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The ‘butterfly’ that will change the face of water supply industry

Pilot prototype assembly at Universiti Malaya

The Malaysian water industry has faced significant financial challenges, with thirteen consecutive years of losses attributed to high operating costs, particularly in energy. Traditional water distribution processes, reliant on electrical pumps and gravitational water flow, have presented inefficiencies and put a strain on water operators, leading to operational and financial burdens. However, a beacon of hope has emerged in the form of the Super Butterfly (SB) in-pipe hydropower system, a groundbreaking innovation designed to reshape the landscape of water management and energy sustainability.

The SB system harnesses the excess water pressure in pipes to generate electricity without disrupting water demand. Dr. Iswadi Jauhari from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Universiti Malaya have spearheaded this transformative technology, with ongoing research backed by a substantial grant of more than RM2 million. The system’s innovative design offers a multipronged approach to accommodate varying water flow rates while ensuring optimal power generation, an essential feature for addressing the inconsistent water pressure throughout water supply pipelines.

One of the remarkable aspects of the SB system is its potential to leverage the generated energy for off-grid consumption or to sell it back to utilities through on-grid connections. This not only addresses the financial sustainability of water operators but also significantly reduces their carbon footprint, making it an attractive and profitable solution for the industry. Collaborative efforts with Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Air Negara (SPAN) and Malaysia’s largest water company, Air Selangor, have yielded successful real-field testing, paving the way for anticipated commercialization by early 2025.

Dr Iswadi (centre) with the team from Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Air Negara (SPAN)

The implications of this innovation are far-reaching, offering a glimpse into a more sustainable and efficient future for water management. Asset owners of water piping networks stand to benefit greatly from the SB system, as it opens up new possibilities for revenue generation while contributing to environmental conservation. By effectively harnessing excess water pressure, a previously wasted resource, the SB system represents a paradigm shift in energy sustainability within the water sector.

As we stand at the brink of this change, the emergence of the Super Butterfly in-pipe hydropower system signifies a new era in water infrastructure. With ongoing research, collaboration, and a commitment to innovation, the water sector is poised to embrace a more financially robust, environmentally conscious, and operationally efficient future.

Further details on the research may be enquired from Associate Prof. Dr. Nurin Wahidah Mohd Zulkifli, Head of Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Universiti Malaya at nurinmz@um.edu.my

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