Established by aquatic ecology experts from the University of Melbourne, Bio2Lab is at the forefront of environmental monitoring in Australia. Harnessing the latest IoT and sensor technology, integrated with their own analytics platforms, Bio2Lab specialise in detecting, monitoring and identifying harmful pollutants in waterways. Combining their expertise with M2M Connectivity, as their lead technology partner, has recently seen them achieve a breakthrough – helping Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) tackle pollutants impacting Merlynston Creek, which connects to the Yarra River.
For the past 15 years, pollutants including oils, nutrients and heavy metals have been dumped or spilt into a stormwater system in Melbourne’s northern suburbs – making their way into Merlynston Creek, which flows through suburbs including Campbellfield and Broadmeadows. EPA has closely monitored water quality as part of its response to incidents and investigations, using traditional testing methods, however this data is often spatially limited, and intermittent, as it requires manual sample collection and analysis at laboratories. Through the manual collection of water samples, EPA officers were able to confirm the presence of pollutants, but without real-time data they could not accurately establish patterns which might pinpoint potential sources.
In 2020, EPA engaged Bio2Lab with a view to developing a real-time monitoring solution as part of a trial project. To create a system which could perform in such a harsh environment, Bio2Lab contacted IoT connectivity experts M2M Connectivity. Working together, Bio2Lab and M2M identified a suite of hardware which would aid the accurate detection of pollutants, survive being submerged in the creek, but also enable data to be captured and wirelessly transmitted back to EPA at regular intervals. M2M Connectivity recommended Libelium’s Smart Water Ions | Plug & Sense solution meter, which formed the heart of the system acting as an ‘electronic nose’. For data transmission, M2M supplied SIMs utilising 3G and 4G to transmit data back to the online dashboard reporting for EPA in fifteen-minute intervals. The hardware was then integrated with their online data analytics platform – creating a consistent and clear picture of the water’s quality and profile. The final solution encompassed a network of Libelium sensors stretching 10km along the creek. “These are some of the harshest conditions that sensors could be put under – being subjected to everything that comes down the drain – and the hardware provided by M2M Connectivity has proven accurate, durable and reliable,” says Steve Marshall, Principal Scientist at Bio2Lab.
EPA has been able to accurately identify numerous chemicals and pollutants present in the creek including copper, petroleum and ammonia using the data delivered by the Bio2Lab – M2M Connectivity collaboration, They have also been able to establish patterns associated with the presence, and absence, of pollutants. For example, spikes in volatile compounds have been detected on specific days of the week and certain chemical profiles have given them insight into the industries which are using them – before they enter the waterway. Another key outcome for EPA has been its ability to act when harmful pollutants are detected – increasing the speed at which they can response, notify businesses and inform the community. The success of the trial has received local media interest and Bio2Lab and M2M Connectivity have formed an ongoing partnership focused on applying the best technology to achieve good environmental outcomes for government, industry and the broader community. “Our partnership with M2M Connectivity has given EPA new tools to understand pollution issues building one of the first real-time IoT sensing system successfully applied to chemically specific sensors in stormwaters in Australia,” says Steve Marshall, Principal Scientist at Bio2Lab. “Working with M2M, we have been able to successfully help the EPA move from being reactive to proactive and given them the data they need to effectively manage the environmental impacts on the creek and plan for its recovery in the future,” Marshall adds.