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Real Time Water Quality Monitoring Technology

Using BioElectrochemical System (BES) technology has the potential to reduce discharge of pollutants from treatment facilities.

A real-time monitoring solution

Water is fundamental to human life. Handling our wastewater is critical as populations grow at unprecedented rates globally. Without comprehensive water management, we will struggle to protect our environment.

In the UK, river water quality has been declining. Through improved monitoring, we can help prevent the discharge of organic pollutants and toxic compounds from treatment facilities.

The solution is real-time monitoring. Providing accurate data, will guide immediate action and intervention. Our device delivers a data-driven biology solution for operators and regulators. The BES sensor achieves this at low cost and with minimal maintenance needs.

Better than current techniques

Current monitoring systems provide data hours, days or even weeks after testing. This prevents pro-active responses to changes. For example, the industry biochemical oxygen demand test takes five days to complete. This can lead to effluents failing to meet compliance and incidents going undetected. This can cause health and environmental issues downstream. Furthermore, current methods are often labour intensive and inaccurate.

A prototype of this technology is set up at the BE:WISE (Biological Engineering: Wastewater Innovation at Scale). Operated by Newcastle University and Northumbrian Water, BE:WISE is a centre of research excellence and experimentation for wastewater management technology.

How does it work

Electrogenic bacteria can form a bio-film on an electrode surface. As they break down organic matter found in wastewater, they donate electrons. This process generates electricity.

In a BioElectrochemical System (BES) this small amount of electricity can equate to the concentration of organics. Conversely, when toxic compounds are present, they inhibit bacteria and the electricity generated reduces.

With a multi-stage BES device, it is possible to extend the dynamic range of the sensor. This expands the applicability for high strength wastewaters. It can establish if this is due to a decrease in organic pollution, requiring less treatment, or an increase in toxicity, requiring more.

BES sensors, can also provide a calibrated response within specific thresholds for process control.

The technology could impact our management of the environment and offer operational savings for treatment facilities.

There are opportunities to extend this technology into many applications including:

  • wastewater treatment facilities
  • rivers
  • industrial waste
  • marine pipelines

Our publications related to this technology


Dr Geraint Lewis: