The University of Newcastle, Australia

Clean water collaboration wins major International award

Thursday, 13 October 2016

University of Newcastle’s Professor Robert Melchers has received an international award with a team of national and international researchers and water utilities for solving a major water-supply problem:  failure in critical pipes to deliver fresh water.

The International Water Association award for innovation will be presented on October 12 in Brisbane at the Global Awards Ceremony of the International Water Association’s World Water Congress and Exhibition.

There are over $500bn worth of critical pipe assets in Australia, the UK and US alone. Most are buried in the ground, sometimes in highly aggressive soils. Water authorities urgently needed the capability to predict where and when major failures of critical pipes would occur to put effective, long-term preventative measures in place.

This six-year, $16 million project was designed to address the issues caused by ageing critical pipelines which present a major challenge to cost-effective management of water pipe assets.

Commenced in July 2011, the partners in this project include Sydney Water Corporation, UK Water Industry Research Ltd., Water Research Foundation of the USA, Water Corporation (WA), City West Water, Melbourne Water, Yarra Valley Water, South Australia Water Corporation, Queensland Urban Utilities, South East Water Ltd, and Hunter Water Corporation. On the research side, Monash University leads the project, supported by University of Technology Sydney and the University of Newcastle.

The project’s aim was to improve prediction of pipe failure, to reduce costs, improve reliability and customer service.

UON led one of the three core activities in the project: estimating how to assess current corrosion and deterioration of the buried pipes and to predict likely future deterioration accurately with respect to the environment.

Team leader Professor Melchers said he was proud that the project helped the team develop and calibrate a realistic predictive model for pipe corrosion in soil - “we have transferred our own cutting-edge research experience from other corrosion areas to this project, destroyed a few myths in the process and worked very closely with industry to ensure our work brings reality and practicality to industry decision-making.”

The corrosion prediction work also utilised state of the art 3D laser imaging techniques to model the pipe surface characteristics. This novel data collection model is now being applied by a number of water utilities as part of normal operations.

This project challenged some of the fundamental beliefs on which existing pipe maintenance regimes are founded and delivered significant new knowledge.

The project has produced significant outcomes to improve water pipe inspection and prediction of pipe failure to reduce renewal/maintenance costs and to improve reliability and customer service.

Specifically, it has produced innovative models to predict the probability of pipe failure verified through field case studies, a world first calibrated model to predict the long-term exterior corrosion of cast iron pipes, and enhanced interpretations of existing pipe CA tool results though innovative machine learning techniques.

It also produced unique research infrastructure, a 1.2km long research pipe test bed and an automated pipe burst testing facility.

As a result, the international water community can address critical pipe failure issues more accurately, efficiently and economically, with better customer service.

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