QualSens is a process control in water desalination systems

QualSens is a process control in water desalination systems

QualSens is a King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)-based startup that offers a solution for monitoring and enhancing process control in water desalination systems.

The startup is the product of Dr. Babar Khan, Dr. Luca Fortunato and Professor TorOve Leiknes, who combined their expertise in biology and water to come up with a solution to monitor water fouling. The journey began inside Leiknes’ laboratory at the Water Desalination and Reuse Center at KAUST.

“We started in 2016,” Fortunato, who moved to KAUST from Italy in 2014 to pursue a Ph.D. in environmental engineering, told Arab News. “We were working in the same lab, on the same problem, but from two different perspectives. We decided to combine our expertise in order to build something that would make an impact in the field.”

According to Khan, there was no better place than Saudi Arabia to test this.

“I wanted to use my biotech experience from NYC and expertise as a microbiologist to figure out how we could quantify bacteria in water systems, which became my Ph.D. work. I knew I couldn’t do it alone, so very early on I found Luca, who was just as passionate as I was,” Khan said.

QualSens is designing a smart sensor and monitoring device for enhanced process control in desalination systems. The sensor is based on several technologies, including fluorescent enzymatic sensing for the detection of bacterial activity. The sensor aims to detect fouling at an early stage in membrane-based processes, helping plant operators identify problems and take preventive action.

“We combined different approaches to build a smart sensor that detects and identifies the type of fouling developed in the system and help the operator mitigate it. The objective is to decrease the energy demand required for the production of drinking water,” said Fortunato.

“The technology behind it works by hijacking a natural system used by bacteria,” Khan said. “There’s a recurring problem of fouling forming inside desalination tubes (units that filter seawater into fresh, clean, drinking water). Inside of these tubes, you can’t see what’s going on, and if enough bacteria form, the system stops working.”