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Surrey’s water research highlighted at House of Commons event

Research which led to a sustainable solution for desalinating sea water was one of ten impact case studies selected for an IChemE publication, launched at the House of Commons.

Professor Jonathan Seville (left) and Professor Adel Sharif.

The research, which was led by Professor Adel Sharif, founder of the Centre for Osmosis Research and Applications (CORA) within Surrey’s Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, was highlighted at a special House of Commons event on 15 December.

The event marked the launch of an IChemE booklet showcasing the ten case studies (all taken from the Research Excellence Framework 2014), which was aimed at celebrating the impact of chemical engineering on the world around us. Attending the event, Professor Jonathan Seville, President of IChemE and former Dean of the University’s Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, joined Baroness Brown of Cambridge, Professor Dame Julia King, in welcoming over 100 specially invited guests from the academic and engineering community, as well as policy-makers, opinion-formers and Members of Parliament. 

The research conducted by CORA has led to energy reduction in desalination by more than 30 per cent, and successful commercialisation of the process by spin-out company Modern Water, which now has a market value of £70m.

The work addressed one of the most pressing challenges facing the world today: by 2025 it is predicted that 1.8 billion people will be living in areas of absolute water scarcity and two-thirds of the world’s population will live in water stressed areas by 2025. Turning salt water (which accounts for 97.5 per cent of the earth’s water) into drinkable water is possible using a process called ‘reverse osmosis’ but to date this has been difficult due to high energy demand, corrosion and fouling, and the scaling of reverse osmosis plant components.

Taking a new approach, researchers in CORA investigated the chemistry of seawater and found that by adding certain agents they could manipulate the process to reduce the energy required and avoid the other problems associated with reverse osmosis. Through Modern Water plc, the desalination technology pioneered at Surrey has been developed, and the resulting commercial solutions are now bringing high quality drinking water to communities in Gibraltar and Oman. The research by CORA was funded by a Brian Mercer Award for Innovation from the Royal Society and University SEED funding.

Professor Jonathan Seville commented: “The case studies highlighted in the IChemE booklet have each brought a tangible and positive impact in an important field such as water, sustainable energy, healthcare and nutrition. This was excellent recognition for Surrey’s work in osmosis research and demonstrates how our innovative thinking is being translated into technology that transforms people’s lives.”

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