Water supplies under pressure

With algal blooms costing an estimated $200 million of damage annually, Dr Rita Henderson and her research group at the bioMASS Lab in the School of Chemical Engineering assist their partners in the water industry by developing novel treatment and monitoring methods to assist in the management of impacted water supplies. 

Partnership in summary

Partner: Multiple partners including Water Research Australia, South Australia Water and Melbourne Water

Type of partnership: Ongoing collaborations through ARC Linkage Projects and contract research  

Funding: $1.9M since 2010 in ARC grants, plus additional financial and in-kind support from partners in the water industry

Purpose: To improve the water quality in drinking and recycled water supplies impacted by algae and cyanobacteria or elevated organic matter content

Outcomes:  More sustainable, resilient and reliable water treatment processes and state-of-the-art online monitoring techniques

Dr Rita Henderson's research projects have been awarded grants totalling almost $3M.










Australia’s water supplies are already under tremendous stress due to drought, climate change, population growth and pollution. But an additional challenge for the Nation’s water industry is an observed increase in algal bloom development and elevated organic matter content in our waterways.

Dr Henderson, who has more than 10 years’ experience in the area of algal and organic matter treatment and monitoring, says these problems cost millions of dollars’ to manage annually. The water industry has to contend with the possible release of toxins, and taste and odour compounds, from algae into the water supply, while waterways affected by increased organic matter content are at risk of producing potentially harmful disinfection by-products that result from reactions between organic matter during disinfection.

For Water Research Australia it’s important that collaborative research projects engage with industry to ensure the transfer of knowledge and adoption of research outcomes, and Dr Henderson does this extremely well.

Claire McInnes, Program Coordinator for Water Research Australia*

"It is critical that sustainable and robust water treatment technologies and associated monitoring techniques are developed and optimised to deal with these scenarios,” Dr Henderson says.

With the help of industry partnerships, ARC grants and other funding sources, Dr Henderson and her team have developed a novel dissolved air flotation process to treat algal blooms. “We’ve shown at pilot scale that we can treat high concentrations of algae effectively and efficiently, while reducing chemical consumption and waste stream volume,” she says.

“Our research has also led to a better understanding of the impact of algae and organic matter on treatment process performance and we have developed a method that uses fluorescence probes to monitor water quality. These probes can act as an early warning device.”

*Water Research Australia is a a not-for-profit company which undertakes collaborative research on all aspects of drinking water, recycled water and wastewater). Claire McInnes has worked with Dr Henderson on a number of water quality research projects.

About Dr Rita Henderson

Dr Rita Henderson leads the bioMASS Lab (Microbial Advanced Separation Systems Laboratory) at the School of Chemical Engineering. Her research aims to optimise water treatment processes and increase efficiency in terms of chemical and energy consumption, particularly for water impacted by algal blooms. Her group explores ways to improve online monitoring of algae treatment processes, and is also investigating algae as a potential source of biofuel. Her research projects have been awarded grants totalling almost $3 million. 

Dr Rita Henderson has also been recognised for her leadership qualities across the Science and Water Industry. This year she received the Australian Water Association (AWA) NSW Kamal Fernando Mentoring Award.

Find out more about Dr Rita Henderson

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