Experimental Biology and Engineering at the Pilot Scale - Strategic Equipment

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


This National Facility for Experimental Biology and Engineering at the Pilot Scale aims to fulfill a strategically and critically important research infrastructure gap that prevents the sustainable provision of clean water for all. Our current decentralized wastewater treatment model needs replacing with those that generate energy from waste and recover resources such as nutrients. Wastewater treatment alone accounts for up to 1.0% of total UK and 1.3% of US electricity. It is both capitally and operationally expensive, for which the customer ultimately pays.

In the next century the global water industry must transition to novel low carbon low energy technologies that will recover value from wastewater while cleaning it to a high standard. The rigorous, replicated large-scale experimentation vital to meeting this goal is risky, costly and a significant barrier to innovation. This shared Facility will allow multiple international and national researchers to conduct large-scale experimental investigation of water engineering innovations that are scientifically rigorous and industrially credible. It will set a new global standard for wastewater research and place the UK as an international centre for innovation in wastewater treatment.

Most innovations die on the academic lab benches and are not effectively translated into engineering reality. This is because lab-scale innovations lack credibility with Industry practitioners. Most large-scale pilot studies are un-replicated, lack control and thus the rigor and prestige of the lab. The skepticism of practitioners is well founded. The scale-up of even relatively simple physical-chemical and single species reactors is complex and challenging. In open biological wastewater treatment systems, the composition and dynamics of the quintillion (billion billion billion) bacteria at the real larger scale differ profoundly from the thousand billion bacteria we see at the bench scale.

This National Facility will consist of replicated transportable custom-built modular wastewater treatment plants at 1-12 m^3 scale that includes conventional (activated sludge and trickling filters), new energy generating technologies (microbial electrochemical fuel cells and anaerobic reactors), and wetlands/lagoons that can be used to treat polluted run-off water in rural and city places (e.g. Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems). These resources will help to reduce barriers to innovation by allowing the Water Industry and the next generation of water engineers and managers to accelerate the translation of innovations from research into the real world for the benefit of the economy, the customer and the environment we rely upon.

Planned Impact

The project team has an exceptional record of conducting high impact research. For example, research undertaken by the team, with project partner Northumbrian Water Ltd (NWL), has been showcased at the highest levels of OFWAT and the Environment Agency, and the team's research directly informed the design of the UK's first ever large scale, low energy, treatment system for metal-polluted waters.

The main impacts of the National Facility for Experimental Biology and Engineering at the Pilot Scale will be in the water sector, and in particular with water companies nationally and internationally, the water sector supply chain, such as the large engineering consulting companies which design wastewater treatment plants, and regulators of the water environment. This research is about improving understanding of wastewater treatment and developing better ways to effectively and efficiently treat domestic and industrial wastewater and, in particular, to develop treatment systems that are low carbon and low energy, and which are able to successfully treat existing and new contaminants in wastewaters. Newcastle University already has a strategic Memorandum of Understanding with NWL to ensure that the research has an impact in the water industry, and the project team has very good links with Defra, the Environment Agency and international engineering consulting firms. We will ensure that these different organisations benefit from the research undertaken at the pilot plant facility by inviting representatives of these organisations to annual projects workshops. In addition the project Advisory Steering Committee will be made up of representatives from NWL, the Environment Agency, UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) and senior figures in the research community.

Users of the pilot plant facility will publicise their research and its results on a dedicated project website, which will ensure that the outcomes of the research reach as wide an audience as possible, both nationally and internationally. Furthermore, the project team will attend national and international conferences to ensure that the outcomes of research at the pilot plant facility are shared with a wide academic network, and results of projects will be published in journals widely read not only by academics but also by the water sector, to maximise benefit to industry. To help achieve the maximum impact a dedicated Research Impact Officer, and also a Science Communications Manager, will be actively involved in the project.


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Davenport, RJ (2018) Engineering biology for the circular economy in water resources in Water Industry Journal

Description Three of the original five pilot plants have been installed, two others have been designed and will be installed shortly.

