A new sensor that will allow engineers to rapidly identify blockages and damage to sewer pipes has today won a £155,000 Brian Mercer Award for Innovation from the Royal Society. Professor Kirill Horoshenkov is developing an airborne acoustic sensor that can objectively measure in-pipe condition. It will offer a 100-fold improvement in the productivity of sewer inspection.
The UK's 300,000km sewer system is ageing and poorly monitored. Furthermore, it faces increasing capacity demands because of increased urbanisation, more stringent environmental regulation and the possible consequences of climate change in the form of more frequent and intense rain events. The sensor, being developed at the University of Bradford, will offer a new and effective way to monitor the condition of this system.
Professor Horoshenkov said:
"Water companies in the UK are legally required to maintain the conditions of their sewer systems and to reduce flooding incidents. Consequently, monitoring pipes for obstructions and defects forms an important part of the operational and maintenance costs. Existing sewer survey methods are limited to the interpretation of CCTV and LightLine images which are relatively slow - less than 2% of the UK network is surveyed every 5 years.
This award will allow us to develop a prototype of our sensor and ultimately provide an efficient solution to what is at the moment a very costly but neccessary operation."
The prize will be presented at the annual Royal Society Labs to Riches event tonight in London. £185,000 will also be awarded to Dr Andrew Nelson from the University of Leeds who is developing a sensor to continuously monitor levels of toxins in water. The awards are given to encourage innovation in science and technology and promote the commercial application of research.
Sir Peter Williams, Vice-President of the Royal Society said:
"Science has the potential to solve some of the greatest challenges facing the world at the moment but only if we continue to invest in good ideas. We need to be on a constant look-out for the next big thing and then willing to support it when it comes along.
Monitoring pipes for obstructions and then removing them could form an important part of an effective programme to reduce sewer flooding. Professor Horoshenkov and his team are working on a truly novel technology which may a very positive impact on the condition of our sewer systems. The Royal Society is pleased to help move this technology a step closer to reality."
Science and Innovation Minister Lord Drayson, who will be presenting the award, said:
"It is great to see the Royal Society giving such a high profile to applied research. This sensor demonstrates the fundamental importance of basic acoustic research to developing tomorrow's tools for the benefit of society and the economy. Both the projects will prove crucial to guaranteeing and improving environmental health. And personally, as an engineer, I am very excited to see engineering doing so well at these awards."
The Labs to Riches event will also see the award of 9 Brian Mercer Feasibility Awards of up to £30,000 each to projects including a sensor for detecting hydrogen gas on the ocean floor and a new low-energy natural ventilation system for buildings. Six of the awards are funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and a further award in electrotechnology is supported by the ERA Foundation.