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The developing world’s need for engineering solutions to problems posed by a lack of effective infrastructure is increasing as its population grows. Engineers in the industrialised world need to address how they can contribute to the United Nations’ water agenda, providing their expertise and skills to help people living on the breadline, affected by hunger, exploitation and injustice.

This research theme is focused on:

  • Developing more resilient and sustainable products and infrastructures.
  • Assisting the developing world with sustainable resources at all levels.
Research Expertise
  • Cliffe Schreuders
    Dr Z. Cliffe Schreuders is a Senior Lecturer in computer security at Leeds Beckett University. His main research interests are usable security, sandboxing and access control, and free and open source software and culture.
  • Dr Martin Pritchard
    Dr Martin Pritchard is currently employed as a Reader in Civil Engineering at Leeds Beckett University. Together with lecturing geotechnics he undertakes research work on groundwater issues for the developing world, the commercialisation of a patented geotextile product, and the use of remediated soil as a construction material.
  • Dr Peter Skipworth
    Supporting the LSI is Visiting Professor, Dr Peter Skipworth who is Managing Director of Environmental Monitoring Solutions Ltd., which is based in Sheffield and has a cross-sector client base including food and drink, pharmaceuticals, heavy industry, power, manufacturing and water industry. Peter is also the Chairman of ECUS, an environmental consultancy based in Sheffield which has a client base of developers, infrastructure companies, government agencies, local authorities and national conservation bodies.

Case Studies 

Plus Icon Rural Earth Roads

Rural earth roads constructed from in situ topsoil act as low tech, low volume roads in many developing countries, such as Malawi. In tropical regions, the soil material that constitutes both the wearing surface and the sub-base is exposed to prolonged seasonal rainfall, and relies on the cambered shape of the road surface to offer some manner of protection through water shedding.

However, during the wet season roads soon become inundated with water, rapidly deteriorating the suitability of the road’s material, even for bearing light 4 x 4 vehicles. The wet season can last for several months, isolating villagers from the mechanised transport normally used for the transportation of resources or produce between village and market, accessing healthcare and providing the social mobility for students, local labour and local kin.

To address this problem, research and development work employing microbially induced calcite precipitation (MICP) is underway at Leeds Beckett. MICP is a procedure that induces ureolytic soil microbes to excrete molecules of carbonate (CO32-) into soil pores, where these molecules bond with calcium (Ca2+) ions, precipitating calcium carbonate (CaCO3) between soil particles. It is predicted that the precipitated calcite crystals will act as a cementation agent between lateritic soils particles. Successful application of MICP will provide a low cost, sustainable solution that would allow rural earth road networks to remain usable throughout the wet season.

Plus Icon Water Purification in Malawi

Water-related diseases are responsible for 80 per cent of all illnesses in developing countries and kill more than five million people every year. In Malawi, poverty can have grave consequences – 27 per cent of the population rely on water from shallow wells and about half of all illnesses are due solely to water-related diseases.

We conducted a study to analyse the water quality of shallow wells used by 17,000 rural Malawians. The data demonstrated that 80 to 95 per cent of wells were grossly contaminated by biological parameters.

To address the problem, our University is now developing a low-cost indigenous water purification system using a natural coagulant that is far more sustainable than importing the chemical equivalent. Initial laboratory data indicates water quality can be improved by 80 per cent and, if implemented across Malawi, 1.5 million inhabitants could have significantly improved water sources.

Our University has integrated research work and field trips into the undergraduate curriculum at Leeds Beckett, and has also helped to develop and implement a new MSc course in Malawi to educate local water officials to a higher level.

Dr Martin Pritchard was awarded first prize at the Research Councils UK Water Research Impact Awards 2015 – Process Technologies. This is in respect to his research and development work on ‘reducing waterborne diseases from shallow wells in the developing world’. The award was based upon his REF 2014 case study submission. The shortlisting process involved a team of 15 water experts reviewing all water case studies submitted throughout the UK, with him receiving his award at the Research Councils UK water showcase event on 30th June 2015.

Dr Pritchard’s case study details the drinking water quality of 17,000 rural Malawians; the work undertaken with water officials to implement immediate precautions to prevent further loss of life; how this data fed into major publications that directed global policies (e.g. World Bank – “The Malawi Water Resources Investment Strategy Document”); the education system setup to help water officials develop their knowledge; and the on-going research work he is undertaking to develop and provide a sustainable shallow well water purification system. Scaled-up, the impact of this work has the potential to improve the water quality for around 1.5 million Malawians.


Plus Icon The AguaSocial Project

Dr Andy Swan (Leeds Sustainability Institute), is achieving high profile success in the Water Sector in Europe and Brazil as Leeds' Principal Investigator of the EU FP7 AguaSocial project.

The AguaSocial Project is a five partner collaborative IRSES project with the Università degli Studi Roma Tre (Italy), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain), Universidade Federal do Pará (Brazil) and the Universidade do Estado do Amazonas (Brazil) which started in January 2014. This project aims to explore Social Innovation in relation to the Water Sector within the Amazon region of Brazil (please see the following link for further details: AguaSocial should receive approximate 350,000 Euros from the EU over the next four years to fund joint exchange programmes to strengthen research cooperation and knowledge sharing between Brazil and Europe. Andy and partners from Europe and Brazil will be sharing their expertise and knowledge on a range of issues, including: low cost monitoring, environmental protection; socio-economic factors and sustainable development, with a specific emphasis on water treatment and social innovations by local communities (especially vulnerable ones). Such research is becoming increasingly important as populations grow and clean water becomes a scarce resource.

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