Previously an overlooked part of the clean tech sector, water-focused technologies are now coming to the fore. Image: Field Factors
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Access to Water and Sanitation
- The recognition of the value of investing in water solutions is increasing, but overall understanding of the sector still lags behind.
- Technological advancements are key to confronting global challenges - and solutions that reduce water waste are key to creating a greener, equitable future.
- The winners of UpLink's Zero Water Waste Challenge offer diverse innovations for addressing this crisis.
It keeps us healthy, helps us to grow food, and generates the energy that keeps us warm. There are many ways water keeps us safe and secure. Add them all up, and water's economic value has been priced at approximately US$58 trillion, equivalent to 60% of global GDP.
Surprising to some, for others this newly published figure is a confirmation of water’s vital societal, economic and environmental value. Previously an overlooked part of the clean tech sector, water-focused technologies are now coming to the fore.
A key barrier, however, is a low general understanding of the water sector, with its off-putting technical jargon and regulatory barriers. Yet investors are beginning to sit up and take notice, as seen by increasing venture capital interest in water and banks even offering water funds as an asset management option.
What is the Forum doing to address the global water challenge?
UpLink, a World Economic Forum initiative, recently ran a “Water Investment Series”, in collaboration with the European Water Tech Accelerator, for investors who are testing the waters on water. Some noticed that they had been investing in water indirectly all along, and that below the surface there are many similarities with other aspects of climate tech.
To demystify the water technology landscape and elevate the most scalable solutions in this space, UpLink recently ran the Zero Water Waste Challenge, from which the top 10 water-focused entrepreneurs or 'Aquapreneurs' from a pool of 192 applicants representing 40 different countries have now been announced. This group of innovators mark the second cohort of winners selected through the Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative, a 5-year CHF 15 million partnership between HCL and UpLink to scale water innovation around the world.
Water capture and reuse
Reusing the water that flushes down our drain or falls from the sky is a massive untapped opportunity, while the reuse of greywater, the lightly-used water from sinks, showers and washing machines, is one of the most promising avenues for water innovation. Especially as regulations, like those in California, are starting to enable widespread adoption of this practice.
AQUAKIT SRL (Bolivia), a greywater treatment system for large-scale residential and commercial buildings can reclaim up to 300,000 litres per month from a single 12-story building. By recycling greywater for non-potable purposes, like toilet filling, irrigation, and cleaning, AQUAKIT drastically reduces water consumption while also minimizing wastewater emissions.
As climate change increases heavy rainfall in parts of the world, rainwater capture and reuse is a no-brainer. FieldFactors (Netherlands) is working to transform rain into a dependable local freshwater source through its BlueBloqs circular water system. Their solution combats urban flooding, drought, and heat stress, while fostering biodiversity with green spaces.
Too much, or not enough, rain can be particularly devastating in the agricultural sector. Naireeta Services Private Limited (NSPL) (India) is the creator of Bhungroo, a World Bank-awarded rainwater harvesting technology that filters, injects, and stores stormwater subsoil for later retrieval by farmers. With a 30-year lifespan, each Bhungroo frees 5-10 acres from waterlogging in each monsoon and irrigates more than 22 acres each winter.
Advanced Treatment and Efficiency
Currently, only 11% of domestic and industrial wastewater is being reused. A significant barrier is that industrial wastewater can contain heavy metals, toxic chemicals, and nutrients that require specialized treatment processes. Membrion (US) is the creator of a patented electro-ceramic desalination technology. Its innovative solution eliminates the need for off-site disposal and costly treatments like boiling or chemical processes. The membrane recovers up to 98% of water, enabling recycling in challenging conditions.
Water treatment is a highly energy intensive process, accounting for a whopping 4% of global electricity consumption. One technology that is changing the game for treatment efficiency is nanobubbles. Nanobubbles are, to put it simply, extremely small, which allows them to transfer gases more efficiently. Kran Nanobubble's (Chile) system harnesses the power of nanobubbles to rehabilitate contaminated environments, treat wastewater, purify food, and increase crop yields using 100% sustainable technology.
Digital twins, virtual representations of a real-world object or system, have been gaining traction in the tech community for their ability to use real-time data in their modelling, enabling experimentation with larger objects. SmartTerra (India) is deploying digital twin technology in water networks to reduce water losses and enhance revenue streams. Its cloud-hosted software, adept at handling intermittent water supply, enables utilities to swiftly detect leaks and anomalies across vast networks.
The agricultural industry, responsible for 70% of global freshwater withdrawals, is the worst water offender. SEABEX (France) is using digital twin technology to allow precision irrigation to go sensor-less. Driven by AI algorithms, their technology enhances crop yields and allows farmers to reduce water waste by up to 50%.
Analytics and Artificial Intelligence
Like many other sectors, analytics and artificial intelligence are major trends in the water sector and there is room for a multitude of solutions in this space.
The World Bank estimates about 30% of piped water is lost before it reaches the customer. PYDRO (Germany) is pioneering self-powered sensing and acting systems to combat water loss for smarter water networks. The PT1, its flagship product, revolutionizes data transmission by eliminating the need for power supply or battery exchange, offering real-time insights into water network dynamics. PYDRO's ‘water to data’ solution ensures seamless communication without additional sensors or expert intervention.
Fluid Analytics Inc. (India /US) is specifically targeting urban water pollution using robotics and artificial intelligence to monitor water infrastructure health, waterway conditions, and the spread of water-borne diseases at scale. With unique mathematical and machine-learning models trained on diverse datasets, Fluid Analytics is successfully monitoring over 1.3 billion litres of urban water pollution and enabling the diversion, treatment, and reuse of 800 million litres daily.
Utilities aren’t the only ones who need water conservation solutions. Shayp (Belgium) is pioneering water conservation within the real estate sector. As an IoT-enabled SaaS, SHAYP empowers building managers to eradicate leaks and mitigate damages. Its cutting-edge IoT device, seamlessly installed in under 5 minutes, ensures precision in real-time water consumption monitoring.
From digital twins to AI to nanobubbles, water tech is advancing rapidly, and investors are taking notice.
Learn more about Aquapreneurs and how UpLink is helping water innovation to scale here.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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