Smart Way to Urban Water Supply System Sustainability – Real-time Monitoring and Defect Detection
A research team led by Professor Mohamed Ghidaoui, Chinese Estates Professor of Engineering, is developing pioneering technologies that help conserving one of our most precious resources – water
A short video on Professor Mohamed Ghidaoui's research
The simple act of turning on a tap belies the complexity of not only piping water to our homes, offices and industries but also maintaining the supply 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year in and year out. And as cities rapidly expand, putting additional pressure on water resources, timely diagnoses and mitigation of problems to save the large and costly amounts of water currently lost through leakage, bursts, aging and inefficiencies in these huge networks of pipelines is becoming critical. In Hong Kong alone, there are 7,800 kilometers of conduits. The World Bank estimates the monetary value of the lost water worldwide is about US$15 billion/year. The Asian Development Bank estimates that 29 billion cubic meters, valued at US$9 billion, are lost in Asia every year.

Professor Mohamed Ghidaoui, Chinese Estates Professor of Engineering and Chair Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is now leading an international interdisciplinary research team and setting out to revolutionize water supply system management through the development of a novel diagnostic paradigm for water supply network monitoring and fault detection, founded on wave theory. The management platform seeks to accurately and cost-effectively reveal the detailed health of pipelines hidden beneath our streets, without having to dig up road and pavements. The proposed platform is able to do so by combining the relative strengths of low frequency waves (long spatial range) and high frequency waves (high spatial resolution) to actively acquire data and derive high-quality system "images"; that is, the outputs that help engineers to accurately identify and localize problem areas before major defects occur.    

In a major theme-based research scheme project, supported by HK$33.225 million funding from the Hong Kong Research Grants Council and a matching fund grant of HK$7 million from HKUST, Professor Ghidaoui has brought together leading global figures within the water engineering community as well as electronic and computer engineers, mechanical engineers, and mathematicians to explore and design this Smart Urban Water Supply System through theoretical, laboratory, and field studies. "Such cross-fertilization of ideas from different fields is tremendously exciting," said Professor Ghidaoui, noting that the combination of hydraulics and electronic and computer engineering in this area was especially innovative. 

Professor Ghidaoui has spent the past two decades at HKUST discovering new fundamental knowledge in hydraulics and environmental fluid mechanics, including wave propagation in fluid lines, and becoming a world authority in his field. The cutting-edge platform that the project envisages will utilize sensors in pipelines to send and receive pressure wave signals. The received pressure signals can then be relayed in real-time from conduits to servers using acoustic waves and wireless communication, and transformed into high-resolution images for analysis. The research team also works together with the Hong Kong government's Water Supplies Department on developing a pilot test bed. 
Sounds highly challenging? It is. The research involves optimal signal design, advanced detection and system identification algorithms, physics of high frequency waves in pipes, understanding of signal/noise interaction, and low frequency wave and pipe fault interaction, among others. But the challenges, originality, and major social benefits that the research can bring are keys to spurring such a high-powered team on.  

Advantages over current diagnostic systems include the potential for rapid, non-intrusive, system-wide data collection (pressure waves travel fast – at around one kilometer per second); applicability to a range of different defects; and the ability to provide real-time monitoring and facilitate proactive action.  

With over three billion people worldwide currently dependent on water supply systems – and more being added each day as urbanization continues – the project has profound significance for safeguarding sustainability of city living. What's more, while the current focus is on water supply systems, Professor Ghidaoui believes the research may deliver findings useful for all fluid-carrying conduits.

A short video on Professor Mohamed Ghidaoui's research

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