Project Gilghi - designing for future generations

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Project Gilghi – sustainable off-grid, containerised water treatment, Australia

Aurecon has partnered with Ampcontrol to create a breakthrough off-grid water purifying system for use in remote Indigenous communities.

More than 40,000 Indigenous Australians in 694 locations nationwide rely on groundwater for water supply and face challenges in accessing clean drinking water that meets the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. In the case of the community of Gillen Bore in the Northern Territory, they had access to bore water, with a new bore sunk in 2014. Despite this, they relied on the continued transport (150km round trip from Alice Springs) of potable water due to high salinity, hardness and low pH levels in the bore water. This is a costly and inefficient expense that nationally in 2017 cost the Australian government more than $13 million in transportation fees1.

Gilghi, which means “water” or “place of water” in the Barkindji Indigenous language, was three years in the making for client Ingkerreke Resource Services and was enabled by a $70 000 Municipal and Essential Services Special Purposes Grant from the Northern Territory Government.

Sustainable water treatment solution for remote communities

Gilghi is a breakthrough hybrid off-grid containerised water treatment plant. It innovatively combines renewable energy requirements with water treatment and sanitisation and aims to improve Indigenous health and access to sustainable clean drinking water. 

Why Project Gilghi?

Project Gilghi - Sustainable and off-grid

Sustainable and off-grid

Gilghi makes use of available solar power and a stand-alone hybrid power supply.

Project Gilghi - Clean drinking water

Clean drinking water

Gilghi is able to produce up to 28kL of water per day compliant to Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

Project Gilghi - Advanced filtering technology

Advanced filtering technology

Feed water from a range of sources is stored in an inlet tank before passing through three stages of treatment.

Project Gilghi - Modular design

Modular design

The modular design enables the unit to be scaled to suit the size of the water treatment requirements.

Project Gilghi - Plug and play

Plug and play installation

All components of the unit were prototyped, assembled, connected and tested at Ampcontrol’s facility in Newcastle NSW.

How does the Project Gilghi water treatment system work?

Advanced filtering technology 

Comprising photovoltaic (PV) solar, batteries and a back-up diesel generator, Gilghi takes feed water from a range of sources, including bores, streams, brackish and saltwater, where it’s stored in an inlet tank before it passes through three stages of treatment:

  1. Media filtration (sand media, carbon and softener)
  2. Reverse osmosis (RO) unit, comprised of cartridge filters, pressure booster pump and RO membranes
  3. UV disinfection system and outlet tank

Waste stream processing includes an evaporation pond to treat the brine from the RO process. In arid climates, residual saltwater can be used as a feedstock for succulents and to grow salt-tolerant plants.

Filtration system used by Project GilghiProject Gilghi water treatment systemProject Gilghi water treatment system

Off grid, hybrid power supply

Ordinarily, water treatment systems run continuously, but Gilghi makes smart use of available solar power to run the plant and charge the batteries during the day. This includes the development of a specialist electrical control system, developed by Ampcontrol, using multiple power sources to purify the water. This then feeds the clean water into the community’s reticulation system. The system can produce up to 28kL of potable water per day.

The unit uses a stand-alone hybrid power supply utilising:

  1. PV panels – solar power is used to operate the process and/or charge the backup battery system when required
  2. Battery storage 
  3. Innovative electrical control system allows both AC>DC and DC>AC conversions
  4. Diesel back-up generator

Flexible 'plug and play' design

Gilghi’s flexible design enables the system to meet larger supply requirements and different treatment challenges without adversely affecting the cost per litre.

Gilghi adopts a ‘plug and play’ approach, with all components of the plant prototyped, assembled, connected and tested at Ampcontrol’s facility in Newcastle NSW. It is housed in a standard shipping container which only requires truck transportation and a forklift to install. Because of the modular containerised design, this flexible infrastructure is transferable to any area where cost-effective water infrastructure is required to help meet remote community needs. 

The Gilghi system can be scaled to suit the size of the water treatment requirements of the particular location. The treatment components – UV treatment, Fe/Mn removal, reverse osmosis, etc – can be added or removed. As it is a modular system, additional units can be added to increase output, as required, dramatically reducing capital costs.

FAQ: More about Project Gilghi – sustainable off-grid, containerised water treatment

Why is accessing clean drinking water challenging for remote communities?

Many remote communities in Australia only have access to groundwater, which can contain high concentrations of naturally occurring minerals (nitrates, arsenic and uranium) and is often non-compliant to Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. Major water-related diseases can result in severe health issues such as diabetes, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and cancer.

Producing a small-scale drinking water treatment plant is difficult for these remote communities as it is an energy intensive investment. For remote communities without connection to the main power grid, infrastructure overcapitalisation is often unavoidable.

As a result, most remote communities rely on alternative water sources, typically expensive, potable water transported by truck.

Gilghi gives access to clean drinking water by providing a containerised treatment system capable of producing clean drinking water off-grid at a reasonable cost.

How is Gilghi contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No.6 to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all?

Australia has made a range of commitments to improve access to clean water for people living in remote areas, outlined in Closing the Gap and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Gilghi demonstrates a new way of delivering small scale, deployable water treatment with integrated power that can lower the cost of delivering quality water to remote communities and facilitates meaningful progress towards providing clean drinking water for all people across Australia.

How can Gilghi be applied in other locations?

Gilghi’s modular design and rapid plug-and-play capability is easily scalable across a range of applications. Gilghi can provide a compliant and sustainable water supply for other Indigenous communities in Australia and as well as developing nations where access to the grid or water sanitation is limited or non-existent.

Facilitating community ownership for remote Indigenous communities 

The system has been well received by the community. Deployment of Gilghi has facilitated community ownership over their water supply, with local residents participating in the official opening in 2019 and using the site as a community meeting point. A local Indigenous artist, Kerry Preece, adorned the side of the container with an art piece titled ‘Honey Ant Dreaming’.

Gilghi has also presented new employment opportunities for the people of Gillen Bore, with a training program developed for local Indigenous people to operate and maintain the unit in an ongoing capacity.

Since the installation of the Gilghi unit, the people of Gillen Bore can turn on the tap and know that safe, clean drinking water will run straight into their glasses. Gilghi represents a revolutionary “turnkey” modular system that can significantly contribute to reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 – ensuring access to clean water and sanitation for all by 2030.

Aurecon's Chief Executive for Australia & New Zealand Louise Adams spoke to Sky News about the award-winning Project Gilghi and how the project can significantly contribute to reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6.

Watch this video.

Project Gilghi: an innovative, sustainable award-winning design

The project was recognised by the Australian Water Association in 2020 as the New South Wales Infrastructure Project Innovation of the Year. It was also recognised in the Social Impact category at the 2020 Good Design Awards for its breakthrough design, and at Engineering Australia's Australian Engineering Excellence Awards 2020.

The project has won the following awards:

  • Australian Financial Review – BOSS Most Innovative Companies List 2020 – Best Social Impact Innovation
  • Australian Water Association (AWA) – Australian Water Awards 2020 – NSW Chapter – Infrastructure Project Innovation
  • Consult Australia Awards for Excellence 2020 – Gold: Technological Innovation – with Ampcontrol
  • Engineers Australia – Australian Engineering Excellence Awards 2020 – Newcastle Division
  • Good Design Awards 2020 – Social Impact
  • Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) – Chris Binnie Award 2020 for Sustainable Water Management

1The Productivity Commission’s 2017 Indigenous Expenditure Report

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