New techniques in the latest 3D printing technology are being explored to help improve processes used to purify and provide fresh water to parts of Egypt.

Water shortages are becoming an increasing problem in the country due to climate change, rapid population growth, and political conflicts with countries downstream of the Nile river. But with the latest 3D printing technology, new techniques in desalination could improve the operational performance of water desalination units. 

The method of desalination, the process which removes salt and unwanted minerals from seawater, is currently the most effective way of eliminating impurities to produce fresh water. However, desalination systems fail over time due to biofouling, the build-up of microorganisms, plants, algae, etc, on a surface which reduces the unit's efficiency and increasing the operational cost.

The Royal Society has awarded funding to Dr Hany Hassani, Reader in the School of Engineering, Technology and Design at Canterbury Christ Church University, who is working collaboratively with Dr Mohammed Ali, an Associate Professor at Desert Research Centre in Egypt, to find solutions to this.   

Dr Hany Hassani, an expert in Advanced Manufacturing, will be using 3D printing technologies to test and explore various techniques to enable additive manufacturing (the process of adding material to create 3D objects). This will advance reverse osmosis desalination systems when purifying water, to enable improved desalination. Reverse osmosis is a water purification process that uses a partially permeable membrane to remove unwanted contaminants and larger particles from drinking water.

Dr Hassani’s expertise has focused on enabling additive manufacturing technologies for aerospace and biomedical applications which have been effective. Dr Hassani sees great potential for this technique to be used in desalination.

“The potential of its materials and the geometrical flexibility of additive manufacturing for water desalination systems can be initiated by finding alternative materials and developing new designs of parts, such as feed spacers of reverse osmosis systems, which will act as anti-biofouling factors,” he said.  

"Our co-partner is an expert in evaluating the newly developed feed spacers, and this will have a great impact on improving the operational efficiency in water desalination systems in Egypt." 

Dr Mohammed Ali, added: "The Egypt Desalination Research Center of Excellence (EDRC), part of the Egyptian Desert Research Centre, is the pioneering institution in desalination research in Egypt. It is actively engaged in several research projects to tackle the water shortage problem in Egypt.

"The research collaboration with Canterbury Christ Church University will provide an ideal environment for sharing the know-how of the Egyptian and the UK partners in water desalination and advanced manufacturing.”

In addition, this research will advance the utilisation of additive manufacturing in the UK by expanding this technology that has not yet been well explored. 

Dr Anne Nortcliffe, Founding Head of School of Engineering, Technology and Design at Canterbury Christ Church, commended the project.

“This collaboration is a great symbiotic opportunity for the new School of Engineering, Technology and Design, enabling Dr Hany Hassani and Dr Mohammed Ali to bring together their collective engineering expertise which could benefit so many in Egypt.

“The vision and ethos of our new school is developing inclusive engineering solutions to benefit of all of society.”