Making water safe to drink in Egypt’s rural communities

A collaborative project between The University of Sheffield and Port Said University in Egypt is developing a system to produce fresh, safe drinking water for rural communities.

Coastal town in Egypt

Work is underway to finalise construction of a bio-solar energy driven desalination pilot plant at Port Said, Egypt within the coming months. The Biosolar system - which is entirely powered by solar energy and biowaste - uses a distillation membrane to produce water from sources that would not otherwise be safe to drink, such as seawater or standing brackish water. The smart integration of solar energy and biogas will ensure a reliable and constant provision of drinking water.

In December 2018, Sheffield researchers visited a rural community typical of the communities that the Biosolar project aims to benefit. In this mainly farming area, households only have access to drinking water through manual collection from a central delivery location, which in this instance was 5km away. The system addresses two of the main problems faced by the rural population in Egypt, namely limited fresh water resources and inadequate waste management.

Researchers from the Energy Institute modelled and designed the system based on the expected water demand and available resources of the targeted communities in Egypt. Using data from the model, colleagues at Port Said began building a pilot plant at the University campus.

Investigator on the project, Dr Mohammed Ismail said “Using the multiscale modelling framework that we have developed at Sheffield, our Egyptian partners at Port Said have been able to efficiently design and size the pilot plant. Once constructed and operated, the pilot plant will provide valuable data that we could use for validation and further refinement of the model”.

The main elements of the plant are a solar thermal field, heat storage, an anaerobic digestion system and biogas storage, a biogas boiler and a membrane distillation unit. The plant will be able to operate the membrane unit at its optimal temperature condition, by complementing the fluctuating power from the solar collectors with the heat provided by the biogas. An innovative temperature phased anaerobic digestion system will also be tested, which will make use of the available heat to operate the digesters at thermophilic and mesophilic temperatures.

Investigator on the project, Dr Davide Poggio, said “We are working with our Egyptian colleagues to design innovative polygeneration systems. A polygeneration approach takes advantage of the diversity of demands and resources in rural communities. It moves beyond the cogeneration of heat and power, and considers the provision of other services such as drinking water, fuels and waste treatment. It enhances the synergy between the different components, resulting in higher efficiency and sustainability.“

The pilot plant is able to produce 1m³ per day of safe drinking water, and will be fully operational by spring 2020. The experimental testing will be instrumental to validate the modelling approach and the techno-economic assessment. This phase will pave the way to the replication of the system in a selected rural community.

The project has been funded by the British Council’s Newton Fund Institutional Links programme, which develops research and innovation collaborations between the UK and partner countries, and the Egyptian Science and Technology Development Fund (STDF), which funds research and development projects between Egyptian universities and partner research institutes.

Egypt drinking water system

For further information please contact Davide Poggio on or Mohammed S Ismail on

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