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Gender impact of water resource management

Growing up in a rural mountainous area of Pakistan, I spent a great amount of my childhood collecting water from open sources for household and drinking purposes. We won´t hesitate drinking from open streams based on an old saying, “flowing water has self-cleaning property”. While water-borne diseases were prevalent, included diarrhea among children. During the winters, the harsh weather conditions and frozen water sources added to the challenge. The few available water pipes and taps would burst. To access water, we would break ice to retrieve water from streams. The lost study time, risky frozen conditions and health burden associated with water was greatly reduced by a sustainable and risk resilient technical intervention under a public-private partnership program called Water and Sanitation Extension Programme (WASEP)[1].  The program improved the life quality of local populations in various manners. It reduced exposure to contaminated open water sources by providing water infrastructure fit to the weather conditions. Even today risky situations prevail in major parts of rural areas in Pakistan and elsewhere. In many areas, collecting water expose women and children to social risks.

Girl accessing water at doorstep after implementation of WASEP (Photo: AKDN).

Water crisis has been declared as one of the greatest global risks. Access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a basic human right. Clean freshwater is essential for a healthy life while figures show that 1.1 billion people have limited access to freshwater resources and water scarcity impacts over 2.7 billion annually. With increasing population and climate change impacts, the water scarcity is predicted to impact over two-third of world´´s population by 2025[2]. Furthermore, inadequate water supply and sanitation facilities are reported to cost USD 260 billion worldwide annually[3]. It is estimated that women and girls spend 200 million hours every day collecting water. The UNICEF called it a colossal waste of their valuable time. Access to clean drinking water makes a difference in the lives of people[4]. The situation calls for more actions needed in making clean water and sanitation facilities accessible to all.

The third principle on water in the Dublin Statement states that, “women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water [5].” Water management practices in rural and urban settings differ in many ways while poor water supply and quality has a stronger gender impact. In a rural setting, women and girls are responsible for gathering water for domestic purposes. Poor water management practices directly impact women and girls. Moreover, poor sanitation practices compromise the dignity and personal safety of women and girls. The health, education and economic well-being of girls and women are also negatively impacted. Studies have found that significant inequalities in water, sanitation and hygiene have higher health implications on women and girls, indicating an intersection of water-health nexus with gender[6]. Although women remain the main provider of water resources in households in major parts of the world, their participation in decision making and water resource management are rare. More actions are needed to achieve gender equality in water and sanitation. Gender-sensitive approaches will improve the sustainability of water and sanitation services[7]. Furthermore, it will aid in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDG 3, 5 & 6).

Likewise, in urban centers of developing countries, women and girls are primarily responsible for collecting, managing, and using water at households for domestic chores. These countries have fragile institutions and water infrastructure along with dense population leading to economic constraints. The women and girls in urban centers are equally exposed to the health burden and economic impacts of poor safe water availability as in rural areas. Involvement of women in the water management processes have been found to enhance the process by many folds. A review conducted in 2017 by Deloitte[8] identified few areas for women involvement in water resource management. The needs and preferences of women as primary customers make women involvement in design, operation, and maintenance of water systems valuable. Furthermore, women participation in water utilities, distribution and policy making would require filling the human resource gaps by increasing the number of women in the talent pipeline.

[1] https://the.akdn/en/resources-media/whats-new/press-release/safe-drinking-water-and-sanitation-project-improves-lives-over-200000-people-gilgit

[2] https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity

[3] https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2015/6/un-women-stresses-role-of-women-in-water-management-at-the-water-for-life-conference

[4] https://www.unicef.org/turkiye/en/node/2156

[5] https://www.gwp.org/contentassets/05190d0c938f47d1b254d6606ec6bb04/dublin-rio-principles.pdf

[6] Pouramin, P., Nagabhatla, N. and Miletto, M., 2020. A systematic review of water and gender interlinkages: Assessing the intersection with health. Frontiers in Water2, p.6.

[7] https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/water-and-gender

[8] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/3267_Thirsty-for-change/DR20_Thirsty%20for%20change2_reprint.pdf

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Renewable Energy: For a Safer Future

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he Global demand for energy is increasing rapidly, as the world’s population continues to grow. Nonrenewable energy sources are scarce and unsustainable. On the other hand, Renewable energy (RE) sources are environmentally friendly and, unlike fossil fuels, will not deplete.

RE can be sensed in our daily lives. Solar energy can be felt in bright sunlight and the warmth that we feel when the sun’s light shines on our skin. Wind energy can be felt by the movement of tree branches and leaves. Geothermal energy can be felt through hot water pools.

RE is generated from natural sources that are abundant in most parts of the world, which implies that it does not deplete with high consumption. It has a negligible environmental impact when compared to fossil fuels. RE has become an essential component and duty for businesses seeking to achieve sustainable development. Also, the usage of RE is expanding day by day. In 2017, 8% of the world’s electricity was produced using RE; China received a quarter of this amount, and the United States of America, India, and Japan shared a sixth.

RE sources include solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, biomass, tidal, and wave energy. The sun generates solar irradiation, which is captured by photovoltaic solar panels. These panels contain cells that absorb sun rays and convert them into consumable energy such as electricity.

The energy that reaches the globe in one hour is higher than the energy utilized by the world in a year, demonstrating the vastness of solar energy (SE). SE is reliable because it depends on the sun, does not contaminate the environment, and provides enough electricity for the location where it is built, and sometimes more.

Wind energy has been used by humans since ancient times. Five thousand years ago, the ancient Egyptians made boats driven by the wind. In 200 BC, humans used windmills to grind grain and pump water. Nowadays, Wind turbines are used to generate electricity from the wind. These turbines contain a very tall tower with two or three fan-like blades rotated by the wind. The blades drive the generator located inside the tower and produce electricity. A group of wind turbines is known as wind farms and is found near farmland in narrow mountain passes. Also, in oceans where there is stronger and more steady wind.

