch and is commonly used in 3D printing due to versatility and ease of printing.

The advantage of using this technology is that we could create bespoke tools for specific processes during manufacturing the media. For example, a die was printed to extrude cylinders 20mm in diameter and a cutting jig was printed to cut them into exactly 20mm individual lengths.

Figure 2 3D printer in action printing an extrusion die

Investigating The Unique Properties of Ugandan Barkcloth as a Potential Filtration Material for Cleaning Contaminated Waters

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Main image: Final barkcloth. Source National Geograpic.

Written by Rosy Heywood, Research Associate, Centre for Print Research

On the Healthy Waters project one of our key focusses has been creating highly porous ceramic pots for direct filtration in third world countries and low resource settings. I have recently been investigating a new material as either an alternative to ceramics or used in conjunction with it. The Ugandan barkcloth is made from bark of the native Mutuba tree (Ficus Natalensis). The bark regenerates itself for up to 100 years and the process of making it into useable cloth requires little resources and a moderate amount of labour compared to conventional cloth. No spinning of fibre, weaving of threads or dyeing of cloth is necessary. Although, sometimes the cloth is naturally dyed for aesthetic purposes. So, it is a very sustainable and renewable material.

Barkcloth making in Uganda is on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The inner bark of the Mutuba tree (Ficus natalensis) is harvested in the wet season and beaten with wooden mallets until soft. The final cloth will be roughly 10 times its original size. Any tears are hand stitched and often fragments of cloth are stitched together to make larger pieces. The introduction of cotton has rendered barkcloth an endangered craft in Uganda. If using the cloth as a water filter proves successful, then it could give skilled jobs to local village people. The cloth is historically made by men but there is potential here to empower women by teaching them a new skill.

Simple cloth filters are used as a quick way to rid larger particles from contaminated waters. Studies have shown old worn sari cloth can reduce cholera incidence from water collected from ponds and rivers by half. (Huq et al, Colwell RR et al.)

The use of barkcloth from the Mutuba tree as a water filter has not yet been researched however there is some research of the properties of barkcloth for medical purposes and as a fashion textile. New research from science and textile researchers published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology examined the feasibility of using bark cloth as an antimicrobial fabric within wound care management. It found that Ugandan bark cloth could stop the growth of MRSA by more than 99 per cent. Researchers from Istituto Marangoni London and Manchester Metropolitan University have collaborated with artists, environmentalists, farmers and fashion design practitioners across the world to discover the potential applications of barkcloth including how it could be used as a responsible material in luxury fashion.

I have carried out an initial porosity test by folding the cloth twice and wrapping it over a bucket. Water was then poured through a perforated cup on top of the cloth. The cloth showed resistance to water initially and then slowly water was able to flow through. The filtered water had a slightly orange tinge and contained a small amount of bark fibres. I tried pre-soaking the barkcloth however the soaked water changed colour to an orange/red hue.

This proved more testing is required for better quality outputs. This line of experimental research is at a very early stage and further inquiry is required to find out if barkcloth is a suitable material for filtering water. Including a toxicity report of the barkcloth soaked water, flow rate analysis and testing it in conjunction with ceramic filter discs.

Meet the team: Rosy Heywood

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Rosy Heywood is a Research Associate at The Centre for Print Research (CFPR) at UWE. In this interview, she discusses her work as a sustainable textiles designer & researcher, and her role in the Healthy Waters research cluster.

Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to work in your current area?

I studied a MA in Design at UWE, during the pandemic. I started in 2019 and graduated last year, and my tutor, Dr Laura Morgan, was working at CFPR – the Centre For Print Research – which is the department that I’m working in now. She hired me as a Research Associate on a natural dyeing and laser engraved biomaterials project because my MA project was very relevant, I had focused on textiles and sustainable materials and specifically natural dyeing. So, when this project came along with Healthy Waters, it overlapped with the natural dyeing work that I did; you can’t get away from the amount of water and the toxicity of water that synthetic dyes use, so sustainable water management was an area that I was already very interested in.

So, about a month after the project with natural dyes finished, Tavs [Dr Tavs Jorgensen, Associate Professor and AHRC/RCUK Innovation Fellow] got in contact with me about the Healthy Waters project. And I thought, ‘Wow, this sounds exciting’. Ceramics is a slightly new area for me – I did do some on my Master’s, because when you first start you have to do a lot of different workshops in different areas of design – but it’s been really great to be picking up a new skill and starting to become a bit more of an expert in it. Sonny [Sonny Lee Lightfoot, Research Assistant and Product Design Technician] and Tavs have been brilliant, I’ve been able to pick up lots of skills in ceramics. For me, I’ve come into this with my design training and my design thinking, and it’s been amazing to apply that in a new, fresh area.

It’s been really interesting to hear how the arts and science departments have been collaborating on this project. What’s the experience been like for you, leaning further towards the technical scientific elements of the project?

Sadie, a MSc student who has been using our ceramic beads to test for biological filtration, produced a chart of how well our ceramic media did during filtration and it was great to see the results from our combined work; it’s made me really interested in how I can ‘science-ify’ my research and improve that aspect of it. I’m looking into doing a PhD and I’d like to move towards a material science or textile science direction – that’s something which is happening in the CFPR anyway, we have the graphene lab and the researchers based there have great expertise in material sciences.

Sometimes when you’re creative, you get so embedded in the design or art of something, it’s easy to forget other aspects. So when you’re able to merge it with science, it opens up a new way of thinking around design – going forward, this project is definitely going to change the way I think about designing.

You mentioned earlier that you did your masters throughout COVID lockdowns – what was that experience like for you?

