In the global push towards sustainability, decarbonisation and environmental protection, the enabling role of Research and Innovation (R&I) in providing the much-needed innovative and green policies, services and products has been recognised. For Malta, this is particularly true for the sectors of energy and water where the progress of our green transition is slowed by country-specific challenges and exacerbated by population growth and climate change.

For this reason, a support framework was established to channel national investments towards R&I with the aim of financing projects that are tailored to local specificities and national priorities. In this way, Malta seeks to find tangible solutions to local challenges and boost economic competitiveness and growth.

At the start of 2021, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development, Miriam Dalli and Minister for Research and Innovation, Owen Bonnici presented a research grant to five projects led by local researchers and industries, following a competitive Call for Proposals in 2020. These will be carried out over a two-year period and focus on a range of national priority areas for the sectors of energy and water.

The project ESTELLE (Energy Storage and Power-to-X Technologies for Optimal Integration of Renewable Generation), received a grant of € 120,000. Undertaken by the Department of Industrial Electrical Power Conversion at the University of Malta and Olympus Holding Ltd., this project will examine the technical and economic potential of battery energy storage systems and power-to-X technologies for Malta. These two technologies are becoming increasingly important as the percentage of renewable electricity grows both locally and abroad, necessitating technologies that mitigate the impact of intermittent electricity generation, improving both the stability of the electricity grid and the consumption of green electricity, while possibly providing additional benefits to consumers. A lab-based prototype of battery storage shall be developed as part of this project in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of such technologies.

The Institute for Sustainable Energy at the University of Malta was awarded € 80,452 for the project IPCoSy (Innovative Photovoltaic Cooling System). This project seeks to develop an innovative cooling system for PV panels, one which utilises minimal energy and no water consumption, to a high technology readiness level. Cooling of panels is a known method to improve PV output by 10-20% and reduce the rate of degradation of the PV modules; however, existing systems have a number of shortcomings including energy and water usage and calcification (staining) of the panels. This innovation cooling system would be an ideal solution for offshore or floating PVs while also offering significant benefits to PV systems in any hot climate environments, both rooftop PV systems and solar farms.

The Water Services Corporation and the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Malta received a grant of € 118,285 for the project PURILMA (Development and Optimization of a Technology for use in Potable Water Disinfection and Treatment). Three innovative disinfection technologies will be short-listed and tested with the aim of identifying the most promising technology suitable for disinfecting the potable water supplied by the Water Services Corporation, while also improving its taste and odour. In this manner, the project also seeks to improve consumers’ acceptability of tap water in Malta; the need for improving the acceptability of drinking-water provided to the Maltese consumer has long been identified. This shall indirectly contribute to the decrease of plastic waste as consumers will potentially be able to refill their bottles from any location rather than purchasing plastic water bottles. Following the completion of the project, the technology showing the most promising results during bench-testing will be further assessed on a pilot-scale level by the Water Services Corporation.

The project WetSoil (A Water-Efficient Irrigation Monitoring System for Agriculture), undertaken by the Department of Physics at the University of Malta, was awarded a research grant of € 119,936. The project aims to build a user-friendly, low-cost system with the corresponding algorithms to accurately quantify soil water content. This would constitute a comprehensive accurate and reliable system to monitor changes in water content for irrigation scheduling, monitor the hydrological water balance and provide basic data to optimise water use. Increasing efficiency in water consumption in all sectors, including the agricultural sector, is considered to be key to controlling water demand.

The Department of Geoscience at the University of Malta received a research grant of € 120,000 for the project SIGMA (Seismic Imaging of Groundwater for Maltese Aquifers). It aims to develop a novel and cost-effective approach to continuous monitoring of underground water reservoirs through the use of continuous seismic data recorded on the Malta Seismic Network. This could be used to track real-time changes in the reservoirs, thus significantly extending the current coverage of aquifers limited to borehole measurements and allowing extensive coverage at a national scale. Modelled historical aquifer changes could then be used to generate innovative predictive models for groundwater leading to improved water management.

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