Geothermal energy, which is obtained from the heat of the Earth’s interior, is another source of RE. The Earth’s core is located deep beneath the Earth’s surface and has a temperature over 6000°C. Some of the heat from the Earth’s interior can be seen as it floats to the surface. The Earth’s internal heat melts surrounding rocks, and the molten materials seep to the Earth’s surface from volcanoes in the form of lava. It also heats groundwater and transports it to the surface. These water streams are known as hot springs.

Geothermal heat can be acquired in a variety of ways. One of these ways is to employ geothermal heat pumps, in which water pipelines are extended to the building and heated by geothermal energy located beneath the ground. Steam is another application of geothermal energy. Underground steam exists in several parts of the earth and naturally comes to the surface. This steam is directly transmitted to the power plant, but because the soil in some regions of the planet is dry, water is injected underground to make steam.

Biomass energy is also regarded as a RE source. Any substance produced by plants or microbes is referred to as biomass. Plants obtain energy from the sun through photosynthesis. This energy is stored in plants even after they die. As biomass feedstock, manure, trash, and crops such as corn, soybeans, and sugarcane can all be used. This energy is obtained by burning biomasses, which consist of drying wood, compost, and litter, and then burning them to generate heat or electricity. Biofuels can also be made from biomass. This biofuel is blended with gasoline and can be used to power automobiles and trucks. As a result, blended biofuel emits fewer dangerous contaminants than gasoline.

Hydropower is a type of energy that is generated from water sources such as dams, reservoirs, and flowing river water. The turbines move and rotate in response to the passage of water, converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. It is also thought to be one of the oldest RE sources used by humans. Initially in grain mills, when hydropower was used to power the mills. It is also one of the most used and vital kinds of RE, accounting for 17% of the total electricity production. It is abundant in China, Brazil, and Canada.

Scientists and engineers are continually attempting to discover new forms of RE, the most important are tidal energy and wave energy. The energy generated by ocean tides is sufficient to generate electricity. The movement of the tides is used to rotate the blades of turbines in projects that profit from this energy. Other projects employ small dams to constantly fill reservoirs at high tide, slowly release water, and spin turbines at low tide.

Wave energy is generated by ocean waves, lakes, or rivers. In wave energy projects, turbines are used. The constant flow of water through these floating pieces of equipment powers turbines and creates electricity.

The primary goal of employing RE is to achieve more environmentally friendly and sustainable development. RE provides various benefits for both individuals and the environment. It remains with the human being on earth. It cannot be drained, the water is continually flowing, the sun shines every day, the mild wind never stops, and the powerful wind is permanent in some locations, providing the planet with an infinite source of energy.

RE is friendly to the environment. They are non-flammable, unlike fossil fuels, and their use helps the globe reduce greenhouse gases produced by fossil fuels. These greenhouse gases have contributed to climate catastrophe, forest fires, and accelerated ice melting at the earth’s poles. RE is also safe for humans because it does not produce dangerous pollutants into the environment, lowering the number of diseases spread among people.

The RE advancement, increased efficiency, and dissemination among individuals have led to a low cost of installing and maintaining some of them. For instance, wind and solar power energy generation are less expensive than petroleum gas generation. It also boosts the country’s economy by reducing energy imports or purchases from producing countries.

On the other hand, people in industries have relied on fossil fuels for hundreds of years. The switch to alternative energies is costly and requires major changes to existing systems. So, the transition to RE requires large-scale changes by governments and companies and the provision of support and assistance in providing funds for alternative technologies. Also, some alternative energy technologies are still relatively new and in their early stages and require further research and development, and these sources may be vital for saving energy while using other resources.

As a result, several actions must be taken to ensure the efficient use of renewable energy, including shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable energy, increasing investments in renewable energy, improving global access to components and raw materials for RE technologies, and making RE technology a global public good. To make RE technology a worldwide public good and available to all, barriers to knowledge exchange and technology transfer, such as intellectual property constraints, must be removed.

References

  1. https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/raising-ambition/renewable-energy
  2. https://youmatter.world/en/definition/definitions-renewable-energy-definition
  3. https://myenergi.com/guides/the-10-advantages-of-using-renewable-energy-in-2021
  4. https://blogs.worldbank.org/es/voices/que-se-necesita-para-profundizar-la-transformacion-de-las-energias-renovables
  5. https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-renewable-energy.php
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032111004497
  7. https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/benefits-renewable-energy-use
  8. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/tidal-energy
  9. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/geothermal/
  10. https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/hydroelectric-power-water-use?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects
  11. https://www.irena.org/wind
  12. https://www.energy.gov/eere/bioenergy/bioenergy-basics
  13. https://www.remoteenergy.org/blog/what-is-solar-energy

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European Researcher’s Night 2022: Madrid

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cience knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminated the world.

Louis Pasteur 


The European Researcher’s night brings science to citizens. This year, myself and Adithya had the chance to attend the event in Madrid. Without the burden of running a stall, we got to play the role of citizens and learn about fields of science outside of our knowledge. 

The event this year offered something for all ages. There were stalls to make magnets, plant seeds, and examine specimens under a microscope. For me, the most interesting exhibition of the night was put on by GlaxoSmithKline. A large branch of GSK’s work is focused on infectious diseases, in particular research into vaccines. The European Researcher’s Night gave attendees the chance to learn more about how vaccines work through a virtual reality headset. The VR demonstration began with the injection of the vaccine into the bloodstream and following it through the many stages to give a patient protection from an infection. 

