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Australian researchers develop water quality sensor using fibre optic nano technology

Edith Cowan University (ECU) researchers have developed a new water quality sensor utilising fibre optic nano technology.

Funded by the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination Australia (NCEDA), ECU Electron Science Research Institute (ESRI) Director Professor Kamal Alameh and his team have created a sensor which can identify potential membrane fouling in desalination plants.

Salinity sensors play an important role in assuring control of the desalination process.

If not checked, a degraded membrane can affect the quality of the water produced and may require intense chemical cleaning or membrane replacement, increasing the costs of treatment plants.

But current sensor models are  bulky, vulnerable to corrosion and typically require a power supply at each sensor node.

The new fibre optic sensors offer a more accurate, robust level of monitoring for desalination plants, Professor Alameh said.

“The fibre optic sensors are the same thickness as a human hair. An optical fibre costs just $7 for a 1km length. Our fibre optic sensors provide real-time information, acting as a warning system to imminent fouling by monitoring salinity values as low as 5 mg/litre,” Professor Alameh said.

“The sensors meet the required industry standard and can capture temperature, flow rate, pressure and salt passage.”

Professor Alameh believes that the sensors could also be used in the oil and gas industry.

“The laser light guided within the optic fibre is a unique feature which the oil and gas sector could also use to sense the quality of oil at deep levels, or sense gases in very harsh environments,” Professor Alameh said.

Professor Alameh and his team have developed a fibre optic sensor demonstrator and is currently investigating the potential to commercialise the technology with industry partners.

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