Off-Grid Containerised Water Treatment Plant

THE GILGHI PROJECT (Australia), the solar powered water treatment plant

Featured Image:Photo by Henrique Félix on Unsplash.

Poor water quality or lack of access to clean water is linked to increased child morbidity, as well as diseases, including trachoma, diabetes, kidney disease, thyroid disease and cancer. The World Health Organisation has estimated that access to clean and safe water and sanitation could reduce the global disease burden by almost 10%, but many remote Australian communities still lack access to it.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 48,000 Indigenous Australians rely on groundwater for their water supply, but the groundwater in arid areas can contain high concentrations of elements such as uranium.

Engineers developed the Gilghi project over three years and deployed it in the community of Gillen Bore in the Northern Territory, which until 2019 relied on the continued transport (150 km round trip from Alice Springs) of potable water. Though they had access to bore water with a new bore sunk in 2014, their water is too high in salinity, hardness and has low pH levels.

“Gilghi represents a breakthrough, innovative, solar-powered water purifying system solution,” said Julian Briggs, Design Director, Water and Waste Water Treatment at Aurecon.

"The solution provides affordable potable water to a remote community in an environmentally sustainable way,” John McGuire said, the Aurecon Chief Design Officer.

The technology can significantly contribute to reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal no.6, which aims to ensure access to clean water and sanitation for all by 2030. According to Briggs the project is reducing the expenditure of the energy of water treatment,— which accounts for 13% of Australia’s electricity use — and the expense of transporting clean water. Gilghi’s flexible design enables the system to meet larger supply requirements and different treatment challenges without adversely affecting the cost per liter.

Project Gilghi was developed by international engineering, design and advisory company Aurecon and the electrical engineering company Ampcontrol. The modular design makes Gilghi, because it’s housed in a standard shipping container and the installation only requires truck transportation and a forklift. Gilghi’s adopts a ‘plug and play’ approach, with all components of the plant prototyped, assembled, connected and tested by Ampcontrol before the transportation. The unit can be extended or modified to meet larger supply requirements in the future with the same efficiency and cost effectiveness.

Photo by Craig Elliot from FreeImages COPY

Gilghi is utilising a stand-alone hybrid power supply comprising solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, battery storage, and a back-up diesel generator.

Furthermore, it has power quality and voltage optimization with remote Monitoring, alarming of the power system, and water treatment plant diagnostics. Additional ability to log on-ground prestarts/maintenance to the cloud. The system is designed to have the ability to treat water from a variety of sources including bores, groundwater, rivers, streams, lakes, brackish and oceans saltwater.

The water is stored in an inlet tank before it passes through three stages of treatment:

  1. Media filtration (sand media, carbon and softener)
  2. Reverse osmosis (RO) unit, comprised of cartridge filters, pressure booster pump and RO membranes
  3. UV disinfection system and outlet tank

Once treated, the water is transferred to a storage tank and made available for consumption. In terms of waste stream processing, an evaporation pond is built to treat the brine from the RO process. Thanks to the Territory’s plentiful sun, Gilghi charges its batteries with solar power during the day to enable the system to produce up to 28 000 liter of potable water each day, but 250 000 liter per day is also achievable with customized engineering. The system availability has been 99.6% over a period of around 18 months of operation.

Additional benefits:

  • Local Employment

After commissioning and basic training local people/businesses can be competent to provide first-line services to Gilghi which in turn supports local jobs.

  • Less Pollution

“The solution provides a reliable and potable supply of water in a sustainable manner that does not increase CO2 emission,” Professor Chris Binnie said a member of the ICE Water Panel.

  • Highly Competitive Lifetime Costs
  • More Resilience

By placing a Gilghi unit next to the water source, water supply is protected from issues that can interrupt transporting water by pipes or road as well as major breakdowns at large centralized infrastructure.

The project won several appreciative awards in a row. That shows the potential of this innovative system, which will hopefully help many people worldwide in the future.


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