The experience of the European Researcher’s night in Madrid reaffirmed that science can be communicated in many ways and for any audience. In 2020, I had the chance to attend the SciComm conference in Dublin. The conference highlighted many ways to communicate scientific research, with dance demonstrations, poetry, and even a conga line used to convey information about the researcher’s work. With some creativity and thought for our audience, we as scientists can communicate our research to anyone. 

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ENVIRON Experience ’22

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ttending conferences and presenting research is a common part of any Doctoral program. This year, I had the opportunity to present my scientific research work at the Environmental Researchers Colloquium (ENVIRON 2022) with all my colleagues in the REWATERGY project. The conference was scheduled between 20th – 22nd June 2022. ENVIRON is a collaboration between the Environmental sciences association of Ireland (ESAI) and Ulster University. This year was titled “Unlocking Sustainability” and had multiple sessions themes involving circular economy and water quality. [1]

Environ Conference Poster

After a short travel from Madrid, I reached Belfast in time for the conference start. The event began with registration at Ulster university in Belfast. The conference offered a few events for Day 1 including a field trip to Giants Causeway and Northern Ireland Science Festival. I was accompanied by a few of my colleagues to the field trip to Giant’s Causeway. The journey and place were stunning and filled with some natural marvels that had me speechless from the moment we reached. The Giant’s Causeway is a declared world heritage site made up of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns as a result of volcanic eruptions.[2]

Field trip to Giant’s Causeway

The field trip involved a guided audio tour of the entire area with a story of the legend of the causeway and an enjoyable lunch with fellow participants at the conference. It was a truly unique and beautiful experience. The day ended with a presentation on “Ireland towards the Net Zero Challenge” by Prof. Neill Hewitt.  The Net Zero challenge is a way for students and researchers to understand the changes that are required on a national and local scale to reach Net Zero Carbon emissions. It also helps understand what social actions can be taken within their own communities to make a difference in this time of uncertainty. [3]

Day 2 of this event had the official opening of ENVIRON 2022 by some highly distinguished dignitaries followed by a plenary session on Climate action and biodiversity by Prof. Jane Stout. This was an eye-opening presentation with some hard facts about how climate change is impacting the flora and fauna across Ireland.

Opening Ceremony at ENVIRON’22

My work had been accepted for both poster and oral presentation. After the plenary session, we proceeded to refreshments and to the area where the posters had been displayed. The session had fellow participants view and quiz the presenters on their work. It was a really great session to make contacts and know more about the work of fellow participants. Throughout the day, participants could attend multiple sessions being held within the main building. We were lucky enough to be present for some fantastic presentations in each session. The day ended with a Prosecco reception and live music followed by the Conference Dinner at the Hilton Hotel, Belfast.

Conference Dinner

The following day, we had our oral presentations and gained a lot of insights from our sessions chairs and participants on our work presented which will surely help us with our work moving forward. The event ended with a prize giving ceremony where my fellow colleagues Marina and Adriana won prizes for their presentations at the conference. The conference was truly one to cherish and remember for the next years! The trip ended with a REWATERGY meeting where we provided an update on our scientific progress to the consortium

Oral Presentation

REFERENCES

[1] https://www.esaiweb.org/environ/

[2] https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway

[3] https://www.edfenergy.com/energy/education/net-zero-challenge

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The REWATERGY EXPERIENCE (part 3)

Adithya Pai Uppinakudru

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s a non-EU student doing my master in the UK, getting an opportunity to join the REWATERGY programme was one of the best things that could have happened to me soon after finishing my master’s. More than 2 years have passed since I first got the call from the host industrial partner, ProPhotonix, that I had been selected and every day since then has been a journey filled with memories. One whole global pandemic later, here I am writing about my experiences within this project.

I had never been to Ireland and Cork was my first stop in this project. I went in with no expectations and was rewarded to a treat! This was my first long-term job in an industrial environment, and I have been fortunate enough to have some amazing colleagues and supervisors, both in ProPhotonix and URJC, who have guided and supported me every time. Through every step and mistake along the way, I had some amazing friends, within and outside the project, pushing me to keep going. I had the opportunity to explore some parts of Ireland and I only keep wanting to go back again! From long walks along the beautiful River Lee in Cork to watching rugby with the Irish and being speechless seeing the vast landscapes across Gap of Dunloe, it has been an experience of a lifetime. I made some great connections through online conferences, meetings and in the local community.

In the beginning, I was anxious as I knew very little Spanish and struggled with almost everything. Like every new country I had moved to, the struggle for the first few months were worth the memories of the next few. Luckily, my colleagues at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos were very helpful and guided me at every stage. I joined Madrid Cricket club and travelled for games all across Spain with the team, enjoying Paellas and tortillas along the way. Over the years, I have tried a lot of outdoor activities and in Spain, I fell in love with Hiking. I joined a small group of English-speaking hikers living in Madrid, who went of hikes across the beautiful mountains surrounding Madrid every weekend. My hiking guide and a close friend, Phillip from Hiking Madrid, said “mountains are always forgiving after a long week” and I discovered it to be very true. From hiking up the snow-covered peak of Peñalara, the highest peak in Madrid, to hiking through gorging summer heat on top of Monte Abantos, every hike bought with it some amazing friends and memories. Away from the crowd and sounds of busy Madrid, the mountains of Madrid are breath-taking and absolutely marvellous.

I believe that as much as a crowded street says about a city, the true essence of a city comes when it is silent, and I saw the real Madrid on a cold Christmas evening when it was silent and calm all around. Every holiday season, I miss being away from home but on that cold evening, I was greeted by Spanish people wishing me “Feliz Navidad” and was offered to join them for a glass of wine that evening, it truly made me feel like I was one of their own. The cultural diversity and people in Spain have fascinated me and I have been fortunate enough to experience this because of the program.

