Securing water safety with effective monitoring

ColloidTek, together with Satakunta University of Applied Sciences, the University of Tampere and ColloidTek Oy, studied the applicability of Collo online measurement technology to domestic water quality control.

Original article, written by specialist Noora Salonen from Satakunta University of Applied Sciences, Matti Järveläinen, CEO of ColloidTek Oy, professor Jukka Rintala from Tampere University & the leading project manager Martti Latva from Satakunta University of Applied Sciences, was published on 23.10.2020 on Kehittyvä Elintarvike -magazine issue KE 5/2020, and online on 29.10.2020. Link to the original article:

Below is a translated version of the article.

Securing water safety with effective monitoring

Clean water supply is critical for food industry.

Expertise in water is key factor enabling its multifaceted use across industries in Finland. While access to clean water is rarely an issue in Finland, occasionally deviations related to microbiological or chemical water quality are observed, impacting the industry or even the consumer.

Serious incidents from the past few years speak to the point. In 2007 in Pirkanmaa region in Finland, wastewater leaked into the clean domestic water line resulting in significant financial losses to local beverage industry due to several months of production interruption. In 2008, in Häme region in Finland, the pH of the water produced by the local waterworks rose too high as a result of excessive dosing of lye. This caused significant financial losses for meat industry as production had to be stopped and finished products disposed of. In 2018, a broken pipe caused wastewater to mix with clean water in Western Finland. The accident led to the illness of hundreds of residents.

Continuous quality control is needed

There are about 1,600 waterworks in Finland that produce water for domestic use. In Finland, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health regulates the domestic water quality and quality monitoring. Its Decree (1352/2015) defines the acceptable threshold values ​​for the presence of various microbes and chemicals in domestic water, among other things.

In practice, a waterworks monitor several variables in the water it produces, such as pH, turbidity, and conductivity. However, quality control methods at waterworks do not always provide sufficient or timely information on the microbiological and chemical quality of water.

One of the issues is the delay between taking a water sample, and analyzing it in the laboratory, which can be hours or days. Another issue is the frequency of sampling, which limited by resources and cost of analysis. For example, microbiological contamination is often not detected until a few days after sampling, as it takes time to cultivate a bacterial sample. The risk of contamination is greatest in cases where the waterworks do not have adequate microbiological and chemical control of use.

Continuous and sufficiently multidimensional quality monitoring and control of water supply would in most cases significantly speed up the detection of microbiological and chemical disturbances, and help to optimize the water supply. The development of continuous quality control is therefore seen as extremely necessary in the water industry.

New technology for water quality monitoring

In order to develop a measurement and sensing technology based solution, which could detect water quality problems in clean water networks in real time, a joint project was initiated by Satakunta University of Applied Sciences, The University of Tampere and ColloidTek Oy. Modern online measurements to ensure water safety – digitization of liquid processes and machine learning as part of water management development (ModWAT) examined the suitability of the Collo measurement technology developed by the Finnish company ColloidTek for water supply quality control. The implementation period of the government’s flagship project funded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry was 1st November 2018–31st May 2020.

The information Collo Analyzer produced regarding the changes in the water was studied in the waterworks and in experiments performed in the laboratory of the Water Institute WANDER (SAMK) in Rauma. The goal was to teach Collo Analyzer to detect any sudden change in water quality that may occur in water supply, such as abnormal microbiological growth, increase in amount of particles or change in chemical composition.

In of the Water Institute WANDER’s (SAMK) laboratory Collo Analyzer’s response to both various chemicals and artificially induced microbiological contamination was researched. In addition, municipal waterworks used Collo Analyzer to monitor the water supply into the network over the period of several months.

The research in laboratory concluded that Collo Analyzer was  sensitive to, for example, changes in salinity, organic contaminants, changes caused by microbiological growth, and lime depositions. During the measurement periods performed at the water plant, the water quality remained relatively constant and no incidents or issues were encountered, so the variations detected by the sensor in the water plant were within the normal variation in water quality. However, the study showed that the sensor provided information on drinking water quality and its variation, and the changes that occurred could be detected immediately.

Online measurement would prevent local epidemics and financial losses

The ModWAT project provided new ways to manage water quality risks, and the results obtained will allow a shift to field trials. The application of new types of sensor technology, the real-time production and processing of measurement data and digital data transmission bring excellent tools for domestic water quality management.

The goal for the future is to detect microbiological and chemical deviations from the water produced by waterworks through continuous online measurement that reports these deviations in real time. This allows for a quick response before poor quality water reaches users. This can reduce illnesses and financial losses caused by contaminated water.

Homogeneous clean water is a lifeline for both food businesses and consumers. Securing and developing water supply is a key part of a functioning society. The development and introduction of new technological innovations is important.

Materials technology, education and measurement technology

The importance and demand of clean water is continuously growing globally. As the world’s population grows and urbanization increases, so do the food and energy consumption and the need for clean water. At the same time, the state of the natural waters is deteriorating, and droughts are stifling water resources.

As a result of climate change, extreme weather fluctuations pose challenges for both water purification and monitoring. Familiar, tried and tested operating models may no longer produce desired results. There is a great need for more efficient water treatment. In addition to materials technology and education, development activities focus on monitoring water quality with various measurement techniques.

The sensor technology of the Finnish ColloidTek Oy is an online measurement technology based on electromagnetic radiation. The measurement is based on a short-spectrum analysis of the directional electromagnetic field of the radio antenna operating at an MHz frequency.

The sensor measures the electromagnetic properties of a liquid and with real-time algorithms, converts them into parameters that can be used to identify ionic, molecular, and particulate concentrations. The sensor produces a real-time electromagnetic fingerprint of the measured liquid, which allows for real-time monitoring of changes in the liquid.

The response produced by the sensor is affected by a variety of properties in the measured fluid, such as the ions, molecules, and particles it contains. The sensor can be used to monitor i.e. phase changes, sedimentation, and changes in chemical composition.

By utilizing machine learning, the system can be taught to report changes that are relevant to the user. For example, the technology would allow for a faster response to a sudden deterioration in water quality.

The sensor is very durable, compact, and if necessary, can be connected directly to the water tank. Precipitates and biofilms do little to interfere with the measurement. The sensor can also be used to measure through the outer surface of a vessel or tube to avoid direct contact with the water. This allows for easy and inexpensive installation in existing piping or processes.

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