It was difficult because it’s a very practical course. A lot of it was things we’d have to be on campus for, to use the workshops. Initially I was doing a lot of digital embroidery, for example, and that had to be done on campus – I can’t just buy a digital embroidery machine at home! So that definitely changed my path into a different area for my Master’s; I came into it thinking I was going to be doing digital embroidery and art installations, which became increasingly more difficult. So, I chose to do something I could do from home: natural dyeing. My work organically grew into more of a research project. Dyeing was something I could do at home and I was really interested in learning more and experimenting with it. I think in a way COVID kind of made me realise a different path that I wasn’t expecting to go on and brought me to where I am now – even though it was a very difficult time to be stuck at home, it forced me to think a lot more about what exactly I enjoyed doing and what I am good at.

It sounds like the new route you’ve been taken down is pretty great – the Healthy Waters project seems to have a lot of potential to make a big difference in the world!

Definitely. At the beginning of my Master’s, I hadn’t thought much about the importance of the work I was creating. I was only thinking, ‘What do I want to create’ rather than considering the bigger picture. But in research, you have to think about an important question that you want to solve and the solutions often involve other people and everything going on around you; I found my focus in sustainability because it’s so important today. What we’re doing now on the Healthy Waters project is creating a very sustainable method of cleaning water and my work with the CFPR is creating ceramic vessels and media for biological filtration.

Your MA focused on sustainable design as well, do you think you’ve always had that drive to protect the environment or has that grown as you’ve encountered a more scientific angle to work?

It’s hard to avoid it – you see so many statistics, and real-life instances, like this heatwave we’re having, and you see the need for sustainable solutions and change all around you. I think before my MA I hadn’t really thought that I could merge that into my design practice but in the project that I did, about natural dyeing, I started trying to create a more circular method of production. I worked on techniques to use plants to dye biodegradable materials. In essence, they could be buried back into the soil to break down, and the dyes could be naturally disposed of since they’re plant-based and non-toxic to the environment – it’s essentially diluted plant waste returning its nutrients to the ground. That research flowed really nicely into what I’m doing now, creating clean water. It’s been fascinating to hear how they test the water, what they find in the water, and how to deal with it – especially biological filtration, which I didn’t know much about as a method of cleaning water before I joined this project.

One of the Healthy Waters project’s aims is to support low-middle income countries with the technology you’re developing – does that add an extra source of motivation for you?

Definitely. It’s those things that are the most motivating in your work; that’s something that I’ve discovered recently in my professional experience as a researcher, but also in my MA: having motivation is so important in your work and working in such a crucial and important area only motivates me more. It’s inspiring, really.

[You can read more about the goals of the Healthy Waters project on their blog post here!]

You’ve mentioned you’d like to go on to do a PhD. What do you hope the future has in store for you in that regard?

That’s something that I’ve been trying to work out for myself because often to get further in academia, you need to do a PhD. I’m working with a few people at CFPR to figure out what I want to do, what I’d want my research question to be – what I’d want to discover, because a PhD is really all about learning and finding something that needs a solution created. It’ll definitely be in the sustainable materials or sustainable textiles range related to that circular economy I mentioned earlier. But the experience I’ve had now on Healthy Waters has been really great, getting to hear from scientists and work alongside them, to have that new experience for my PhD where I can relate scientific backing to my work. I haven’t got a solid answer but my goal is really to stay at the CFPR, to work on more research projects – there’s always more stuff coming up! I’d love to work with more people at UWE, there are so many people with so many different skills and areas of expertise, and I’d love to branch out and work with people from different departments.

You can connect with Rosy on her website and via her LinkedIn profile.

Safe Water and Antimicrobial Solutions for Resource Constrained Healthcare Facilities

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Written by Dr Gillian Clayton, Centre for Research in Biosciences, Faculty of Health and Applied Science

Humanitarian settings, such as refugee camps, require consistent access to safe, high-quality water, but this can be difficult due to complex supply chains. If supply chains are interrupted or delayed, vital clinical solutions like sterile saline used to wash out wounds, and antimicrobials, such as hypochlorous acid, used to disinfect instruments and wash wounds are essential to ensure patient safety. Typically, clinical fluids (e.g. sterile saline and antimicrobials) are produced, packaged and transported in a ‘centralised’ manner. For example, solutions may be produced in the UK and then held at a storage facility/warehouse, before being transported via land, air and/or sea to the healthcare facility.

However, the Redistributed Manufacturing in Healthcare Network has investigated the potential to allow for clinical fluids to be produced on-site and on-demand, minimising the need for storage and transportation. A proof-of-concept project lead by UWE in collaboration with The Usher Institute (University of Edinburgh), Centrego Ltd, Portsmouth Aqua Ltd, The Royal College of Surgeons of England and Water for People and Peace investigated “The On-Demand Manufacture of Potable & Sterile Water for Emergency Medical, Humanitarian & Healthcare Applications Using Electrochemical Activation Production Technologies”. This project developed, adapted and repurposed Electrochemically Activated technologies for the on-demand production of clinical fluids for healthcare facilities in resources constrained environments. This project demonstrated that simple, low-cost and low-energy technologies can produce sterile solutions from tap or bottled waters, as well as produce a high-quality antimicrobial solution (hypochlorous acid) from a small-scale portable generator. These prototype technologies have shown that remote or resource constrained healthcare facilities can be adaptive and more resilient in a changing world through decentralised production, or redistributed manufacturing.

The low-cost and low-energy small-scale portable prototype generators, designed to produce sterile solutions from tap or bottled waters (top), as well as a high-quality antimicrobial solution (bottom)

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.

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.

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.

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