The experience working on this project has been stressful too, with deadlines and work load going up every month but little memories throughout have made it worth it and I wouldn’t change it for anything! The consortium of people in this project have been very helpful and I only wish we all could meet more often if not for the pandemic. There are a lot of reasons why I would recommend applying for a MSCA project like REWATERGY, but two reasons beat them all, the experience and challenge!

Salem Al-kharabsheh

Being part of the REWATERGY project is one of the great opportunities I have ever got. It developed me at the educational, research, and personal level. During the Ph.D. Journey, the project gave me the chance to live in two different multi-cultural countries involving the United Kingdom and Spain. I have already finished my first settlement at Ulster University in the UK. Currently, I am doing the second part of the project at Aqualia water treatment company in Andalucía, Spain. It is the first time for me to live in Spain and was a dream for me. I am really having a great time in Spain so far.

Usually, everyone has a difficult experience when living abroad such as culture shock. However, the risk of experiencing cultural shock was not the case for me during my settlement in Spain. I found a lot more positives living in Spain than I thought. For me, the most important thing is the people surrounding me. The workers at Aqualia are very friendly with me, once I ask them for some help, they are willing to try to integrate and help me even though I was not speaking Spanish. They really have a great attitude towards life and making the most of it. Additionally, during my time in Andalucía, I meet so many friendly international tourists, that communicate with me either in English or German. Usually, when they know that I am from Jordan, they get excited to know what am doing in Spain. I usually explain to them about the REWATERGY projects which is the reason for my presence in Spain and about my project, which aims to develop a method to treat water.

Moreover, living in Andalucia, Spain is incredible for me with the many beautiful beaches and over 300 days of sun every year. I like the outdoors lifestyle, whether it’s a picnic on the beach in Cadiz, which is 30 min far from me, dining by the sea, or even sometimes setting at the beach and reading or working on my research write-up. Compared to the UK where bad weather often means life indoors, I feel much better getting out.

Moreover, the Spanish food is mostly fresh, seasonal, and has great taste. For me, Mediterranean food is one of the most delicious in the world. Especially, the seafood, where plenty of fresh and different kinds of fishes I found at local shops but national cuisines such as Tapas, Paella are the most delicious dishes. For a simple and healthy lifestyle, I found everything needed in Spain. Thanks to the REWATERGY teams and members for planning such an interesting project with great experience at all levels.

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Hydrogen economy

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he global energy demand is expected to grow significatively in the next decades, driven by economic and population growth.1However, our current energy sector is heavily reliant on fossil-base energy carriers, such as coal, oil and natural gas.

The indiscriminate use of these resources, with consequent emission of green house gases (GHG), is the primary cause for the alarming increase in world’s temperature. In 2021, energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2 – one of the main GHG) emissions reached 36.3 billion tons (6% of the total CO2 emissions), setting a new record, the highest ever.2

In response to this threat of climate change, the Paris Agreement set the goal of limiting the global warming to 2 degrees above the pre-industrial level. A key player in this energy transition is green hydrogen. In fact, a renewed interest in hydrogen, already under the radar as potential alternative energy carrier many years, has surged in the last five years to meet the Paris Agreement. The production of green hydrogen from water electrolysis might also represent a more accessible energy carrier, contrary to a fossil-fuel-based society where inequal distribution of resources and geopolitical instability repeatedly threaten the worldwide stability of the current energy system.

As such, the European Union (EU) has recently set ambitious goals for the next decades aiming to increase the current yearly hydrogen production of about 100 MW, to 40 GW ( ̴ 10 million tons) in 2030.3

Green hydrogen production technologies are currently available at different level of maturity. Alkaline electrolysers (TRL – technology readiness level – 9) and polymer electrolyte membrane electrolysers (TRL 8), and  represent the most promising technology to be used on a large scale in the coming years.4 Other promising technologies are solid oxide electrolysis (TRL 6), natural gas reforming with CO2 capture (TRL 8), biomethane reforming with CO2 capture (TRL 8), low temperature biomass gasification (TRL 7) and high temperature biomass gasification (TRL 6).4 The reported costs for these technologies are presented in Figure 1. Other alternative hydrogen production technologies are also being developed.5,6

Figure 1. Reported costs ranges for upcoming hydrogen production technologies.4

Even we have several technologies which we could be using nowadays as seen in Figure 1, the technological cost needs and related challenges prevent its implementation. For example, the use of alkaline and polymer electrolysis is challenged by the availability of low carbon electricity and as well as its high costs while the implementation of natural gas or biomethane reforming with CO2 capture is challenged by the fugitive methane emissions from the natural gas supply, and the availability of a CO2 transport and storage infrastructure.7,8

Hydrogen has been for long time considered as a promising future green energy carrier, but technological and socio-economical barriers did not allow the H2 economy to be deployed at large scale. Will the next decades be finally the years in which we will witness a full take off of green hydrogen technologies supporting the transition towards a carbon neutral energy system?

We really hope so…

Recent news of interest:

  • European Commission’s Clean Hydrogen Partnership (CHP) has launched a call of proposals offering €300.5m of grants “to support projects that boost renewable hydrogen production, reduce its costs, develop its storage and distribution solutions, and stimulate the use of low carbon hydrogen in hard to abate sectors, such as energy intensive industries, aviation or heavy duty transport”.: Source: https://www.clean-hydrogen.europa.eu/apply-funding/call-proposals-2022/call-proposals-2022_en

  • In the Netherlands, the growth fund programe GroenvermogenNL announced that they will receive extra €500m adding to the existing €338m to: “accelerate the production and use of green hydrogen and related technology in various industrial chains, such as chemistry, kerosene, steel or fertilizer”. Source: https://www.groenvermogennl.org/en/news/500-miljoen-extra-voor-groene-waterstof-en-chemie-via-groenvermogennl

References

1. IRENA, Global Energy Transformation: A roadmap to 2050, International Renewable Energy Agency, 2018, Abu Dhabi.

2. International Energu Agency (IEA) 2021: “https://www.iea.org/news/global-co2-emissions-rebounded-to-their-highest-level-in-history-in-2021”

3.European-Commission, A hydrogen strategy for a climate-neutral Europe. COM(2020) 2020, 301 final.

