A collaboration between UNSW and the Centre for Transformational Environmental Technologies has won the People’s Choice Award at the WAITRO Innovation Awards 2020.

An interdisciplinary UNSW research team has been named as one of five finalists and won the People’s Choice Award at the World Association of Industrial and Technological Research Organisations (WAITRO) Innovation Awards 2020.

The team, comprising Professor David Waite (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Professor John Fletcher (Electrical Engineering & Telecommunications), Associate Professor Tomasz Bednarz (Art & Design), Dr Yuan Wang (Knowledge Exchange) and Dr Lloyd Lian (Civil & Environmental Engineering), developed a low-cost, solar-powered and virtual reality-enabled brackish water desalination device in conjunction with the Centre for Transformational Environmental Technologies (CTET) in Yixing, China.

“The technology of membrane Capacitive Deionisation (or mCDI) used in our devices is ideally suited to removal of salt and other contaminants from brackish groundwaters in remote locations where maintenance of alternate technologies is challenging, and the ability to power by photovoltaics and battery storage is both an added advantage and a necessity,” said Prof. Waite.

Prof. Waite’s team has constructed several prototype units through an ARC Linkage Project in conjunction with its industry partner Goldwind Environment Protection, with support from CTET. One of these units is being used to provide drinkable water to a remote village in far northwest China. More units will be shipped to Australia in December 2020 and January 2021, where they will be used to reduce the salt content of treated wastewater in the dry Western Plains region of New South Wales, and lower the salinity and hardness of brackish groundwaters in communities in central Australia.

“This was a fantastic project, embedding UNSW's world-leading advanced power converter technology in a novel and valuable water treatment technology. Our power conversion technology made a tremendous difference, lowering the energy costs of treating water by up to 40% thereby realising a low-cost, low-maintenance system that beats competitor technology hands-down,” added Prof. Fletcher. “We believe that this technology has the potential to positively impact many communities that suffer from an inadequate supply of potable water.”

Alongside the prototypes, A/Prof. Bednarz, a director at the UNSW EPICentre, has developed a ‘digital twin’ to control, monitor and, in case of breakdown, troubleshoot and potentially repair the device remotely.

The team pitched its product at a virtual innovation summit, which also marked the 50th anniversary of WAITRO, alongside the four other finalists at the end of October. The UNSW team was the only entry from Australia to be named as a finalist. Prof. Waite commented that “collaboration both with our industry partner Goldwind EP and with CTET has been critical to translating our CDI research from the laboratory to practice with recognition of industry engagement a feature of the WAITRO Innovation Award”.

WAITRO is the largest global network of research and technology organisations. Its mission is to facilitate action-oriented science, technology and innovation partnerships among members that contribute to sustainable development. UNSW membership affords access for staff to networking and development opportunities.

Read more about the WAITRO Innovation Award.