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UC Engineer Spearheads $3m Next-gen Tech Project To Clean NZ Water

A University of Canterbury (UC) Kaipūhanga Rauropi | Ecological Engineer has $3 million and three years to help reverse water pollution with innovative sustainable treatment technologies, such as 3D-printed water filters made from biomaterials

Leading a multi-disciplinary research group, UC Associate Professor in Ecological Engineering Dr Aisling O’Sullivan, of UC’s Civil and Natural Resources Engineering department, aims to tackle one of the biggest science-based issues facing Aotearoa New Zealand – water pollution.

“With Māori and iwi, we are developing a valuable project which has the potential to disrupt the water treatment sector – and most importantly return Te Mana o te Wai to our ecosystems and tangata whenua,” Professor O’Sullivan says. “I am proud to lead such a talented and dedicated expert team on this Spearhead research project.”

Associate Professor O’Sullivan’s research focuses on creating ecologically sound design solutions for treating polluted waters, in partnership with Māori, iwi, councils and industry. The Science for Technological Innovation (SfTi) Spearhead project, Clean Water Technology for restoring Te Mana o te Wai (CWT), is a nationwide, multi-institutional, three-year project, due to begin in February 2021.

Ko te wai ko te ora – tackling fresh water pollution

UC Ecological Engineering Associate Professor Aisling (Ash) O’Sullivan explains her Clean Water Technologies project: “The New Zealand government has set ambitious targets to reverse water quality pollution, as set out in the recent Essential Freshwater package, which came into force in September 2020. Our innovative research is aiming to help achieve this goal.”


“We are going to produce the next generation, wastewater treatment media – in collaboration with our Māori partners – that are 3D-printed to precise specifications and made from biomaterials, including some waste resources.”


“We all rely on the wellbeing of our water. Rivers and lakes are integral to Māori cultural identity. Their health and wellbeing is intrinsically connected to the health and wellbeing of whānau, iwi and hapū. New Zealanders want to swim, fish, gather mahinga kai and enjoy freshwater as our whakapapa did. We also need clean water to drink and irrigation to support a sustainable economy. However, its deterioration, in both the rural and urban landscapes, is a critical and global challenge. This has caused substantial ecosystem decline and ultimately impacts on our food security and mauri (health).”


“We wanted to create the biggest impact possible. That’s why we’re focused on pushing current science boundaries relating to innovative media that can be applied to many treatment technologies rather than developing just one such technology or a solution for just one sector. This affords an opportunity to provide a monumental impact on the health and wellbeing of our waterways. In doing so, we will be guided by our Māori partners, iwi advisors and SfTI leaders.”


“To join our cross-disciplinary, nationwide team of researchers, we have six top-funded PhD scholarships and other research opportunities so are calling for high-calibre students to join us on this mission of returning Te Mana o te Wai to our ecosystems and tangata whenua.”

One of the 11 National Science Challenges, Science for Technological Innovation | Kia Kotahi Mai: Te Ao Pūtaiao me Te Ao Hangarau (SfTi) is a science investment tackling New Zealand’s high-tech challenges to grow our economy and prosperity through physical sciences and engineering.

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