Desal Directions: March 2012

Posted on 5 March 2012

From the CEO

It was a great delight to read of Rhett Butler’s recognition in the Australia Day honours as a Member of the Order of Australia. In addition to being a very successful businessman, having been a senior sales executive for Siemens Memcor and a tireless contributor as Chair of NCEDA’s Research Advisory Committee, Rhett’s passion has been to develop clever and affordable solutions to humanitarian problems in developing nations. It is worth a look at Skyjuice, the charity he founded, at

It was a pleasure to participate in a two day workshop in Muscat, Oman on 8-9 February where 60 people met to discuss the subject of harmful marine algal blooms. The workshop was organised by the Middle East Desalination Research Centre, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology of Saudi Arabia and NCEDA. It was understood to be the first conference bringing together marine scientists and desalination experts, and a historic meeting of the three research organisations. Harmful algal blooms can cause significant damage to desalination plants, in some cases causing reduced output or even forced shutdowns. The workshop provided clear description of the problems, and practical solutions.

Thanks are due to Ms Shannon McCarthy of MEDRC, Prof Gary Amy of KAUST and Prof. David Furukawa of NCEDA for their great efforts in organising the event. It was also a pleasure to work with Ambassador Ronald Mollinger, Director of MEDRC (pictured) and extend opportunities for Australian researchers to meet with their international peers.

Neil Palmer
0417 996 126
Follow us on Twitter: @DiscoverDesal

In this issue

Honoured humanitarian prepares to launch SkyBox water aid initiative

The Chair of NCEDA’s Research Advisory Committee, Rhett Butler, was recently honoured with an Order of Australia Medal.

The mechanical engineer was recognised for his work as Founder and Chairman of the non-profit SkyJuice Foundation which coordinates skilled volunteers and collaborates with aid charities to install emergency water treatment units in developing countries.

Mr Butler, AM, has just donated a Skyjuice Foundation SkyHydrant unit to the Centre and announced that SkyJuice will launch a major water aid initiative on World Water Day 2012.
Mr Butler led the Action for Good session at the IDA World Desalination Congress in Perth last year, and through SkyJuice provides thousands of low-cost water treatment units for poverty-stricken villages and refugee camps in Africa and Asia.

On World Water Day on March 22, SkyJuice and The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP will launch details of a major new Australian water aid initiative at Parliament House in Canberra, and endeavour to boost its international humanitarian efforts.

Australians will be asked to donate $365 for a SkyBox or just $1 a day to help supply recycled SkyBox water treatment units into villages in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, enabling up to 2000 small communities to have safe, clean water.

Mr Butler says the life-saving SkyBox units are gravity-fed and use low cost, low pressure membranes recycled from the Australian industry which would otherwise end up in landfill.
He hopes that Australian businesses and organisation’s employee fundraising schemes will support the new aid initiative which encourages village self-sufficiency.

“One Skybox will give 50 African villagers – five to 10 families – a level of dignity by enabling them to directly treat their contaminated and dirty well water. By giving them access to 500 litres of safe water each day, we are dramatically impacting their lives and outcomes,” he said.

“Access to clean water is a basic human right, and one we take for granted here in Australia – yet every day in developing nations tens of thousands of children die of water borne diseases.

“This practical initiative will not only save lives over there, but reduce environmental waste here at home and hopefully encourage more recycling in the water and desalination industries.”

A dedicated SkyBox website will be created for the launch. For more information on SkyJuice visit

First Open Day a success

Curious minds flocked to the Centre’s first public Open Day in February to learn about how Perth’s seawater is turned into drinkable fresh tap water.

Desal Discovery Centre Manager Warren Hays led water taste tests and science demonstrations in the new Edulab, explaining the desalination process using cutaway models of the membranes used in desal plants.

Mr Hays was encouraged by the number of visitors and questions asked by parents, teachers and interested public of all ages.

Also on display was the Centre’s pilot testing facility showing three working portable desalination units, a large educational touchscreen showing Australia’s six major desal plants and the Centre photos and YouTube videos, and the new 3D movie with footage supplied by the Water Corporation.

CEO Neil Palmer demonstrated experimental units using solar power to desalinate water, and a newly installed SkyHydrant which uses recycled Australian membranes to treat contaminated water in developing African and Asian villages to provide them with access to safe, clean water.

Puzzles, crosswords and colouring-in resources for school-aged children on desalination themes were on offer to further capture young imaginations, and these will soon be made available online.

Visitors to the Centre’s Open Day included school teachers, parents and schoolchildren, university staff and students, water industry professionals and interested locals.

More photos from Open Day are in our Flickr gallery.

