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Case study: Professor Nidal Hilal

Professor Nidal Hilal from Swansea University was awarded an International Collaboration Award to work with Professor Abdul Wahab Mohammad in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
Towards water sustainability in the Malaysian agriculture industry: Water reclamation and nutrient recovery from palm oil mill biogas reactor effluent using an integrated forward osmosis process.

Over one billion people currently do not have access to clean drinking water and 2.6 billion lack adequate sanitation. It is expected that the world’s population will increase by up to 50% over the next 50 years. This has direct consequences on feeding the world’s population in 2050 as it will take 50% more fresh water than what we use today.  Water sustainability will be one of the global challenges that will affect everyone. 

Professor Hilal of Swansea University is working with his Malaysian counterpart to help address water sustainability within the oil palm industry. The oil palm industry is one of the major industries in Malaysia and it is estimated that for each ton of crude palm oil that is produced 5–7.5 tons of water are required.  More than 50% of this water ends up as palm oil mill effluent (POME).  They plan to make the palm oil industry become more sustainable in its water use, reducing the amount of water used and recycling and maximising resource utilization.

Through collaboration with Professor Mohammad’s research group in Malaysia they will use membrane technology to maximize resource utilization through water reclamation and nutrients recovery.  POME is normally used to produce biogas and the effluent from this process still contains a lot of water and nutrients which can be further treated using forward osmosis and nanofiltration to produce recyclable treated water as well as organic fertilizer.  The aim is to turn the waste into resources that can be ploughed back to the industry.

This project will help understand the issue of sustainability in the palm oil industry in Malaysia and provide a solution to make the industry more sustainable. By working with their counterparts in Malaysia in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia they can also support collaboration with the Malaysian industry. 

The project has the potential to have a global impact by minimising water waste in an era of fresh water scarcity.