Water and sanitation technology for developing countries

Within CES&T, a group of dedicated professors and their collaborators share their expertise for the development and implementation of appropriate and sustainable technologies for providing safe drinking water and adequate sanitation in the developing regions.

Despite the significant push forward in this area in the past years under the impulse of the Millennium Development Goals, there are still over 700 million people worldwide relying on  unsafe drinking water sources and nearly 2.5 billion people do not use an improved sanitation facility. Water will therefore remain high on the agenda in the next decades. Innovation through research and innovation uptake through education are at the core of CES&T’s activities in this domain.

The subgroup integrates various areas of expertise, including but not limited to biological and physicochemical water and wastewater treatment, waterless sanitation, resource recovery and ecotechnologies.

A list with sample projects is given below. For more information please contact.


Development of novel solar-driven drinking water treatment systems (partner country: South-Africa)

Solar energy is only one of the alternative energy sources that can be used to drive novel water treatment systems in developing countries. Research with partners in South-Africa aims both at simple, as well as more advanced, methods of purifying polluted streams (ranging from surface water to (municipal) waste water) for potable water purposes. The idea is not only to recover the potable water, but also nutrients that are often scarce and expensive in these regions, and the lack of them leads to low crop yields. South-Africa as a developing country does have a very strong knowledge base on nanotechnology, and is further developing that together with UGent. South Africa and is interested to leapfrog the current state-of-the-art and go straight from their out-dated water treatment technology to novel concepts, mainly based on membrane treatment (e.g., also seawater desalination). However, in the more rural areas, simple technologies are still preferred, such as this simple water “pyramid” to produce potable water via evaporation.

Modelling and optimization of waste stabilisation pond (partner countries: Ecuador, Vietnam)

Waste stabilisation ponds are meant to be easy to operate systems for wastewater treatment. However, the different biological processes involved and the not straightforward hydrodynamics make these systems hard to model. Recent research used CFD modeling to get a grip on the hydrodynamics of an aerated, facultative and maturation pond. A method to translate these CFD models into simpler compartmental models was applied. Finally, this model was integrated with a biokinetic model to enable modeling the entire process. Moreover, algal kinetics were measured using a respirometric technique which was modified from the well-known technique used for activated sludge characterization.

Water management, assessment and prevention of environmental pollution in mining districts (partner country: Bolivia, Nicaragua)

This research aims at assessing the distribution and the environmental and human health impact of heavy metals pollution in mining areas. Technologies to treat mining waste, as well as to recover residual valuable metals from the waste, are also explored and being developed.

Impact and abatement of arsenic pollution in drinking water and paddy fields (partner country: Bangladesh, India, Bolivia)

This research aims at assessing the distribution and the environmental and human health impact of arsenic pollution in areas with a high natural background concentration of arsenic. Technologies to remove arsenic from groundwater (e.g., iron-based filter materials) are also explored and being developed.

Modelling and optimization of constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment (partner countries: Ecuador, Kenya, Vietnam)

Constructed wetlands (CW) are low-tech, low-cost and robust wastewater treatment systems that can be used in most climates, but excel in (sub)tropical climates. Not only can they provide wastewater treatment resulting in an effluent suitable for reuse, but the resulting biomass can also be used for economic benefits and the system as such can be a valuable habitat. Research is focusing among others on the use of CW for household and industrial wastewaters, on mode-based design, on footprint reduction and on ecological benefits.

Development of (low-cost) sorption technologies for removal of micropollutants from groundwater and wastewater (partner country: Rwanda, Ethiopia)

This research aims at developing (low-cost) treatment technologies using (locally available) natural materials for the removal of heavy metals from textile wastewater in Rwanda and Ethiopia, and heavy metals and other trace elements (e.g., fluoride) from groundwater in Ethiopia. These natural materials include, e.g., volcanic rock, zeolites and (chemically modified) chitosan.