News

Engineering at Illinois establishes Safe Global Water Institute

5/8/2012 10:06:00 AM

With the goal of seeking sustainable solutions to the world’s safe water and sanitation challenges, the College of Engineering has established the Safe Global Water Institute (SGWI) under the direction of Benito Mariñas, a professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE).

In Kenya, children draw water from Lake Victoria, where livestock also drink. This photo was taken during a class trip to Africa, led by CEE Professor Benito Marinas.
In Kenya, children draw water from Lake Victoria, where livestock also drink. This photo was taken during a class trip to Africa, led by CEE Professor Benito Marinas.
Approximately 10 percent of the world’s population lacks access to improved water, and one-third of the world’s population—2.5 billion people—lack adequate sanitation, according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization. Many hundreds of millions more must drink unsafe water from improved sources, according to a report by the International Finance Corporation. The work of SGWI researchers will focus on Sub-Saharan Africa—one of the regions most severely affected by these problems—and Mexico.

"The new institute will integrate engineering with the natural and social sciences, building upon the 10-year success of the University of Illinois’ WaterCAMPWS, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Science and Technology Center of Advanced Materials for the Purification of Water with Systems,” said Ilesanmi Adesida, dean of the College of Engineering. “Because of his extensive work with projects related to water treatment in various parts of the world, Professor Mariñas is a natural choice for leading this effort.” 

The SGWI will develop partnerships with more than 20 domestic and international academic institutions, U.S. federal agencies, international governmental agencies, industrial partners, non-governmental organizations and targeted communities.

The SWGI’s objectives include:

  • During a class trip to Kenya, CEE students draw water samples for testing from a local well.
    During a class trip to Kenya, CEE students draw water samples for testing from a local well.
    Creating innovative sensors and information systems to impact how communities make decisions about safe water and sanitation and to improve public health and economic outcomes.
  • Developing transformative, culturally relevant technologies and socially embraceable solutions to novel, affordable, safe water systems to solve community-identified water crises.
  • Transforming sanitation from a burden to a community-valued resource regeneration through innovative technologies and governance institutions, which are able to recover energy and nutrients from sanitation media while providing protection of public health.
  • Developing new materials and technologies to integrate renewable energy components within safe water and sanitation systems.
  • Building capacity at local institutions that will sustain the safe water and sanitation infrastructure.

Mariñas has made the Sub-Saharan region a focus of his work for the past three years. As part of his environmental lab course (CEE449), students work on design projects related to water treatment, collaborating with college students in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mexico. The students travel to these countries to visit their project sites and participate in joint design sessions with students there.  

Since 1995, Mariñas has taught graduate and undergraduate courses covering various fundamental, laboratory experimentation and design aspects of environmental engineering and science with particular emphasis in physico-chemical treatment processes for water quality control.

The first major research grant awarded to SGWI, in partnership with the WaterCAMPWS and the University of Nairobi, is from the NSF/USAID Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research program. The project is entitled, “Kenya - Project 207 Addressing drinking water quality challenges in developing countries: Case study of Lake Victoria Basin.”

The institute will host an international summit on Safe Global Water in Arusha, Tanzania, during the second week of October 2012. The event will bring together researchers, stakeholders, and decision-makers to develop a strategic plan for overcoming current and pending water and sanitation challenges. The summit will be funded by the NSF, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education.
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Contact: Benito J. Mariñas, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 217/333-6961.

Writer: Celeste Arbogast Bragorgos, director of communications, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 217/333-6955.

If you have any questions about the College of Engineering, or other story ideas, contact Rick Kubetz, editor, Engineering Communications Office, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 217/244-7716.