Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fluorescence for monitoring recycled water

Four years ago I had an idea for a potential new application for monitoring recycled water systems. The idea was to use fluorescence spectroscopy to try to distinguish different ‘types’ of waters such as drinking water, secondary treated municipal sewage, reverse-osmosis treated water, etc. I had two main applications in mind:

1. to be able to detect ‘cross connections’ in dual reticulation (purple pipe) non-potable water recycling systems with the adjacent potable water supply.

2. to allow real-time ‘on line’ monitoring of reverse osmosis treatment performance with increased sensitivity compared to current techniques.

So during 2005-2006 I made a lot of phone calls and sent a lot of emails to water companies. I managed to secure the support of eight major Australian water companies with a keen interest in (potable and/or non-potable recycled water). These were:

Gold Coast Water (QLD)
City West Water Ltd. (Vic)
Melbourne Water (Vic)
South East Water Ltd. (Vic)
Sydney Olympic Park Authority (NSW)
Sydney Water Corporation (NSW)
Water Corporation (WA)
Yarra Valley Water Ltd. (Vic)

This strong industry support gave me the bargaining power to be able to apply for an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Projects Grant. To do this, I recruited a few co-researchers to build a strong research team. These were Prof Richard Stuetz (UNSW), Dr Michael Storey (Sydney Water) and Prof Andy Baker (University of Birmingham). I went all the way to Birmingham to meet Andy and ask him to participate since he is the world expert on fluorescence analysis of freshwater samples.

Our first application was in 2006, but this was not successful so we had another shot at it in 2007. On the second application we were awarded the grant for a three year research project which began at the end of 2007.

In addition to the necessary equipment and consumables, the grant allowed us to hire a full time post-doctoral researcher as well as a second part-time researcher. It also included two PhD scholarships. The full-time post-doc, Rita Henderson came from Cranfield University in the UK and now manages the project on a day-to-day basis. The part-time researcher is Dr Kate Murphy (from UNSW). The PhD scholarships have been awarded to Adam Hambly (from University of Sydney) and Sachin Singh (from University of South Pacific).

During the last year, Rita, Adam and Sachin have been undertaking intensive research with water samples collected from some of the above listed water companies. This work is on-going and no results have yet been published (apart from a few conference papers).

However, the first major paper from the project was recently published (Henderson, et al., 2009). This is a review of previous literature assessing, as best as we could, the question of whether fluorescence has the potential to be used as a monitoring tool for recycled water. It presents what we consider to be the evidence for why it does, as well as highlighting some of the areas that require further investigation. You can read the abstract of the paper by clicking on the image below.

I’m really keen on this project (and really proud of the team we have assembled and the progress made so far), so I hope to be able to report some exciting updates during the next two years.


Henderson, R. K., Baker, A., Hambly, A., Murphy, K. R., Stuetz, R. M. and Khan, S. J. (2009) Fluorescence as a potential monitoring tool for recycled water systems: a review. Water Research. Vol 43, Issue 4, Pages 863-881. (available here).

Gold Coast Water also have a short description of this project on their website.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


what about the potential need for time resolved fluorescence in the field of water ? If we can catch the decay of fluorescence of a few chemical species, we can have an additional information to discrimate molecules. Today we can get profit of low cost devices to measure times with 10ps resolution.

I'm a french R&D engineer involved in the development of optical and electronics instruments.

My Email is

Best regards.

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