4.Van der Spek, M.;  Banet, C.;  Bauer, C.;  Gabrielli, P.;  Goldthorpe, W.;  Mazzotti, M.;  Munkejord, S. T.;  Røkke, N. A.;  Shah, N.;  Sunny, N.;  Sutter, D.;  Trusler, J. M.; Gazzani, M., Perspective on the hydrogen economy as a pathway to reach net-zero CO2 emissions in Europe. Energy & Environmental Science 2022, 15 (3), 1034-1077.

5.Rioja-Cabanillas, A.;  Valdesueiro, D.;  Fernández-Ibáñez, P.; Byrne, J. A., Hydrogen from wastewater by photocatalytic and photoelectrochemical treatment. Journal of Physics: Energy 2020, 3 (1), 012006.

6.Sazali, N., Emerging technologies by hydrogen: A review. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 2020, 45 (38), 18753-18771.

7.Parkinson, B.;  Balcombe, P.;  Speirs, J. F.;  Hawkes, A. D.; Hellgardt, K., Levelized cost of CO2 mitigation from hydrogen production routes. Energy & Environmental Science 2019, 12 (1), 19-40.

8. Lane, J., Greig, C. & Garnett, A. Uncertain storage prospects create a conundrum for carbon capture and storage ambitions. Nat. Clim. Chang. 2021 11, 925–936.

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The REWATERGY experience (part 2)

Raffaella Pizzichetti

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first moved out from my comfort zone at the age of 16, when I dipped myself in an exciting and strong experience of 10 months abroad, in the USA, very far from home. I grew up enormously in this adventure. I met amazing people that will always occupy an important place in my heart, no matter the distance. I learned to live in a completely different environment, with different habits and traditions, and communicate in a language that was unknown to me at the beginning. My second journey started right after high school, at the age of 18, when I moved to Turin for my studies. This time the emotions were even more intense. I was moving away from home for an unknown time, and I was starting a new chapter of my life with no pillars supporting me, far from family and friends. It was my new challenge. Starting from zero in an estranged house with unknown people, but soon I was already surrounded by new friends and joyful events. There were tough moments, of course, but the juice was worth the squeeze. A new adventure started when I won the scholarship for the Double Degree Master Programme between the Polytechnic of Turin and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm in Chemical and Sustainable Processes Engineering.

This time new challenges to face, a third language to learn, another culture to embrace, and intense weather conditions to live in. Nevertheless, it was another amazing experience. The broad international environment around me was the key to my personal and educational growth. It made me more creative and open-minded and helped my promptness and flexibility. As this last journey was coming to an end, I was not ready to go back home yet. I was curious and ready to explore a bit more of the world, keep learning from the other cultures and exciting environments. REWATERGY offered me this opportunity, full of training events and secondments around Europe with 36 months equally split into two different countries. Other than this, the project offered me the opportunity to gain experience in both academia and industry, enhancing my career prospects through the PhD on the very topic I am passionate about, the water-energy nexus, addressing climate change challenges and embracing a circular economy concept. Soon, I found myself packing again and getting ready for Madrid, my first destination. I started the project in a very cheerful atmosphere in the GIQA group at Rey Juan Carlos University. Then, I had the chance to meet the rest of the consortium in our first meeting in Cambridge and get to know better the other ESRs in our first training in Belfast. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic changed many aspects of the project and created new challenges – different and, in some respects, more difficult than those already expected. My time in Madrid concluded successfully, with highs and lows, and about 6 months ago I moved to my second destination, Cork. Starting new in another city, in another country, in this “different world” with social restrictions, has been tough. However, thanks to supportive friends and colleagues, I am making my way through the worst moments and enjoying all the good that this project is offering me.

Adriana Rioja

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he first half of the REWATERGY programme is over. It was almost 2 years ago, when I decided to leave my job as Battery Engineer in Netherlands and join REWATERGY programme. This programme presented me with the opportunity of doing a doctorate while still being in contact with industry, as well as pursuing my interest in electrochemical research applied to energy and sustainability. It has been 18 months of fast-growing experiences, which I think have really contributed to both personal and professional development. My first placement of the REWATERGY programme was at Ulster University in Belfast. Even though I had already been in Northern Ireland doing an exchange at high school, the only thing I could remember from that time was how much it rained and that I barely could understand any English with Northern Irish accent. Therefore, I prepared myself mentally for a lot of rain and to not understand much of the English. Fortunately, my understanding of the accent greatly improved, but it still took me some weeks to clearly understand some of my colleagues and supervisor. From my first days in Belfast, I felt the hospitality and kindness of the people around me, which contributed to making me feel welcome and have very nice time. After travelling a bit around, it made me remember how beautiful NI is filled with amazing landscapes, beaches, cliffs forests and hills. Moreover, I really enjoyed Belfast’s atmosphere, particularly the nightlife, filled with traditional pubs, where you can enjoy live music. Unfortunately, after six months of my arrival in NI, the whole world was hit by the global pandemic of COVID-19. This impacted, to different extent, both the personal and professional life of many people. For me personally it was also a challenging time, as I saw Belfast quickly transformed into a ghost town. I had to deal with being away from my family, as well as completely changing the way of working, as we had almost no access to the university for 1 full year. Fortunately, I had the luck of sharing these difficult moments with a small group of friends. I hope to have the opportunity to return to Northern Ireland sometime in the future and keep exploring its amazing nature and atmosphere. Most memorable moments from the first part of this experience include: meeting all my colleagues at Ulster University, returning to do experiments in a laboratory, the meeting held in Cambridge where we met everyone involved in REWATERGY, the training courses in Belfast with all the ESR, my friends cooking amazing traditional food from their countries, daytrips exploring NI and evenings listening to live Irish music in the pubs. Now already settled at my second placement at the company Delft-IMP in Netherlands, I am hoping to fill the next months with new memories and experiences which would make me grow further both personally and professionally.

