Malaysian award-winning water filtration system may get AI upgrade

Prof Mohamed Kheireddine has plans to integrate AI into the next version of the water filtration system. Photo: Sunway University

It all started with a PhD project that Professor Mohamed Kheireddine Aroua was involved in, whose objective was to develop a control system to enhance the performance of the water treatment process.

The result: A pilot-scale water ultrafiltration unit.

Then in 2014, Prof Mohamed Kheireddine got involved in a flood relief mission in Kelantan. He and his team decided to use the unit to provide clean water for the flood victims.

“Once we were involved with the community during the flood period, we realised the potential of the unit to help communities affected by floods and people in remote areas gain access to clean water, ” said Prof Mohamed Kheireddine, 58, head of the Sunway University Research Centre for Carbon Dioxide Capture and Utilisation.

He added that, during floods, Malaysia relied a lot on foreign help to provide mobile water systems for flood victims.

“So we decided to further develop our unit to make it more appealing for commercial purposes. Our experience during the two months spent providing clean water for the flood victims and engaging them helped us understand the needs of communities in remote areas.”

That led to the development of a system with features fine-tuned for communities in remote areas, which means a standalone system that can run on solar energy, a genset, and with normal electricity, a smart system that can dynamically auto-backwash when necessary, the professor explained.

   The award-winning solar-powered ultrafiltration system that produces clean water for flood victims and communities in remote areas. Photo: Mohamed Kheireddine ArouaThe award-winning solar-powered ultrafiltration system that produces clean water for flood victims and communities in remote areas. Photo: Mohamed Kheireddine Aroua

The unit – known as the “Self-Cleaning Ultrafiltration System Producing Clean Water”– won Prof Mohamed Kheireddine and his fellow Universiti Malaya research collaborator Prof Dr Mohamed Azlan Hussain the 2016 Universiti Malaya award for outstanding achievement in community engagement.

It also won the IChemE 2018 Global Award in the Water Category. The IChemE Water category award recognises the best project or process that demonstrates engineering excellence in water use, clean up and re-use, with particular emphasis on reducing environmental impact while preserving commercial viability.

The green ultrafiltration system also addresses the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UNSDG) 6, which is Clean Water and Sanitation.

The system is easy to operate, mobile and does not use chemicals for membrane-cleaning to avoid any risk of contamination to the villagers.

“Coming up with a system that does not use chemicals was our main challenge and the main innovation of our unit. Furthermore, by eliminating the use of chemicals, the operating cost is dramatically reduced. Using solar-powered units also avoids the issue of electricity and/or diesel cost and who will pay for it.”

From Tunisia, Prof Mohamed Kheireddine is the Associate Dean (Research) for the School of Science and Technology at Sunway University.

He was listed among Highly Cited Researchers in 2018 and 2019 in Engineering by Clarivate Analytics. This is a recognition of world-class researchers selected for their exceptional research performance, demonstrated by the production of multiple highly cited papers that rank in the top 1% by citations for field and year in the Web of Science. The Web of Science is a premier research platform for information in the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities.

Prof Mohamed Kheireddine has plans to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) into the next version of the water filtration system.

“Currently, we have to monitor the performance of the installed units regularly – on average, once in six months. This will be very troublesome when the number of units installed becomes high.

“As such, we are planning to leverage on the recent development in AI and, in line with the government policy on the implementation of IR (Industrial Revolution) 4.0, to integrate AI and IoT to the system so the operation and performance could be monitored in real time and remotely. This will also enable us to perform troubleshooting and provide technical support remotely, ” he said.

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