Using system intelligence to make potable water anywhere in the world

Together with Grundfos, we’ve been able to make a world-class product that can create potable water anywhere in the world.
- Nick Scott, project manager, Portsmouth Aqua

The situation

Portsmouth Aqua had a vision. The UK company wanted to make a simple, off-grid water purification system that could produce safe drinking water in remote locations. Such a system must be able to withstand the harshest conditions, such as those after environmental or humanitarian disasters – and make drinkable water from various types of difficult waters: brackish water, or water contaminated with bacteria, viruses, nitrates, ammonia and metals. The system should also be as cost-effective as possible, as well as environmentally friendly.

The company was new to the water business and making such a complex system in a simple package had taken Portsmouth Aqua several years to develop.

“Some of the challenges we had were really being able to control what we’re doing,” says Nick Scott, project manager, Portsmouth Aqua.

Pumps, for example. “The pumps we found initially were fixed-speed. So we’d switch them on, and they’d use an awful lot of energy to produce water that we really couldn’t control,” says Nick Scott. “We also had a lot of manual valves on the system. It really needed an operator to be standing in front of it 24 hours a day, just keeping an eye on things. We also needed PLCs [programmable logic controllers], which were very rigid in what we could do and had to be programmed. And we had issues with water flow and pressures.”

The Polly Concept

Nick says the company realised it needed something much simpler to operate. “We thought about where these units would be used in the world,” he says. “If it was a humanitarian situation, groups like the Red Cross or UNICEF would have operators on site that had no knowledge of the units at all. So we came up with the ‘Polly Concept.’”

Polly, they envisioned, would be a young woman who wanted to do something good in the world for a year. She joins an aid organisation and arrives, say, to a disaster zone after a hurricane. She is then assigned to look after this water purification unit.

“We wanted to make it so simple that all Polly has to do is switch the unit on and switch it off,” says Nick Scott. “We looked in the market for a company that could help us.”


Portsmouth Aqua

The solution

After five years of trial and error, Portsmouth Aqua found Grundfos – and the solution for Polly. Grundfos’ Luke Gardener used high-efficiency E-pumps with Grundfos Direct Sensors and built-in intelligence, digital dosing pumps, controls and a remote management system.

“All of it runs on less than one kilowatt of power and it produces 1,000 litres of water an hour,” says Nick Scott. The system must occasionally be topped-up with salt.

“We’ve gone into a complete digitalization now,” says Nick Scott. The Grundfos remote management unit takes all the data instrumented within the unit and sends it out to the cloud.

“With the unit running, I can go onto the web and analyse through data mining exactly how efficiently the unit’s running, and be able to adjust it remotely from my desk,” Nick says. “The unit can work anywhere in the world, and we can see them operating.”

Intelligent connectivity

Nick Scott says the intelligent connectivity within the system today makes it so much easier to operate – and has allowed Portsmouth Aqua to build the units without PLCs. “With the Grundfos equipment, we can use the pump display interface – and use the functionality within each of the pumps to enable them to send signals to each other.”

For the backwash process, for example, the supply pump measures the trans-membrane pressure (TMP) – or differential pressure – between the pressure side of the water going into the ultra-filtration membranes and the water coming out the other side. “This measurement is used as a trigger. If it gets to a limit – such as the filter membrane is blocking – the supply pump will stop, and the backwash will start, running through its process of backwash stages. When it finishes, it then starts the supply pump, and the backwash pump stops all by itself,” says Nick.

In addition, Grundfos E-Pumps interconnect to flow and pressure sensors, self-regulating to system requirements and in-turn reducing power consumption by up to 70% vs fixed speed pumps, according to Luke Gardener.


Intelligent pumps

The outcome

Simon Escott, Managing Director of Portsmouth Aqua, says the system meets the company’s initial vision. “Working with Grundfos is absolutely brilliant,” he says. “The key part of our system is to offer a solution that is easy. A system that’s reliable to work with. It’s very encouraging that we’ve managed to incorporate all the latest technology of Grundfos to make this very reliable system that meets the vision of Portsmouth Aqua.”

Nick Scott says that Luke Gardener from Grundfos had joined the project about ten months prior.

 “We were very lucky to have Luke as a technician. Together we were able to go on a journey that took us from just trying to fix the initial issue and problems to actually a completely wider vision of how we could take the product.”

Luke Gardener

Grundfos supplied a package of IE5 variable-speed, high-efficiency pumps (CME, CRNE), Smart Digital dosing pumps (DDA), differential pressure and flow sensors (RPS, DPS, VFS), water quality instrumentation measurement and control (DID & S:CAN), and remote monitoring units (GRM) as an intelligently connected, fully autonomous system for Portsmouth Aqua.

Read more about Grundfos iSOLUTIONS intelligent connectivity for advanced pump solutions and water technology

The potable water purification unit from Portsmouth Aqua is built with an inter-connected system of ‘intelligent’ pumps, controls, sensors and filters, yet is simple enough to operate for any non-trained person in remote sites – such as disaster zones, says project manager Nick Scott. A demonstration model is set up behind him, purifying water from the lake near the company’s headquarters in Portsmouth, UK.


The water purification system from Portsmouth Aqua had to be so simple to use, any disaster relief aid worker – they envisioned one named Polly – should be able to operate it by just turning it on or switching it off.


A system of intelligent pumps sends signals to each other as they each monitor pressure and flow at their positions in the treatment system, triggering events like backwash – shown here.


Luke Gardener of Grundfos has helped Portsmouth Aqua to integrate Grundfos pumps into its off-grid water purification unit. Here, he is using a remote monitoring app to connect to one of the pumps on the unit.


Water purified from the “dirty” lake in the background via the Portsmouth Aqua unit. The water system uses no corrosive or dangerous chemicals during purification.