Blog

From water purification to gas mask filters: the wide…

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ith a total sales of 617 million euros in 2020 worldwide, the BRITA Company produces water jugs, kettles and tap attachments integrated with disposable filters. The filters, which contain activated carbon and ion-exchange resin, have the goal to remove substances that may impair taste, to reduce the carbonate hardness (limescale) as well as copper and lead [1]. This process that is performed daily on drinking water at home, is called adsorption. This phenomenon is a separation process involving the selective transfer of solutes (adsorbates) in a fluid phase to the surface of a solid (adsorbent). Through adsorption, small particles or dissolved contaminants in water can be removed. However, adsorption should not be confused with absorption, in which particles penetrate into another substance, just like a sponge that soaks in liquids. While adsorption describes the enrichment of absorbates onto the surface of an adsorbent, absorption is defined as a transfer of a substance from one bulk phase to another bulk phase [2]. The substance is enriched within the receiving phase and not only on its surface, as it can be seen in Figure 1. The dissolution of gases in liquids is a typical example of absorption.

Figure 1: Schematic representation of: (a) adsorption and (b) absorption processes.

The commonly used material for water treatment through adsorption is activated carbon. This adsorbent is a carbonized and chemically activated material through oxygen treatment, that results in millions of tiny pores between carbon atoms opening up. This highly porous material presents surface area values usually between 500–1500 m2/g and can be used in a powdered or granular form. Due to its active adsorption sites, high surface area, porous structure, surface reactivity, inertness, and thermal stability, this material is a popular choice among adsorbent materials applied industrially [3].

Besides water purification, the adsorption technique has many other applications. Some of them are included in our daily life, such as applying silica or aluminium gels in packaging to remove moisture and control humidity. Others are used industrially, such as the removal of undesirable colouring matter. Adsorbent materials can remove colours from solutions by adsorbing coloured impurities. As shown in Figure 2, Tourmaline, a naturally-occurring borosilicate mineral, was successfully used to remove red dye [4]. Other industrial applications includes the separation of noble gases, where the difference in the degree of adsorption in the adsorbent materials allows to separate a gas mixture; and chromatographic analysis based on selective adsorption to separate a mixture. For example, in column chromatography, a long and wide vertical tube is filled with a suitable adsorbent, and the solution of the mixture is poured from the top and then collected one by one from the bottom [5].

Figure 2: adsorption of diazo dye DR23 onto powdered tourmaline.
Source: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arabjc.2016.04.010

Another popular use of the adsorption principle is for gas masks. To filter out harmful gases such as methane, chlorine and sulphur dioxide, the gas mask filters are made with adsorbent materials (usually with activated carbon) to purify the air. From the inlet of the gas mask, the air flows through a particulate filter, followed by an adsorbent filter, and then through another particulate filter, which traps charcoal dust, according to Figure 3 [6].

Figure 3: typical disposable filter cartridge for a respirator.
Source: https://science.howstuffworks.com/gas-mask2.htm

References

[1] BRITA – key facts & figures, 2022. https://www.brita.co.uk/facts-figures (accessed 13/01/2022)

[2] Worch, E. (2021). Adsorption technology in water treatment. de Gruyter.

[3] Soni, R., Bhardwaj, S., & Shukla, D. P. (2020). Various water-treatment technologies for inorganic contaminants: current status and future aspects. In Inorganic Pollutants in Water (pp. 273-295). Elsevier.

[4] Liu, N., Wang, H., Weng, C. H., & Hwang, C. C. (2018). Adsorption characteristics of Direct Red 23 azo dye onto powdered tourmaline. Arabian journal of chemistry, 11(8), 1281-1291.

[5] Application of Adsorption: Definition and Examples, 2022. https://www.embibe.com/exams/application-of-adsorption/ (accessed 13/01/2022)

[6] How Does a Gas Mask Protect Against Chemical Warfare?, 2013. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/130830-gas-masks-syria-israel-chemical-warfare (accessed 13/01/2022)

ESR8 - Raffaella Pizzichetti

A universal right: have access to safe drinking water

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n 2015, the United Nations General Assembly set up 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to “achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” by 2030. The SDGs are globally interlinked and include, among others, the end of poverty in all its forms, reduction of inequalities, climate actions, and a turn into more affordable and sustainable energy. In particular, SDG 6 focuses on ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Figure 1 shows the six key targets and the two additional targets for resource mobilisation and policy to be achieved within SDG 6 [1]. Access to safe drinking water and sanitation is essential for the realisation of all human rights and the development of life. However, despite the growing involvement of all countries, there is still a long way to go. In 2020, billions of people still lacked access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene [2].

Figure 1. Key targets for SDG 6, modified from [1].

Water and sanitation are at the core of sustainable development since they would help at the same time poverty reduction, economic growth, and environmental sustainability [3]. Nevertheless, overexploitation, pollution, and climate change have led to severe water stress in places across the world, worsening the situation with increasing disasters such as floods and droughts. 80% of wastewater in the world flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused, and 70% of the world’s natural wetland extent has been lost due to anthropogenic causes, including a significant loss of freshwater species. The consequences of lack of safe water are lethal: according to the UN’s 2018 annual report on the SDGs, around a thousand children die every day due to diseases related to poor hygiene and quality water [4].

Moreover, COVID-19 pandemic posed an additional impediment in accessing safe water and other sanitation and hygiene services, which on the other hand, were needed to prevent the spreading of the virus [5].

