20 July 2017 13:38

Lancaster University is leading a ground-breaking project to work in partnership with African researchers to address the urgent need for safe and effective water use in Africa.

'RECIRCULATE: Driving eco-innovation in Africa: capacity-building for a safe circular water economy’ will empower African research organisations to work in, with and for their communities by strengthening  their skills and capacity to deliver innovative solutions to pressing problems with water use and safety.  

The £6.8M project will focus on “joining up” the different ways in which water supports communities, from sewage disposal to energy generation and water used in food production. 

Recent reports show 50 percent of Africans live in areas without adequate water – 800 million people by 2025.  Urban water pollution is on the rise and 96 percent of African agriculture is dependent on rainfall.  Solving these problems demands new approaches to research, and how research is translated to meet the needs of local communities across Africa. 

RECIRCULATE will bring together leading researchers in the UK, Ghana and Nigeria with African entrepreneurs, policy makers and community leaders, to deliver the innovative approaches needed to integrate the different uses of water, and which support sustainable, equitable development.

Drawing on expertise from Lancaster University’s award-winning Centre for Global Eco-Innovation, RECIRCULATE will pilot intelligent solutions to these water-based challenges through an extensive training programme that will build long-term research-business partnerships, informed by the needs and practices of local communities.

Funded by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund, it is part of a new £225 million raft of investment which aims to grow research capability to meet the challenges faced by developing countries.

The project is led by Professor Nigel Paul, Lancaster University, UK – one of the first UK Universities to have its own campus in Africa: LU Ghana, which opened in 2013 and now supports 450 students.

He said:  “RECIRCULATE was designed in close collaboration with leading researchers in Ghana and Nigeria, and we are working together to ensure that the project will have impact built in from the start. We have extensive experience of the benefits of building strong links between international quality research and businesses, and other partners, who are best-placed to deliver real-world solutions and drive growth.

“The RECIRCULATE partners are confident that this is a model that will yield rapid, meaningful developments in Africa.  Local communities with first-hand experience of water problems will take a central role in the partnership by framing the key questions which need to be addressed by the research teams.”

The second phase of the research will bring in partners from Malawi, Kenya, Botswana and Zambia.

Dr Akanimo Odon project partner and Principal Consultant at Envirofly Consulting, Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana said: “The continent faces huge challenges around water, food, health and energy. RECIRCULATE provides a basis to start to deal with these challenges sustainably.”

Professor of Environmental Microbiology Kirk Semple of Lancaster University said: “RECIRCULATE allows us to really grow relationships with partners in West Africa that we have been developing together over a number of years. One of the potential solutions to water pollution that we are already looking at would take sewage from cesspits and turn it into a commercial fertiliser using heat.”

Professor of Biomedical and Life Sciences, Roger Pickup Lancaster University said: “RECIRCULATE is an exciting and unique opportunity to address serious issues around water, food, health and energy that have been defined by our West African partners.”

Professor Nigel Lockett Professor of Entrepreneurship at Lancaster University Management School said: “Our goals are clear - to grow capacity and capability in Africa's eco-innovation community. We are in no doubt that co-creating sustainable and scalable solutions together will be hard but the rewards of success to the people of Africa will be huge.”

Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science, said: “From healthcare to green energy, the successful projects receiving funding today highlight the strength of the UK’s research base and our leadership in helping developing countries tackle some of the greatest global issues of our time.

“At a time when the pace of scientific discovery and innovation is quickening, we are placing science and research at the heart of our Industrial Strategy to build on our strengths and maintain our status as science powerhouse.” 

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5Bn fund announced by the UK Government in late 2015. It has been specially designed to stimulate research on the challenges faced by developing countries.