Red Tides workshop report

In February, the NCEDA co-sponsored with the Middle East Desalination Research Centre, and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology of Saudi Arabia, an expert workshop on Red Tides and Harmful Algal Blooms in Muscat, Oman. Australian scientists attending, Prof. Peter Steinberg (UNSW), Prof. Gustaaf Hallegraeff (UTas), and Dr Mike Dixon (SA Water), considered it a most stimulating desalination workshop, which brought together for the first time desalination engineers and algal bloom biologists.

Mike Dixon said: “The workshop provided an excellent opportunity for people in the desalination space to meet together and begin a collaborative journey towards solving some of the questions raised by such algal events. The experiences discussed formed pieces of the puzzle to give participants a broader understanding of the key problems and decide which were important and which were non-issues.

“Three breakout workgroups provided the perfect atmosphere to get further questions on the table and prioritise these ideas into research projects that will assist operators in knowing the right actions to take during a bloom, but critically, when to continue operations and when to shut down their plants. The participants came away from the workshop having learnt a great deal and having met the key players that will be essential in solving these issues,” he added.

Chief Scientific Officer, Prof. David Furukawa, summed up the key lessons from the workshop. He said: “It appears that toxins are not the major issue, but rather biomass that affect desalination plant operations. With the many varieties of ‘critters’ involved in the problem, it is a challenge to identify those which are of most interest. Some of the slides of different forms of algal blooms were revealing and surprising. After seeing those, it is no wonder that algal blooms raise havoc with desalination plant operation.

“Some of the clear messages from the workshop are that: (1) industry badly needs a real time monitoring tool that is effective for detecting algal blooms; (2) there is no published data yet on real-life operation of desalination plants during toxin producing algal blooms; (3) Compound transformation during desalination, through the impact of chlorine and flocculants, needs to be defined; and (4) While red tides usually exist on the surface, the bloom can move up and down in the water column, meaning that a deep water intake does not necessarily prevent drawing biomass into a plant.

“I hope this is the first of many workshops and conferences blending microbiology and engineering. It certainly opened my eyes,” he added.

The Red Tides workshop was also reviewed by Water Desalination Report and presentations from the workshop are available on the MEDRC website.

Intakes Outfalls workshop program now available

A draft program is now available for the Centre’s fourth research workshop, to be held in Adelaide on May 16-17.

International and national researchers and industry leaders will present current best practice in seawater intakes and discharges, examine case studies, and consider challenges for future research.

Keynote speakers are Prof. Gary L. Amy, Director of the Water Desalination and Reuse Research Center at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, and Mr Tom Pankratz, Editor of Water Desalination Report.

Other organisations presenting include Acciona; Alden Research Laboratory, USA; Hatch Associates; Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; SA Water; Scripps Institute, USA; Valoriza Water Australia; Veolia Water Australia; and WorleyParsons.

You can read more information about the workshop on our website at

GWI Desalination Short School

Following the Intakes Outfalls workshop, Global Water Intelligence are holding the second Australian Desalination Short School in Adelaide on May 18. The first Australian School was held at NCEDA Rockingham after the IDA World Congress in September 2011.

The Desalination Short School provides an opportunity to learn the technical aspects of some high visibility world-class projects. The course offers a highly practical and interactive case-study approach, delivered by two very experienced and well-known practitioners from the desalination industry.

“We’ll be focussing on the practical aspects of seawater desalination and the examples we’ll be profiling will be from our own first-hand experiences”, says Tom Pankratz, Editor of Water Desalination Report and one of the course experts. “It won’t be just a slide show. We’re fully conversant with all the details of these projects as we’ve actually been involved in their design and delivery”. He promises a lively, in-depth look at how decisions are made and the pitfalls to avoid. The course will cover feasibility and pilot studies, commissioning, testing and the post-completion issues of specific plants, from the Middle East, Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas.

Participants will be drawn from contractors, consultants, offtakers, water utilities, suppliers, O&M personnel and researchers – all those looking to gain additional knowledge and an extra edge in the desal field.

The School is presented in association with the International Centre of Excellence in Water Resources Management. A discount is available for delegates attending both the Intakes Outfalls Workshop and the Desalination Short School. A registration form is available for download.

New Commercialisation Manager appointed

Former Excalibur Steel Operations Manager Tymen Brom has joined the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination as its new Commercialisation Manager.

Mr Brom has over 20 years’ corporate business, legal and scientific experience including successful research and development and commercialisation, and progression of innovative technologies.

He has advised numerous businesses from start-ups to large corporate clients from direct IP advice to corporate strategy and route to market.

Mr Brom has been involved in the negotiation of a number of technology access and distribution agreements between Australian and European or US companies, and is a named inventor of two pending patent applications.

His roles have included Technical Production and IP Manager, Patent Attorney, Metallurgist and Laboratory Scientist for organisations such as Q Technology Group, Watermark, Bradken Mining, West Australia Specialty Alloys, the University of WA and Alcoa of Australia.

He has an understanding of cultural issues in South-East Asia, having worked at Lloyd Wise Hong Kong while on a leave of absence at Watermark to work as a Patent Attorney in the challenging Chinese IP environment.

Mr Brom is a Member of the Institute of Materials Engineering Australia, and has qualifications from Curtin and Murdoch universities, the Institute of Patent and Trademark Attorneys Australia and TAFE.

Contact Mr Brom at

Portable CDI desal unit works well in Northern Territory trials

University of South Australia researchers led by Professor Linda Zou have conducted a series of NCEDA-funded trials to evaluate the performance of a portable commercial capacitive deionisation (CDI) unit developed by AQUA EWP, USA (supplied by LT Green Energy) at Wilora, a remote community 250km away from Alice Spring in the Northern Territory.

Project partner Power and Water provided local support in providing a bore water supply site for the CDI testings, and Professor Zou worked with USA researchers Dr Wei Zhang and PhD student Mohamed Mossad.

The trials found that the CDI unit demonstrated sufficient salinity and hardness removal ability at the remote brackish water source. The increased flow rate tend to decrease the overall TDS removal efficiency. However, in terms of energy efficiency, higher flow rate tend to be favourable.

At the current CDI unit configuration and local water conditions, 7L/min is recommended as the optimal operational parameter with an energy consumption of around 1.89kWh/m3 treated water. The total water recovery rate was between 75% and 80%.

Professor Zou says the current portable CDI technique offers a viable alternative solution to brackish water treatment, especially in remote area communities where building large treatment plant such as RO plant is not practical. She says the data and results shown in this work can be used as guidance for the onsite operation using the current technique.

Researcher Profile: Dr Milena Ginic-Markovic

Flinders University Desalination Program Manager Dr Milena Ginic-Markovic is working on NCEDA-funded research to develop a membrane coating that will inhibit biofouling and a universal additive to improve membrane mechanics.

Dr Ginic-Markovic manages Australia’s largest ARC Linkage research into reverse osmosis technology for seawater desalination at Flinders in South Australia, and is collaborating on the three-year NCEDA project with renewable energy company Wind Prospect, the state government utility South Australian Water and Siemens.

She explains that two of the key problems that exist with the current desalination membrane technology are biofouling and mechanical degradation of the membranes.

“Our objective is to develop a coating for commercially available membranes which will inhibit biofouling and/or biofoulant growth or reproduction; and to design and synthesise a ‘universal’ additive, which will improve the mechanical properties of membranes,” Dr Ginic-Markovic said.

“The fabrication of an anti-biofouling, antimicrobial coating on reverse osmosis and pretreatment desalination membranes will result in a minimum of at least four times bio-fouling improvement over commercially available membranes, while still maintaining competitive permeation flux and rejection properties.”

Collaboration with Siemens will be based on supply of hollow fibre samples by Siemens and use of their R&D test facilities, and collaboration with SA Water will involve regular meetings and use of their R&D facilities.

Over the past 11 years at Flinders and University of South Australia, Dr Ginic-Markovic has significantly contributed to research in polymers, nanocomposite materials, separation membranes and their characterisation.

She has co-supervised six PhD students and four honours students, and this group currently comprises of two postdoctoral research fellows, two PhD students, and two Masters students.

Through her ARC Linkage research and developments, Dr Ginic-Markovic has produced an Australian Provisional patent and an international PCT patent for the development of a novel biofouling coating for RO membranes.

Links and articles

‘Brackish groundwater: a viable community water supply option?’, National Water Commission, December 2011.

‘Dam overflows, desal concern grows’, 7.30, ABC, March 2012.

‘D-day for Australia’s home-grown desalters’, Global Water Intelligence, February 2012.

‘Museum of Desalination’, Global Water Intelligence, January 2012.

‘Sydney desal plant ridiculed after heavy rain’, PM, ABC, February 2012.

Nikolay Voutchkov, ‘Overview of Desalination Status & Future Trends’, Water and Energy Exchange 2012 conference, February 2012.

‘Water Corporation: SSDP Expansion’, Business Excellence, January 2012.

Gold Industry Sponsors

The NCEDA is grateful for the generous support of our Gold Industry Sponsors.


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