Household water treatments and safe storage (HWTS)

Most of the population without access to safe water is in developing countries where lack infrastructure and financial resources. Providing access through centralised systems would indeed be very challenging. Large distribution systems involve a lot of operation and maintenance, and water can get contaminated during the distribution or handling in the household [6]. Low-cost, easy-to-use and sustainable domestic treatments are needed in these locations. Household-level Water Treatment and Safe Storage (HWTS) is the most cost-effective intervention that vulnerable populations can rapidly implement in developing countries to improve microbial water quality and reduce waterborne diseases [7]. HWTS is a multi-barrier approach with 5 steps that equally contribute to reducing the risk of unsafe water (shown in Figure 2). The multi-barrier approach is the best way to minimise the threats coming from drinking unsafe water. Waterborne pathogens can be eliminated by household water treatment like boiling, chlorination, separation with specific ceramic filters (filtration) or adding chemical coagulants to agglomerate the pathogens, settle them and separate them (flocculation). Relying on more than one technology to improve water quality is key to ensuring high decontamination from protozoa, bacteria, and viruses and reducing the health risks associated with them.

Figure 2. Household water treatment and safe storage multi-barrier approach

Source protection

Actions should be taken to improve the water sources or points of collection. This can include regular cleaning of the area around, moving latrines away or downstream, and building fences to prevent animals from contaminating open water sources.

Sedimentation

Gravity settling is the simplest household water treatment and safe storage (HWTS) method. It removes some turbidity and improves the visual appearance, although it is limited in pathogen removal and can be affected by secondary contamination. Coagulation enhances settling making the particles stick to each other. However, coagulation is affected by several factors such as temperature, pH, and coagulant dose. Sedimentation alone is not a complete treatment but allows subsequent treatment steps to be more effective.

Filtration

Membrane filtration is a rapidly growing field in water treatment. There are different kinds of membranes based on size exclusion mechanism, electrostatic effect and biological activity. The main configurations include dead-end, cross-flow, flat sheet, and hollow fibres, and they provide a good barrier to particles, protozoa, bacteria, and viruses. It has a simple operation without affecting the taste and reduces turbidity. However, the main drawback is the membrane fouling, which results from particle retention, and increases the operating pressure. Fouling can be reversible or irreversible but can be limited by regular backwashing and periodic cleaning. Also, filtration does not protect against recontamination.

Ceramic filtration consists of ceramic pot filters and candle filters. It has a simple operation and can be produced locally without electricity. It is also socially accepted and highly used in developing countries. However, it has moderate effectiveness, variable water quality, and no residual protection.

Biological filtration mainly includes biosand or slow sand filtration. The biological layer takes time to develop, but it does not need backwashing, although other cleanings may be needed. It’s possible a long-term use, but there is a high risk of recontamination.

Disinfection

Heat is the oldest HWTS, and it is widely accepted, understood, and promoted. Boiling water is effective against all viruses, bacteria, and protozoa, and turbidity is not a problem. However, it takes a long time if we include cooling, and there is a high possibility of recontamination.

Ultraviolet radiation is effective with most bacteria, protozoa, and viruses and can be artificial or natural. The dose is calculated as intensity*time, and typical doses consist of 400 J/m2. UV-C lamps can act directly on the DNA while using natural sunlight through the Solar Disinfection process (SODIS) we can exploit the UV-A and UV-B spectra of the sun. SODIS consists of exposing PET bottles for 6 hours in good weather conditions. UV treatment is highly effective and, in the case of SODIS, is also simple and inexpensive. However, it takes time and depends on turbidity. Furthermore, when using sunlight is highly dependent on climate conditions.

Chlorine is a chemical disinfection and the second most reported HWTS. Chlorine is a strong oxidant and acts on the cell wall, DNA, and enzymes. It is highly effective, other than simple to use and low cost. Furthermore, it gives residual protection when the water is stored. The main drawbacks are the change in the taste and odour, the ineffectiveness against protozoa at small concentrations, and the formation of by-products.

Safe Storage

Even if household drinking water is treated, it may still become re-contaminated through storage in dirty or uncovered containers or through contact with dirty hands and utensils. Appropriate containers are designed to minimise recontamination. Hygienic location is also important as environmental contamination can easily affect the final water quality. The containers should have a lid or be narrow-necked to limit recontamination.

ESCAPE ROOM: Save the population from water scarcity

In the following link you have access to my escape room about water treatment. Learn more about it, challenge yourself to solve the riddles, and find the key to saving the population from water scarcity.

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Bc6ZaYtM_e_o8kQ3DOKal53YA2nkU0IUqI_kIAJQbG4/preview#slide=id.gf90f95fc23_0_2 (in English)

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1a88X7-rcjRJbMdSVzlThhoMJRbf0NeIudHxO3d2cMVo/preview#slide=id.gf90f95fc23_0_2 (in Spanish)

References

[1]        Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation. Available at: https://www.globalgoals.org/6-clean-water-and-sanitation (accessed December 12, 2021).

[2]        Goal 6: Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Available at: https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal6 (accessed December 16, 2021).

[3]        Water and Sanitation: Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Available at: https://sdgs.un.org/topics/water-and-sanitation (accessed December 14, 2021).

[4]        UN Environment 2018 Annual Report – UN Environment Programme. Available at: https://www.unep.org/resources/un-environment-2018-annual-report (accessed December 16, 2021).

[5]        UN Environment 2021 Annual Report – UN Environment Programme. Available at: https://www.un.org/annualreport/index.html (accessed December 12, 2021).

[6]        Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage (HWTS). SSWM – Find tools for sustainable sanitation and water management! Available at: https://sswm.info/sswm-solutions-bop-markets/affordable-wash-services-and-products/affordable-water-supply/household-water-treatment-and-safe-storage-%28hwts%29 (accessed December 16, 2021).

