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TUBERS Project to Safeguard Water Pipeline Systems in Europe

Thu, 07 September, 2023

Every year, the average loss of treated water from pipes globally can reach as high as 20%, and when decades of construction inconsistencies, and the coexistence of new and 50-year-old water pipes, are added into the equation, this leaves water distribution systems in a challenging position. Consequently, assuming that leaks are left unattended due to lack of operational and monitoring resource, water loss can climb to around 31.5 million m3/year and an attendant €16 million in revenue. In addition, energy-intensive water processing, which is commonly done by burning fossil fuels with carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), creating emissions of up to 5%, amounts to around 40% of municipal energy use.

Therefore, a specialised solution, tailored to the increasing needs of water distribution systems in terms of groundwater management, source water protection and wastewater treatment, is a necessity. TUBERS, a 48-month duration, Horizon Europe initiative, intends to do that by developing scalable and modular pipeline inspection and repair tools, thereby creating a valuable asset for the European water network. A consortium of multinational partners: TWI Hellas, Demcon, Brabant Water, Evides, Vitens, Alsymex, Bendabl and Essex Innovation Centre (a partnership between the University of Essex and TWI) has come together to make this possible, merging different technologies that will enable 24/7 inspection of water piping systems and concurrent in-situ repair.

In more detail, the TUBERS robotic ecosystem incorporates a resident snake-like robot, a soft robotic repair platform and a decision support system (DSS). The three Dutch water utility companies in the consortium, namely Brabant Water, Evides and Vitens, are consulting the technical team so that the system can effectively assist end-users by targeting real-world problems. The TUBERS prototype will be evaluated in a bespoke facility developed by the KWR Water Research Institute. The ultimate goal of the project is to develop a strategy to transform the current, time-consuming, non-sustainable and economically intensive nature of water pipeline inspection and maintenance.

TUBERS will incorporate the latest technologies in the fields of automation, soft robotics, ultrasonic inspection and machine learning with a view to saving 158GWh of energy and 79,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions in a 5-year period. Overall, the Horizon Europe project aims to evolve digital and scientific research, contribute to economic development and lead European water networks to more sustainable pastures.

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