New centre takes aim at water solutions

Paul Mayne//Western NewsChemical and Biochemical Engineering professor Mita Ray was named the inaugural director of the university’s new WesternWater Centre, a research group eyeing water and environmental issues.

It is the key to everything for Mita Ray – not only right here at home but into the great beyond.

“When exploring other planets, what’s the first thing they look for? Water. Every little thing we do we see how water is involved,” the Chemical and Biochemical Engineering professor explained. “This is a challenge we need to take up as engineers and scientists. We need to find solutions.”

In order to unlock some of those solutions, Western recently launched the WesternWater Centre, a Western Engineering-based group charged with generating real-life solutions for the management and treatment of water supplies.

“There is power in numbers,” said Ray, who was named the centre’s inaugural director. “Some of us have already been working together. But this gives us a bigger umbrella. There are always benefits when you do things as a team.”

Bringing together 15 faculty members from two departments – Chemical and Biochemical and Civil and Environmental Engineering – the centre will address water and environmental issues, including recovering energy, phosphorus, organics and derivatives from wastewater; plastics removal; and recycling of industrial wastewater.

With approximately 900 water industry companies, 300 early stage water technology developers and 100 technology incubators in Ontario alone, Canada is a global leader when it comes to water technologies.

Outside industry, several government and independent agencies – Ontario Water Centre, Canadian Water Network, Ontario Water Works Association and Southern Ontario Water Consortium – offer possibilities of partnerships for Western researchers to play a role.

“Water is one of the main issues globally. Industry needs water; agriculture needs water; people need water,” Ray said. “If we develop clean technology that can be sold worldwide, we can exploit this as a potential for generational revenue for Canada – technologies manufactured here in Canada.”

With the formation of the centre, Ray sees researchers as having better access to funding and other opportunities the sector offers, while benefitting regional and Canadian communities.

Western has research strength in water across a number of faculties, including major projects within Social Science, Science, and Arts & Humanities. While two Engineering departments comprise the new centre, there are no constraints in working across campus, explained Ray, who has partnered with Biology professor Sheila Macfie for years.

Within the centre, nearly 100 PhD and masters students will learn about cutting-edge water research through a planned speaker series, conferences and workshops, as well as industrial internships.

Water provides a giant challenge for this generation and beyond – and it is a challenge, Ray said, the new centre is up to the task of tackling.

“People who cause division say, ‘This is a problem of yours. I don’t need to solve it.’ The thing a visionary should do is look at somebody else’s problem and say, ‘This could be my problem someday.’ This planet cannot be sustained. We need to look into sustainable development and water is an essential part of it.”