BOKU University develops its MicrobialSludgeQuality (MSQ) Project

With the MicrobialSludgeQuality (MSQ) Project, the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna, scientific EBA member, is developing low-cost laboratory equipment to be used in emergency situations after natural disasters. This can be used by operators of remote biogas plants.

Safe disposal and treatment of human faecal matter is of great importance to protect public health, especially in urban areas with high population densities. Examples in the recent past (Kathmandu (2015) or Port-au-Prince (2010)) showed that due to increasing urbanisation a growing number of people are effected by natural disasters. Providing adequate sanitation coverage in densely populated areas is still considered an ongoing challenge for humanitarian aid organisations.

While treatment technologies for emergency response are researched and field tested by several research projects and institutions (examples: Emergency Sanitation projectSpeedkits), the need for a field laboratory to perform quality and process control was left unaddressed.

The MicrobialSludgeQuality (MSQ) Project picks up this research question and aims for the development of a prototype field test kit. The project is a collaboration between the BOKU, the Austrian Red Cross, Waste, NL and Butyl Products Ltd. The cooperation offers a good combination between researchers, humanitarian aid organisation, practitioners and industry. The MSQ project is funded by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund – a programme of Elrha and is funded by aid from the UK Government and the Swedish International Development Agency.

The idea behind the project is to create a smart combination of existing technologies and adapting these to field use. The prevailing conditions in a field laboratory during a disaster response setting makes redesigning of standard laboratory materials and methods necessary. On such problem is the often-unstable power supply. Thus, to counter this challenge, equipment operating on 12 volts in combination with car batteries and solar penal are included in the field lab. A field laboratory should be light and transportable. For example, for the determination of dry matter a camping oven is used instead of bulky laboratory style oven.

The field test kit is being designed as a modular system. The focus of faecal sludge treatment lies on ensuring public health. Therefore, the core module of the field test kit includes all materials for the detection of bacteriological parameters and helminth eggs. For basic process control of treatment plants several modules are being developed. The included parameters in a module will be specific for a treatment process.

To ensure the functionality of the prototype, the field test kit will be tested in a one-month field trail this August in Malawi.

While being developed for disaster response operations the MSQ field test kit can also be used in development aid or by operators of remote biogas plants.

To keep up to date on the progress of the MSQ project please visit this page.

Contact details for the MSQ project:

Johannes Bousek, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna