Water-Energy-Food Nexus – Lab
Representing the UNESCO Chair of the RWTH Aachen, Dr Sewilam has established a research initiative to focus on the most urgent problems in the MENA region (water, energy and food scarcities).
Using solar energy for Desalination
The initiative is focusing on finding solution for the water scarcity considering energy consumption and food production. It is based on the concept of Water-Energy-Food Nexus as a sustainable approach to ensure water, energy and food security in the whole region.
Under the leadership of Dr Sewilam and with funding from different sources (Industry and EU projects), a WEF Nexus lab has been established at the American University in Cairo. To this end, several research activities are carried out at WEF nexus lab. The main research objective is to desalinate water using solar energy then use the water to produce food through aquaponics.
The pilot desalination unit entails the following membrane-based technologies for Brackish and seawater. The research is focused on desalination for irrigation purposes, being the largest consumer of fresh water in Egypt; thus thoroughly investigating the novel technology of Forward Osmosis. This way desalination can be achieved using significantly low energy.
The conclusion of our research so far is that forward Osmosis is a promising technology that can possibly alleviate the water scarcity problem in Egypt. Not only is FO a sustainable desalination technology, but also it has numerous advantages over conventional desalination technologies. The promising results of the bench-scale experiment led to scaling the experiment and build the pilot scale.
WEF pilot scale aquaponic system is available at WEF nexus lab for research purposes in which both plants and fish are grown. There are two systems running in parallel for comparison purposes. The first system is a soilless Deep Water Culture (DWC) where nutrient rich water is circulated while polystyrene rafts float on top. Plants are supported within holes in the rafts. The plant roots hang down in the nutrient-rich, oxygenated water, where they absorb large amounts of oxygen and nutrients which contribute to rapid growth conditions. The other aquaponic system is Integrated Aqua-Vegiculture System (IVAS). In this system, sand is utilized to physically remove the suspended solid waste fraction from the aquaculture water. The soil ecosystem biologically transforms the fish waste (both the solids and solutes) into nutrient forms that plants will assimilate. The plants perform the function of filter cleaners by extracting their nutrient from the soil and thereby limiting/preventing toxic accumulations. In both systems Tilapia fish is grown. The main purpose of this research is to maximize the productivity of a unit m3 of water in terms of crop and fish yield.