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Research

Durham University and Northumbrian Water sign partnership to tackle water challenges

(21 May 2018)

(L-R) Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, and Heidi Mottram, Chief Executive Officer, Northumbrian Water, signing the Memorandum of Understanding agreement

Durham University and Northumbrian Water have joined together to help tackle water-related challenges and opportunities affecting society and the environment.

The two organisations have signed an agreement which will see them share research and development expertise in areas such as catchment management, risk and resilience, stakeholder engagement, innovation, data science and energy.

The five-year partnership will also support economic growth in North East England, particularly by providing support to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

On-going partnership

The agreement formalises an on-going partnership between Durham University and Northumbrian Water. Projects include:

  • ROBUST – Regeneration of Brownfield Using Sustainable Technologies - which has examined the potential of “waste” to treat former industrial brownfield sites so they can be brought back into community use to improve health and well-being. This led to the development of a community garden in Easington Colliery, County Durham and the establishing of a soil improvement technology research pilot site at Weetslade Park, Northumberland.
  • Reprocessing waste materials from former coal mines to help remove the problem nutrient phosphorous from waste water. A 30-month Knowledge Transfer Partnership culminated in trials at Cockfield Water Treatment Works, in County Durham and an ongoing development project in collaboration with the Coal Authority.
  • Development of a sustainable method of stopping plant roots from growing inside damaged sewage pipes and causing blockages. A separate project is exploring the potential future use of plants, plant cell culture or specific plant-produced compounds to harvest copper and other trace metals from waste water. Both are part of the Durham University and University of Kent-led Metals in Biology NIBB, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
  • Durham University recently became the first university in the North of England – and the second in the UK – to join a new campaign, spearheaded by Northumbrian Water, aimed at reducing plastic waste. The ‘Refill’ campaign allows staff, students, and members of the public to fill up their plastic water bottles at 11 of the University’s public cafés across its sites in Durham City and Queen’s Campus, Stockton.
  • Durham University and Northumbrian Water have recently secured a further Knowledge Transfer Partnership which will integrate participatory methods with nature-based approaches and traditional engineered solutions in order to design new tools and working practices that reduce potential risks and impacts of sewer flooding for customers and communities.

Environmental and economic benefits

Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: “Durham University has a long history of collaborating with Northumbrian Water on research and development.

“The work we have carried out has societal, environmental and economic benefits and the signing of this agreement will help us to further develop and grow our partnership to support water sustainability in this country and internationally.

“By providing the North East’s small and medium sized businesses with access to research and development expertise, our partnership will also support the economic development of North East England.”

Supporting business and society

Northumbrian Water Chief Executive Heidi Mottram said: “Durham University is one of the leading centres of learning in the UK and this partnership is a fantastic way of making the things we do go even further, for the benefit of our customers, the North East as a whole and the water industry.

“Durham University was a partner at our first Innovation Festival in 2017, which is all about working with others to find great ideas that help and support businesses, society and the environment. We’re very excited to be working with them again at this year’s Festival, which really captures the spirit of this partnership.”

The partnership between Durham University and Northumbrian Water supports the aims of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Tees Valley Combined Authority.

Reducing risk of flooding

Durham University is a partner in Northumbrian Water Group’s Innovation Festival, which will be held at Newcastle Racecourse from Monday 9 to Friday 13 July.

The festival takes 13 societal and environmental problems and applies design techniques to try to solve them.

Durham University will lead the session looking at the problem of flooding and how we can reduce future risk.

University experts will lead the session exploring how the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ 25-year plan for the environment can be put into practice in North East England.

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