The Future Of: Water and Public Health

Featuring Professor William E. Price

“The Future Of…” series asks a variety of UOW experts and researchers the same five questions, to provide insight into the potential future states of our lives, communities and world.

Since arriving at UOW in 1989, Professor William E. Price has acted in many teaching, research and service roles, including Head of School and Dean of the Faculty of Science. For the last five years he has held the position of Executive Director at the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials (AIIM), a multi-disciplinary institute bringing together biologists, clinicians, chemists, physicists, engineers and materials scientists to develop and apply innovative new materials.

Professors Price’s broad research interests include materials, physical and analytical chemistry with a strong record of working with industry in mining, water, manufacturing and food sectors.

What are you researching or working on in 2018?

My main area of research interest is in water treatment and water resource recovery and re-use. This is in partnership with long term collaborators Prof. Long Nghiem (UTS, formerly UOW) and A/Prof. Faisal Hai (EIS, UOW) together with a number of other collaborators on specific projects including Prof. Pascal Perez (SMART, UOW). I currently have two major funded projects. One is an ARC Linkage Project with Sydney Water. This is looking at adding food and waste to waste water in a co-digestion process to enhance the amount of biogas produced. A pilot plant is operating at Shellharbour Treatment works, and the increase in gas production s then used to produce energy. It is anticipated that it will enable the plant to operate with at least zero-net energy.

The second area of interest is in the protection of public health from chemicals of emerging concern, examples of which include pharmaceutical and personal care products, nanoparticles and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, in water. It aims to develop high retention membrane bioreactor systems for water reuse applications. The research will result in novel treatment processes with enhanced performance in the removal of chemicals of emerging concern and substantial economic savings in both operating and capital costs.

In regards to your field of study or expertise what are some of the most innovative or exciting things emerging over the next few years?

Energy and water are two of the biggest challenges facing the world community. There has been immense effort into developing more efficient ways of producing energy from renewable sources that don’t add to the burden of greenhouse gases. A growing area in recent years has been generating energy from waste products such as in biodigestion of waste water to produce biogas.

An innovative solution recently has been to produce a novel membrane which allows distillation of pure water from non-potable sources (eg seawater) without any external input of energy. It does this by converting solar energy to heat which drives the distillation process. The membrane can be placed on the surface of a water body and the pure water collected. The process can also be scaled-up. It’s a great example of the innovation brought about by multi-disciplinary teams working across materials sciences and engineering.

In regards to your field of study or expertise what are some of the things readers should be cautious/wary of over the next few years?

Clearly Science, Engineering and Technology can come up with new and better ways to do things and make innovative products. A challenge often underestimated is in terms of changing people’s habits and making it easy to utilise new technology and systems.

Where do you believe major opportunities lie for youth thinking about future career options?

There are many opportunities in the areas of water, food and energy security, which are three of the biggest challenges we face. These present many exciting opportunities for not only those wanting to pursue science or engineering careers but across virtually all disciplines and endeavours. There are many opportunities for innovation in these fields to make a difference in creating a better and fairer world.

In regards to your field of study or expertise, what is the best piece of advice you could offer to our readers?

Water is a precious commodity – more than a billion people globally do not have adequate supplies of clean water. Innovation may bring about better ways to produce it more efficiently, use it more sparingly and new ways to treat and re-use it. We all though need to ensure that we value it and use it wisely.

For more from Professor William E. Price you can visit his UOW Scholars profile, which links to his papers and publications.

More Information:

Luo, W., Hai, F. I., Price, W. E., Guo, W., Ngo, H. H., Yamamoto, K. & Nghiem, L. D. (2016). Phosphorus and water recovery by a novel osmotic membrane bioreactor - reverse osmosis system. Bioresource Technology, 200 297-304..

United States Environmental Protection Agency’s information on Contaminants of Emerging Concern..