Transportation bags as a solution for freshwater supply (Refresh)
- Current freshwater supply systems (water pipelines, desalination plants, tank vessels) all require permanent infrastructures, high investment costs, and high energy consumption with maintenance issues that could not be readily addressed by small to medium communities or for temporary freshwater supply.
- develop effective solutions for freshwater supply
- transport of fresh water from areas where there is a surplus
The main goal of the Refresh project was to provide an innovative green product/service for the transportation of fresh water by sea. The aim was to develop a cost effective and energy efficient solution based on a modular, recyclable flexible plastic barge towed by tugboats.
The primary application should have been supplying fresh water to Mediterranean coastal small cities and islands with less than 300,000 inhabitants (this number doubles in size during summer with tourists). These communities are the one most affected by increasing water scarcity due to many factors, such as climate change, growing urbanization of coasts, tourism, seawater intrusion in aquifers, etc. The transport of fresh water in times of crisis from areas where there is a surplus is a possible solution to this issue.
Since traditional technologies, such as water pipelines, desalination plants and large water vessels are impractical from the technical and economical points of view, the idea of the Refresh project was to bring an effective solution to the freshwater supply.
SAFIBRA was one of the 6 companies, research institutes and universities that took part in the Refresh project from November 2010 to November 2012. The Refresh project was partially funded by the European Community under the “7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development“.
Within the Refresh project, modular bags for transportation of drinking water by sea were developed. SAFIBRA was responsible for delivering low power consumption technology for monitoring freshwater sea transportation. Safibra provided a special fiber optic sensor for this bag, which monitors the tension of the material when being dragged on water and warns of excessive strains.
In addition, a smart monitoring system, coupling fiber optics sensors to the fabric, was deployed to send a real time warning to the tugboat main deck in case of excess stress in the water bag. This enabled the crew to take countermeasures to avoid breakage of the water bag and loss of the payload. Thanks to this sensor and proper bag handling, the bag life can be much longer.
Moreover, a special patch of fabric was developed, equipped with a 1 m long fiber optic sensor. It was to provide a quick means of attaching the sensor to the bag and enable its fast deployment and retrieval. For embedding the fibers directly in the water bag fabric, this device protects the fiber from excess bending when the water bag is folded.
During the final demonstration voyage of the water bag, the system was validated. Each unit was equipped with a radio antenna for communication with the tugboat. The monitoring units were to be switched on from the sleep mode independently by a multichannel remote control. Both data transmission (Wi-Fi @2.4 GHz) and remote control radio were commercially available with a range several hundred meters in free space.
The successful application of SAFIBRA’s fiber optics monitoring system to a flexible structure made it possible to deploy such a system beyond its current applications in civil engineering to encompass the monitoring of textile structures.