World Bank award recognition for Dublin-based water engineer

September 01, 2022

A Dublin-based water engineer is celebrating after earning World Bank recognition, and an award, for a project looking at how to achieve net zero carbon for a water supply company.

Nicolai Thorball,  29, is an Assistant Project Engineer at consulting engineers Nicholas O’Dwyer, an RSK Group company. He is a winner in the 2022 Utility of the Future Global Youth Challenge. Based in Ireland, Nicholas O’Dwyer provides sustainable water and environmental engineering solutions around the world.

The World Bank introduced the net zero challenge to give young people the chance to apply their skills to provide innovative solutions in response to the challenges experienced by a water and sanitation utility in Zambia which is committed to reducing emissions to reach net zero carbon.

Nicolai said: “I sent in an application to the World Bank, explaining my experience and motivation for participating in the challenge. Out of 115, only 35 people were chosen and put into teams of seven as part of the next phase.”

The ‘Drops of Change’ team was briefed by Nkana Water Supply and Sanitation Company in Zambia about their water and wastewater infrastructure. The task was then to identify the main challenges and come up with innovative solutions for the water supply to reach net-zero carbon emissions. The team collaborated to come up with a suite of solutions to achieve net zero carbon and after presenting to a team of experts were selected the overall winners.

Nicolai said: “Like the project work itself, the prize is an incredible opportunity for an engineer like myself. We will present our ideas to a World Bank session with water experts and receive their feedback on our strategy, share our ideas with Nkana and meet the Utility of the Future team to learn more about the programme.”

He said innovative solutions included producing algae from wastewater to use as fertiliser or animal feed; separating and treating grey water to be reused as drinking water and using a hydro-electric battery from abandoned mines in the area with an accompanying solar farm to improve energy efficiency.”

Nicolai added; “When you collaborate with someone from a different cultural background, new perspectives are brought to the table which can lead to solutions you wouldn’t normally think about. That is a key part of what made this such a valuable experience. I also loved the fact that the competition gave me a forum to let my imagination run wild. It encouraged teams to think outside the box, with no limits.

“An example is one of our solutions which separates grey water and black water and treats the grey water to be used as drinking water. Now is it feasible on paper? Yes, but is it a crazy endeavour to separate the wastewater on a city-wide scale into two flows? Also, yes, but these are the ideas that are fun to play around with occasionally – to explore the art of the possible and initially impossible.”

He said that in terms of his future, his focus was on developing his engineering skills by learning from experienced colleagues at Nicholas O’Dwyer, adding: “I want to create a strong foundation of technical knowledge, project management and managing client relationships. I could definitely see myself becoming a project manager in future. One thing is for sure I would like to keep innovation and sustainability as cornerstones in my career.”

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