A new experimental rig for automatically monitoring biofilm growth and dynamics was developed and run with some initial data collected - it is being tested against a simulated biofilm as part of another EPSRC project (NUFEB; https://research.ncl.ac.uk/nufeb/)

Testing and development of a novel on-line real-time BOD/toxicity sensor that is undergoing further development as a consequence of its deployment on the facility (BB/R005613/1, BIV2017003; BB/T008296/1)

Gathering data on microbial acclimation during start-up and development of a novel monitored biofilm channel as part of the NUFEB project https://research.ncl.ac.uk/nufeb/; EP/K039083/1)

Providing samples and water quality parameters for two EPSRC Impact Acceleration Award projects to improve monitoring of microbes in wastewater treatment plants, and Masters course teaching (Environmental Engineering) and dissertation (Environmental Engineering and Civil Engineering) projects.

Demonstrating rapid on-site DNA sequencing for waterborne pathogen detection and water quality monitoring training (UK-India Education Research Initiative project; https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/davidwerner/uk-india-education-research-initiative-ukieri/)

Hosting staff and VIP visits; Northumbrian Water Ltd (NWL) visit the facility on a regular basis as part of its induction process for new staff. It is also one of only four NWL-owned innovation sites to which water sector VIPs visit (e.g. OFWAT Director of Strategy and Planning and the CEO of Environment Agency), escorted by the NWL CEO and the PI (Davenport) of the BEWISe project.

Dissemination of facility to practitioners through invited articles in trade journals (Water Industry, Water and Wastewater Treatment, Water and Sewerage Journal).
Exploitation Route This will be an open facility for international academic researchers and collaborating water industry members. An event will be held in June 2020 to launch the facility.
Sectors Education,Environment

URL https://www.ncl.ac.uk/be-wise/
Description The Biological Engineering Wastewater Innovation at Scale (BEWISe; as it is named) Pilot Facility is one of the most visible embodiments of Newcastle University's strategic partnership with Northumbrian Water Ltd (NWL). In addition, it has helped to disseminate and highlight NWL's engagement and pursuit of innovation, being one of only a few selected sites that are shown to visiting dignitaries and also one of the sites visited as part of NWL's staff induction programme. The site also hosts NERC/BBSRC funded research into on-line wastewater sensors that is still in the development stage.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

Amount £477,153 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P028527/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2017 
End 04/2020
Description ToOLTuBES: Toxicity & Organic Load Tracking using BioElectrochemical Systems
Amount £486,900 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/R005613/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2017 
End 12/2019
Description Collaboration with Northumbrian Water Ltd 
Organisation Northumbrian Water
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We will carry out sampling and hydraulic tracer studies on Northumbrian Water Ltd (NWL) sites.
Collaborator Contribution They have provided H&S training and access to any of the sites we wish to visit and data on flows, tank sizes and design data.
Impact None as yet.
Start Year 2015
Description Industry presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact As part of the Newcastle University Frontiers in Engineering Biology project, the experimental work undertaken at BEWISe was presented.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Invited speaker at special workshop for international conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited presentation for dissemination of research on NUFEB (https://research.ncl.ac.uk/nufeb/) and advertise the BEWISe Facility (https://www.ncl.ac.uk/be-wise/).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Invited workshop host/speaker at the European Wastewater Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited workshop to disseminate research findings from NUFEB (https://research.ncl.ac.uk/nufeb/) and advertise the BEWISe facility (https://www.ncl.ac.uk/be-wise/).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://ewwmconference.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/05/EWWM-Timetable-12.07.19.pdf
Description Presentation to Wastewater Operation Team Leaders for Northumbrian Water Ltd 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with the Director of Wastewater Operations and all the team leaders for Wastewater Operations in Northumbrian Water Ltd., to explain our research, the aims of the Pilot Plant facility and how we could learn from each other.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Visiting international academics 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Two separate visits by academics from different international universities; Dr Shaaban Mgana from Ardhi University, Daar-e-Salaam, Tanzania and Professor Theodore Bouchez from the National Research Institute of Science and Technology for Environment and Agriculture, Antony, France.

The intended purpose was to show our Facility and our current research and to demonstrate how it might be useful to their research organisations in the future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018