Western Mail Profiles: Dr Akintunde Babatunde

‘We need to rethink our use of waste water treatment to secure a sustainable future’

Dr Akintunde Babatunde is a lecturer at Cardiff University’s School of Engineering. His focused area of research is sustainable water engineering. In simple terms, his research is concerned with how water is cleaned and returned to the sea before evaporating and re-entering the water cycle. Currently, he is investigating constructed and engineered wetland systems for sustainable water management.

A TOTAL of 99% of the water on our planet is either locked away in the oceans or frozen. Of the one per cent that’s left, only a fraction is fit for human consumption.

Given our increasing population, tighter environmental regulations and the effects of climate change, ensuring a sustainable supply of potable water and the sustainable treatment of wastewater are major engineering challenges of the 21st century.

In particular, projected water shortages and the need to lower greenhouse gas emissions force us to rethink waste water treatment for sustainable cities of the future, and the need for research into this precious resource has never been more important.

Conventional wastewater treatment is capital and energy-intensive with high construction, maintenance, and operation costs and high carbon emissions. In contrast to the conventional methods, my research has focused on novel ways to clean water to required standards in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way.

In addition, I am exploring the generation of bioenergy and recovery of resources during wastewater treatment and this will lead to a truly sustainable wastewater treatment operation.

I have developed a new constructed wetland system which is green, compact and very efficient in cleaning water. It does not use chemicals, it has a comparatively lower energy requirement, and it offers greater scope for resource recovery from wastewater.

The new constructed wetland system could contribute to delivering on the objectives of the Welsh Government’s sustainable development scheme, One Wales: One Planet, being that it is a cleaner and resource-efficient system that decreases material inputs, reduces energy and emissions and recovers and reuses valuable products from waste.

It also has the potential of becoming a global and sustainable low-cost system of choice particularly for efficient decentralised wastewater treatment.

A recent report by the Institute of Civil Engineers Wales Cymru indicates that despite the recent rain and flooding in parts of west and north Wales, water security in Wales is still at an equally critical point to the rest of the UK. My research will contribute to placing Wales in a strong position to face this challenge while also encouraging public shift in attitude towards solutions that can significantly reduce domestic water demand such as recycling household water and rainwater harvesting for non-potable uses.

To contact Akintunde please email babatundea@cardiff.ac.uk

This article first  appeared in the Western Mail‘s Health Wales supplement on 20th August 2012, as part of the Welsh Crucible series of research profiles.