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The University of Southampton
Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

Portable water: Helping solve the world’s third largest crisis

Published: 8 June 2018
Transporting water with HYDRA
Transporting water with HYDRA

The University of Southampton’s consultancy enterprise unit, Rifi, has undertaken materials testing research in collaboration with Exagenica Research Ltd (ER), with the aim of developing a proof-of-concept portable and collapsible membrane capable of storing and transporting vast quantities of water to regions of water shortage.

The challenge

The 2017 WEF Global Risk Report ranked Water Crises as the third biggest world issue with demand for water forecast to exceed supply by 2030. Portable water supplies have been limited to local use or short trans-national pipelines, and desalination is both expensive and environmentally unfriendly.

ER approached Rifi with the concept of enabling bulk liquid and dry tanker ships to transport water on their return journeys without the need for costly and lengthy cleaning procedures. The organisations’ end objective was to be able to supply drought prone nations with a cost-effective alternative to desalination.

Materials knowledge

Rifi specialises in testing structures and materials in extreme environments, working directly with industry to help deploy innovative University research for commercial use.

The Rifi team of Professor Simon Quinn, Dr Charles Badoe, and Professor Stephen Turnock from the University’s Fluid Structure Interactions Research Group (FSI), have provided technical knowledge and expertise to ER, advising them and testing materials best suited for the concept.

Mapping envelopes

ER’s ultimate aim is to develop a 1.2mm thick collapsible membrane, known as ‘HYDRA’, capable of holding a vast quantity of water up to 30 metres high, and safe enough to be transported across the oceans.

To help achieve this, Southampton’s Rifi consultants firstly worked on the proof of concept to determine if HYDRA could be installed in oil tankers and bulk carriers. Once the team had confirmed its feasibility, they carried out research into how the HYDRA would be stored, and deployed.

In the prototype stage, our experts provided ER with engineering support, and materials testing, utilising full-field data using advanced imaging techniques, and testing bonded materials at different strain rates in the University’s Testing and Structure Research Laboratory (TSRL).



Exagenica was keen to work with the University of Southampton, not only for its materials expertise but also because of its close partnership with Lloyds Register, is enabling Exagenica to define a pathway to the Approval in Principle (AiP) programme, which it hopes to achieve in the near future. “It is vitally important for us to achieve AiP for the working HYDRA prototype, so we can test it on a suitable vessel. Southampton’s knowledge and understanding of materials testing and its close working relationship with Lloyds Register was the best combination of skills for us to progress to this point.” says Exagenica’s Chief Executive Officer, John Walsh.


Based on our research, a 10m high prototype membrane has been proven at scale and ER is seeking investment to put HYDRA into full production.

Further outcomes include the development of a brand new coated fabric, specifically for HYDRA, but for which different coatings are being tested for it to be used in other commercial applications.

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