Israeli-Palestinian Team to Develop Clean Water Solutions



By: GILAH KAHN-HOFFMANN   
Published: October 3rd 2010
in News » Israel

Dr. Moshe Hertzberg, Israel 21C

Clean water is one of the most vital resources in water-scarce countries like Israel and the Middle East, so it's no surprise that two scientists - one Israeli and one Palestinian - are now working together to increase the supply throughout the region.

 

Dr. Moshe Herzberg from Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev and Prof. Mohammed Saleem Ali-Shtayeh, from the Biodiversity and Environmental Research Center (BERC) in Nablus in the Palestinian Authority have been awarded a Mid East Regional Cooperation (MERC) USAID $650,000 grant for a joint water purification project that will address clean water issues and increase the clean water supply in the region as a whole.

 

Their project addresses the problems of biofouling of Reverse Osmosis (RO) membranes during reclamation of secondary wastewater. Herzberg explains: "Biofouling is what happens to any surface submerged in water. Take a bath toy that's been in the water for a few days," he tells ISRAEL21c, explaining that the slimy layer that forms on the surface is the "water-solid interface" that forms where water meets the surface of an object. Microbial communities of bacteria and fungi grow in that interface, also referred to as a matrix, or biofilm.

 

Now instead of a bath toy, imagine a piece of equipment that filters organic materials and compounds out of sewage or wastewater. On one side, the treated water is perfectly clean, but on the other, active side that is in contact with the smelly stuff, a biofilm forms and builds up over time, adversely affecting performance and necessitating cleaning and replacement of equipment. The cleaning cycles that the filters undergo to remove the biofilm reduce their lifespan and the equipment is very expensive to replace.

 

Less energy, more clean water

 

Oh - 'Reverse Osmosis' - that's "the most easily applicable technology for removal of salts and small organic compounds from water," rendering it safe for irrigation and drinking, adds Herzberg.

 

The researchers plan to characterize and eventually find novel ways to eradicate different biofilms grown on RO membranes. "If we are able to understand how the biofilm forms and how to reduce its formation on reverse osmosis technology [equipment], we will be able to operate reverse osmosis units for a longer time," says Herzberg.

 

Herzberg is confident that he and Ali-Shtayeh will achieve that understanding, since the research, he says, is "based on solid hypotheses that will enable us to come up with optimized operating and cleaning conditions for reverse osmosis plants."

 

The reverse osmosis units will require less maintenance and be able to operate for longer periods. Also, the higher performance will render the whole process more cost-effective. "You will need less energy - membrane buildup and cleanup, equipment, labor - to get more clean water," Herzberg declares.

 

"These techniques can be applied to increase access to clean water supply in the Middle East, especially in the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Purified secondary wastewater is an immediate resource for irrigation and after RO filtration those waters can be used indirectly for drinking," he adds.

 

They will also have wider application: "Other applications include any water and wastewater treatment processes that include filtration units such as ultra-micro- and nano-filtration. Also, ways for biofouling control in other systems such as heat-exchangers and water distribution systems could be improved," he tells ISRAEL21c.

 

Applying research to enhance quality of life

 

Related articles: (Nablus, water, science, purification)
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