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A Sustainable Small-Scale Drinking Water Production Technology for Rural Communities

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A Pinto
    Prof P Younger
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The reliable provision of high-quality drinking water to rural areas is a significant challenge for the Scottish Water Industry. Currently, two approaches are used to deliver water to rural communities. First, water is treated at medium to large size drinking water treatment plants (DWTPs) and then distributed to geographically disperse rural communities. Transporting treated water for large distances is expensive in terms of pumping costs and unreliable due to deterioration in water quality during transport. The second approach involves the use of decentralised DWTP’s that treat and supply water locally within rural communities. These decentralised rural DWTPs are fitted with scaled-down versions of technology, originally designed to meet the needs of the urban water cycle, without considerations for the availability of supporting infrastructure and expertise in rural settings. This often results in high operational costs and frequent process failures. Neither of these aforementioned approaches is sustainable in the long term and creates an imbalance between actual water needs and infrastructure built to meet them. We propose that rural water supply can be reliable, sustainable, and even profitable through the use of scale-appropriate technologies that are (1) locally resourced (energy, raw materials, expertise), (2) low-cost, and (3) flexibly deployed within the decentralised water treatment and supply model.

One such scale-appropriate technology that is ideal for rural Scotland is Biological Filtration (Biofiltration) – a chemical-free approach that exploits the ability of naturally occurring microorganisms to treat source waters to produce high-quality drinking water. This project will involve the development of a novel biofiltration system that can be used in rural settings in Scotland to reliably produce high quality drinking water. To ensure effective and reliable performance, the biofilter will be maintained at optimal temperatures through an integrated heat exchange system to ensure efficient energy usage.The choice of energy sources, operating conditions, biofilter and heat-exchanger design will be informed by a combination of experiments, engineering design, and life cycle assessment and costing approaches to ensure long-term sustainability. The HydroNation Scholar working on this project will work with experts in biological drinking water treatment and renewable energy at the University of Glasgow and on sustainable design at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.

Funding Notes

CREW is a developing partnership between the James Hutton Institute and all Scottish Higher Education Institutes, supported by MASTS. The Centre is funded by the Scottish Government. Funding available will be in line with the Research Councils UK doctoral stipend levels and indicative fees. The PhD will be registerd with The University of Glasgow.
This is a competition based programme, therefore, candidates are urged strongly to apply as soon as possible so as to stand the best chance of success.


1.Carollo Engineers (C. Lauderdale, K. Scheitlin, J. Nyfennegger, G. Upadhyaya, J. Brown) University of Michigan (L. Raskin), and University of Glasgow (A.J. Pinto). Optimizing Engineered Biofiltration. Water Research Foundation (USA) Project Report.
2.Pinto, A.J., Xi, C, and Raskin, L. 2012. Bacterial community structure in drinking water microbiome is governed by filtration processes. Environmental Science & Technology. 46: 8851-8859.
3. Birks, D., Whittall, S., Savill, I., Younger, P.L., and Parkin, G. (2013) Groundwater cooling of a large building using a shallow alluvial aquifer in central London. Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology, 46 (2): 189-202.
4. Younger, P.L. (2013) Water in the balance. Geographical Communications, 85 (3): 46-49
5. Guest, J.S., Skerlos, S.J., Barnard, J.L., Beck, M.B., Daigger, G.T., Hilger, H., Jackson, S.J., Karvazy, K., Kelly, L., Macpherson, L., Mihelcic, J.R., Pramanik, A., Raskin, L., van Loosdrecht, M.C.M., Yeh, D., Love, N.G. 2009. A new planning and design paradigm to achieve sustainable resource recovery from wastewater. Environmental Science & Technology. 43(16): 6126-6130.
6. Corominas, Ll., Foley, J., Guest, J.S., Hospido, A., Larsen, H.F., Morera, S., Shaw, A. 2013. Life cycle assessment applied to wastewater treatment: State of the art. Water Research. 47(15): 5480-5492.

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