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Research to tackle ‘grand challenges’ for water sector gets £3.9m boost

A new £3.9 million research project involving 6 universities and 26 companies from across the UK water sector will ensure the UK maintains a clean, sustainable water supply for the future.

The project – led by the University of Sheffield – will help the UK water sector tackle key challenges, including population growth, ageing infrastructure and climate change. The project is part of the £21 million ‘Engineering Grand Challenges’ funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), announced by the Science Minister, Jo Johnson.

Named TWENTY 65 (Tailored Water to Ensure sustainability beyond 2065), the project will ensure flexible and adaptive water systems by developing multiple solutions and technologies that can be ‘tailored’ to suit specific circumstances. The academic partners – the Universities of Sheffield, Exeter, Manchester and Reading, Newcastle University and Imperial College London - will undertake research across eight technical themes, focusing on demand based technologies, social practices, water energy systems to minimise carbon emissions and the use of robotic autonomous systems for infrastructure inspection and repair.

The project will also create a Hub involving ten water companies, their supply chain and academic researchers to encourage shared idea generation, strategic roadmapping, networking, innovation stimulation and research leadership. This combination of multi-disciplinary academic research and collaborative work with the UK water sector will enable the TWENTY 65 project team to lead UK and international transformation in the sustainable supply of safe water.

Professor Joby Boxall, from the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering and Director of Sheffield Water Centre, who will head the TWENTY 65 project, said: “Water supply is the foundation of society, but a service we are privileged to be able to take for granted in the UK. There is no single solution to the sustainable supply of safe clean water for the future. Our vision is that by 2065, collaborative innovation has generated a water sector that is delivering sustainable tailored water solutions that positively impact on public health, the environment, the economy and society. New approaches and models for collaborative working across the water sector are an essential part of the project. We have support pledged from over 50 partners and will be looking to get more organisations on board. This is a truly unique and exciting opportunity to take a long-term view of how we can develop and implement technology to deliver transformative change.”

Following the announcement, Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson, said: “As a One Nation Government we are investing in world-class science and engineering across our country. We want the UK to be the best place in Europe to innovate and this £3.9 million investment will bring Sheffield’s researchers together with researchers across the nation to address some of the most pressing engineering challenges we face. This investment will help tackle our aging water infrastructure to improve the lives of millions of people around the world.”

The project was developed in response to an EPSRC call in early 2015 which set out four Engineering Grand Challenges, developed through a two day event involving academics from many disciplines, representatives from industry and government.