[7]        The International Network to Promote Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage. Available at: https://www.who.int/household_water/advocacy/combating_disease.pdf (accessed December 13, 2021).

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The danger of climate change

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limate change (CC), which are changes that occur in the global atmosphere, shows a clear variation in either the state of the climate or its fluctuations. The CC that occurs on Earth usually continues for long periods of decades or more. CCs have begun since the formation of the earth, as the earth has gone through many climatic changes such as ice ages and heat waves that have taken over the earth for millions of years, as ice caps and forests spread, and sea levels rose and decreased, and all of this is mainly due to climatic changes. It is worth noting that it must differentiate between climatic changes and weather diversity, as climatic changes last for very long periods, while weather changes last for relatively short periods 1,2.

CC has a serious effect on the environment include effects on Global warming, crops, water resources, the strength of hurricanes, increasing drought, and human health. CC is one of the most important reasons that affect the environment, as droughts and changing global rainfall patterns can destroy livelihoods. In addition to the spread of dangerous diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. It is worth noting that climatic changes affect the natural wild habitats. As well as it creates crises that are difficult to recover from 3.

CC contribute to the increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s surface by more than 0.9 degrees Celsius since 1906. Human activities are the basis of increasing Global warming, which contributes to the addition of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere leading to a rise in the global temperature. This rise led to melting of glaciers and sea ice, change in rainfall patterns, rising Sea levels, destruction of some wild habitats, and migration of animals to cooler regions 4.

CCs such as changes in temperature, weather intensity, and the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere affect agricultural crops significantly, as these changes can affect the increase or decrease in the number of crops planted according to the type grown and the conditions required for them to grow. The most important effects of CC on crops involve the increase in the level of carbon dioxide, which is good for crops, as it can help increase the growth of plants. However, Extreme temperatures and increased rainfall inhibit crop growth. Also, both floods and droughts prevent the growth of crops. Also, CCs can encourage the growth of weeds, fungi, and pests, which will prevent the growth of crops 5.

 Further, CC greatly affects water supplies and food production in various parts of the world, and as a result, the lack of drinking water can lead to very great damage to all different sectors. The most prominent effect of CC on water resources includes increased water evaporation, which affects the absorption of water from oceans, lakes, soil, and plants. Heavy rainfall on the land leads to floods, which can cause the death of large numbers of people and animals. Also, the temperature change leads to a change in the main ocean currents 6.

CC is a key factor in increasing drought on Earth, as rising temperatures can accelerate the transfer of water from the Earth’s surface to the atmosphere, which will increase drought, and thus drought can cause great damage to water resources in the future. It can also affect population growth, increase pollution, raise living standards, change eating habits, change agricultural practices, increase industrial activities, change economic activities, increase demand for water and energy, and changes land use and urbanization 7.

Additionally, CC affects in some way on hurricanes. The stronger the hurricanes, the greater the destruction caused by them. As it is believed that hurricanes appear as a result of a state of instability in the atmosphere, and thunderstorms resulting from CC may be the main reason for the emergence of Hurricanes 8.

In addition to the impact of CC on the environment, it also affects human health significantly, as a change in climate can change the basic factors that affect human health, as CC can result in air pollution, availability and quality of food and drinking water. Therefore, the safety of these factors is important to maintain human health. Researchers at the World Health Organization expect that CC will contribute to an increase in deaths by 250,000 annually between 2030 and 2050. The most prominent effects of CC on human health includes the effects on the spread of insects that carry infectious diseases, increasing human fears causing anxiety and despair, the increase in temperature which affects the action of some types of medications, such as those used to treat schizophrenia. Also, human exposure to high temperatures leads to many health problems such as Heatstroke, heat exhaustion, muscle spasms, and respiratory diseases.

Also, CC causes an increase the migration from drought-ridden rural areas to urban cities, where these migrations will overcrowd urban cities, and thus raise the risk of disease. There are a set of studies and statistics that have been recorded for cases that have suffered from the effects of CC, which have led to major health problems in humans and even reached death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates increase with higher temperatures, the nutritional value of foods can decrease due to CC, and about 98 people die each year due to floods in the United States. Researchers say that natural disasters greatly affect people’s mental health, and these disasters can also cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 9,10.

Therefore, several actions must be taken by individuals and governments to reduce the effect of CC. These actions involve Increasing energy efficiency and using renewable energy, applying climate-smart farming practices and forest expansion, reducing the use of fossil fuel, and reducing the use of plastic, which is highly contribute to the generation of greenhouse gases.

References

  1. “What is Climate?” WMO, www.wmo.int,
  2. Climate Change”, Encyclopedia, https://www.encyclopedia.com/earth-and-environment/atmosphere-and-weather/weather-and-climate-terms-and-concepts/climate-change
  3. Environment and climate change”, UNICEF, https://www.unicef.org/environment-and-climate-change
  4. Effects of global warming”, National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/global-warming-effects
  5. Climate Change Impacts”, EPA, https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/climate-impacts/climate-impacts-agriculture-and-food-supply_.html
  6. How Climate Change Impacts Our Water”, Columbia, https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2019/09/23/climate-change-impacts-water/
  7.  “Climate Change and Its Impact on Water Resources”, Researchgate, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/314210788_Climate_Change_and_Its_Impact_on_Water_Resources
  8. Tornadoes and Climate Change”, National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/tornadoes-and-climate-change/#:~:text=Some%20studies%20predict%20that%20climate,of%20supercell%20thunderstorms%20produce%20tornadoes
  9. “Climate change and health: Impacts and risks”, Medical News Today, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/climate-change-and-health#food-security
  10. At the Crossroads of Climate Change and Global Security”, UN, https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/crossroads-climate-change-and-global-security