Energy 2050 researchers help produce fresh safe water for Egypt's rural communities

Port Said and Sheffield Universities researchers who attended Biosolar project meeting
Port Said and Sheffield Universities researchers celebrating the conclusion of a successful Biosolar project meeting

Researchers of the Energy 2050 group, Dr Davide Poggio and Dr Mohammed Ismail, travelled to Egypt in December 2018 for the first meeting of the Biosolar project, a collaborative two-year project between the University of Sheffield and Port Said University. to develop a system that produces fresh, safe water for rural communities.

The Biosolar system is entirely powered by solar energy and local biowastes, and uses membrane distillation (a thermal desalination system) to produce drinkable water from available resources such as seawater or brackish water. The system addresses two of the main problems faced by the rural population in Egypt, namely limited fresh water resources and inadequate waste management.

In the initial phase of the project researchers from the University of Sheffield modelled and designed a system based on the expected water demand and available resources of the targeted communities in Egypt. Next, using data from the model, a pilot plant will be built and monitored at Port Said University. It is expected that the pilot plant will be operative by mid-2019.

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.

During the trip, the 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 from the homestead.

The Biosolar system is designed to serve 5-10 neighbouring households, which would collectively operate and maintain the system, thus increasing autonomy of water provision and potentially reducing overall cost. Brackish water from wells would be the source to produce fresh water and cattle manure, supplemented with available damaged crops such as beet and potato waste, will be converted to biogas.

Researchers visited a farming household near the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, which is the main beneficiary of the Biosolar project.

Researchers in a rural Egyptian village
Researchers visited a rural Egyptian village which would benefit from the new technology

Further collaborative and knowledge sharing activities were also included in the trip. As part of a workshop attended by Port Said University students, members of the faculty and local renewable energy SMEs, Professor Ayman, Dr Poggio and Dr Ismail delivered presentations that demonstrated the approaches adopted to model and design the Biosolar system.

Workshop at Port Said University
Workshop at Port Said University to discuss opportunities and challenges of water desalination and solar energy in rural communities in Egypt

In Cairo, meetings were held with researchers of the National Research Centre (NRC), under the appreciated guidance of the Professor Kamal Ahmed Abed. Common activities in the field of microbial fuel cells, hybrid micro-grids, and membrane manufacturing and testing, could lead to further cooperation projects between UK and Egypt.

Seminar at the National Research Centre in Cairo
Seminar at the National Research Centre in Cairo, where researchers presented their activities and project in the field of renewable energy

The project has been funded by two programmes:

  1. The British Council's Newton Fund Institutional Links programme which helps UK institutions build strong and sustainable relationships and helps to promote economic development and social welfare of partner countries.
  2. The Science and Technology Development Fund (STDF) - the main organisation of funding research and development projects of Egyptian universities and research institutes.

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