April Sees Torrent of New Water Innovations

Every breakthrough innovation that addresses humanity’s most basic of needs – access to a reliable supply of clean water – is worthy of attention. This is the case now more than ever, as water security concerns turn up the pressure on governments and populations across the world. Fortunately, last month saw not one but many new technologies and strategic innovations make their presence felt.

To give you a better overview of what kind of improvements and new opportunities we can expect for the global water and wastewater industries in the near future, we’ve compiled a roundup of the most eye-catching innovations to have recently hit the wider commercial marketplace or sponsored innovation challenge scene.

Microbiology – Breaking down the problem

Microbiology is frequently cited as an underutilised avenue of approach in the water and wastewater innovation industries. From using predatory bacteria to hunt down harmful microbes in water, to using ‘extremophiles’ (bacteria adapted to environments with extreme conditions) for highly specific use cases, there is a lot of untapped potential here.

However, the most recent Isle Utilities' Water Action Platform event saw two intriguing innovations in microbiology emerge.

Canadian technology company Tecta-PDS has developed the world’s first rapid, easy-to-use microbial test for E coli, coliforms and enterococcal bacteria. The system has already been deployed for use in water utilities and municipal labs in Kuwait, Singapore, Australia and the US.

Meanwhile, UK-based proprietary technology firm QBiowater has developed an autonomous wastewater monitoring system whose insights can reduce the spread of disease. This enzymatic molecular assay should be invaluable in monitoring and preventing the spread of future pandemics.

Digital Twins – Seeing the Bigger Picture

Digital Twins – the process of building a wholly comprehensive digitised version of an infrastructure system – is not a new concept. However, last month saw the Waterschapsbedrijf Limburg (WBL) Dutch regional water authority take the idea to a whole new level. WBL aims to create a digital twin representation of all 17 wastewater treatment plants and 149 sewage pumping stations that it oversees. This will enable better strategic decisions across the entire network, and faster reaction times for emergencies and routine leaks.

Desalination – A massive efficiency breakthrough

A game changing innovation has emerged from the University of Austin, Texas, one with ramifications that have only just begun to be felt in recent months. The team’s research, funded by The National Science Foundation and DuPont, discovered that uniform density at the nanoscale is the key to increasing how much clean water reverse osmosis membranes can create.

Their tested membranes experienced an efficiency increase of between 30%-40%. This means more clean water using a lot less energy. For the Middle East – a region more reliant on desalination than any other – the potential for industry-wide efficiency upgrades is extremely exciting.

Rapid Roundup – Extra techs that are raising eyebrows (and funds!)

AI & Sewer Defect Analysis: A group of water authorities in the UK, led by United Utilities, is utilising AI-enhanced monitoring techniques to improve sewer inspection works, reducing operational costs while reducing the chance of leaks and other sources of water contamination.

The world’s whitest paint: A Purdue University research team has created the world’s whitest paint. It can reflect up to 98.1% of sunlight, whereas your average white paint only reflects a maximum of 90%. This gives it a wide range of sustainability applications, including as a cooling alternative to air conditioners in homes. This may help to quickly reduce the reliance on AC, freeing up water supplies for other uses.

Leak Detecting telecoms cables: Costain Ltd, Dŵr Cymru (Welsh Water), and Focus Sensors have a novel approach – Dark Fibre – that uses unexploited optical fibre strands in existing telecoms cables to detect and prevent leaks in water and wastewater networks.

A sea-change in water innovation

Water security issues aren’t going away any time soon. In fact, last month’s Council on Foreign Relations’ Water Stress report stated that over 2 billion people still do not have reliable access to clean drinking water and over 4 billion do not have adequate sanitation services.

Through the funding, development, deployment and proliferation of innovations like these, the ongoing global battle to overcome water scarcity may yet be won. Last month was a major milestone in multiple water and wastewater sectors, which will hopefully spur even greater breakthroughs as 2021 unfolds.