THE global reach of Edinburgh University has been demonstrated with the announcement of two major projects that will help communities around the world.
The first is the development of a solar- powered purification system that could provide remote communities in India with clean drinking water for the first time.
The second project will see university researchers providing expertise in a prominent international project that aims to protect the world’s tropical forests.
The Indian project will see the Edinburgh scientists develop low-cost, low-energy technology to decontaminate sewage water in hard-to-reach villages.
Water contamination is a major problem in the developing world. Around 77 million people in India do not have access to safe drinking water – more than any other country in the world.
To make dirty water safe to drink, visible traces of waste are removed with filters and then any remaining organic matter and bacteria present in the water is broken down.
Chemists and engineers on the team are adapting their existing technologies to power this second stage in the decontamination process, using sunlight to generate high-energy particles inside solar-powered materials, which activate oxygen in the water to “incinerate” harmful pollutants and bacteria.
Dr Aruna Ivaturi, of the university’s School of Chemistry, said: “We are aiming to provide people in rural India with a simple off-grid water decontamination system.
“This could be achieved by simply fitting our modified solar-activated materials to containers of contaminated water positioned in direct sunlight.”
The project is being carried out in partnership with the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Pune.
Project leader Professor Neil Robertson, also of the university’s chemistry school, said: “Working closely with our Indian partners, we aim to harness the sun’s energy to tackle a huge problem that affects many people around the world.”
Edinburgh University is also involved in the Forests 2020 project, worth more than £14 million in total, which is funded by the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme.
Forests 2020 is led by Edinburgh-based sustainability software and data company Ecometrica, who will collaborate with experts from the Universities of Edinburgh and Leicester.
Also taking part is University of Edinburgh spin-out company Carbomap, which specialises in LiDAR forest mapping – a remote sensing method that uses light to measure variable distances to the Earth.
The consortium will also involve partners in Brazil, Colombia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya and Mexico. By 2020, Earth Observation laboratories will be set up in these regions to assess threats to 300 million hectares of tropical rainforests and direct conservation resources.
Ian Sharp of Edinburgh Research & Innovation (ERI) said: “This is a great result for the University and demonstrates the value of Edinburgh’s world-leading expertise in remote sensing to industry partners, and also in delivering huge environmental benefits.”
Dr Richard Tipper, Executive Chairman of Ecometrica, said: “We all know how important tropical rainforests are to the survival of the global ecosystem, but most people are only just waking up to the fact that we need to use technology to make sure conservation efforts are effective.
“The Earth Observation platforms will ensure threats such as fires and illegal logging are detected sooner, and make the response on the ground faster and more cost effective.”