Protecting Our Liquid Assets

How Hong Kong handles its water resources and the impact of rapid economic and industrial development on the surrounding Pearl River Delta region – and many other parts of Mainland China – are becoming increasingly pressing issues.

Thus, in line with the mission of HKUST’s institute for the Environment (IENV) to provide a leadership role in Hong Kong and the region through world-class environmental research, water technology and resource management have been made one of IENV’s core research areas.

Water supply systems are essential lifelines for contemporary urban life. Cities such as Hong Kong consume a huge quantity of water each day and a staggering amount of energy is required simply to pump water. Leakage in water distribution systems is another demanding issue, while stormwater runoff poses further difficulties carrying pollutants deposited on road surfaces, car parks and other open spaces (e.g. lead from fuel) into rivers and coastal waters causing damage to ecological systems. Cities also generate large amounts of wastewater making innovative wastewater treatment technologies and disposal strategies vital environmental issues.

Meanwhile, the rush to industrialization in the Pearl River Delta Region and other locations in Mainland China is bringing numerous environmental challenges, ranging from increased water demand to water quality problems and elevated pollution levels.

This makes water technology advances and sound management of resources an essential part of sustainable development in Hong Kong and Mainland China. With similar problems faced by cities and economic hot spots worldwide, research breakthroughs in these areas will have high impact both locally and globally. IENV is ready to play a significant role in providing them.

Testing the water

IENV excels in both fundamental and applied research through the integration of interdisciplinary water technology and management expertise at HKUST. Such research results in better understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological mechanisms related to water resources and technology; and assists in the development of sound management decisions.

Key areas of focus currently comprise:

  • Innovative water and wastewater treatment technology
  • Urban water resource and management
  • Micro-pollutant and waterborne disease controls
  • Effects of rainwater and flooding on natural environments

Frontier Research

Some of the exciting areas being explored:

New technologies for wastewater treatment, reuse, and recycling; removal of heavy metals, oil and grease, persistent, non-biodegradable, and micro-pollutants by novel nucleated precipitation, chemical reduction, adsorption, membrane separation; intensified biological processes, electrochemical processes, and advanced oxidation; development of nanocatalysts for decontamination of wastewater; synergistic wastewater treatment processes; treatment process characterization and optimization to enhance pollutant removal; pollutant transformation processes in sewers; low-cost and novel membrane bioreactors; reduction of harmful disinfection by-products; minimization and treatment of sludge; effects of rainwater and flooding on environments; urban water resource and wastewater management; innovative technologies for leakage detection; pollutant transport and transformation in water.


Advances in Waste Treatment

Technological advances for sewage treatment have been produced, including a hybrid biological reactor for waste treatment. The new technology can cost-effectively increase treatment capacity. The HKSAR Government’s Drainage Services Department has chosen to utilize this technology in a full-scale plant on Lantau Island.

Cost-Effective Boost to Recycling

A novel, low-cost membrane bioreactor (MBR), a key technology in wastewater reuse and recycling, has been created to assist domestic wastewater reuse. The innovative MBR uses non-woven material which significantly lowers the costs associated with a conventional membrane and excessive aeration, while effluent quality meets the requirements for various urban uses, such as toilet flushing. Applications include village house wastewater treatment, building wastewater reuse and recycling, storm water treatment and effluent polishing of existing sewage treatment facilities, among others.

Extending MIMS Frontiers

Researchers have been furthering the membrane introduction mass spectrometry (MIMS) technique for determining disinfection residuals and by-products. Methods for inorganic chlorine and chloramines, cyanogen chloride and cyanogen bromide have been developed and the MIMS technique extended to quantify residual bromine and bromamines. This allows the study of unexplored chlorine chemistry involving organic nitrogen.

Clean-Up for Manufacturers

With effluents from Mainland China textile plants affecting the aquatic environment in Southern China and water supply to Hong Kong, researchers have been involved in creating a prototype treatment unit that can recycle effluents discharged during textile operations. Long-term benefits include the elimination of polluted discharges into the water system and a substantial reduction in demand for water by the textile industry.