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  • by Karma Loveday

Ofwat awards £5m for 13 innovation projects

Ofwat has awarded £5.2m in prizes of between £155,000 and £760,000 to 13 winners in the Catalyst stream of its second Innovation Fund competition, known as the Water Breakthrough Challenge.

Water quality, leakage and pollution featured highly in the challenges the innovations are trying to address, with collaborators including technology experts, universities and as well as in the mix.

Ofwat offered the following descriptions of the winning projects.

A HERU for Screenings – led by Severn Trent – £198,144  The Home Energy Recovery Unit (HERU) is a waste recovery system developed to manage domestic and commercial waste on site. About the size of a chest freezer, this solution uses heat pipe technology developed from satellites, to turn screenings into energy that can be recycled. It’s an innovative solution to a growing and challenging waste problem for the UK water industry. 

Catalysing a NET-ZERO future – led by Severn Trent – £762,447  One of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions from the water industry is nitrous oxide – 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It’s produced by bacteria that play a vital role in removing toxic ammonia from wastewater. If ammonia isn’t removed, it damages aquatic life. Recently researchers have identified naturally occurring bacteria that can remove ammonia without producing nitrous oxide but these don’t ordinarily thrive in treatment plants. This project will develop innovative techniques for capturing these game-changing bacteria and putting them to work in existing treatment processes. 

Defusing the nitrate timebomb – led by Portsmouth Water – £154,800  Nitrate pollution has long been a threat to chalk drinking water and dependent environments in southern England. To reduce nitrate in drinking water requires expensive treatment or changes in farming practice.  Water companies work with farmers to reduce nitrate inputs, but lack detailed knowledge of where to focus efforts for efficient, rapid results.  The project will develop modelling software that can predict concentrations throughout the chalk so that land use options can be tested to select those that deliver efficient nitrate reduction.  This will reduce treatment costs and energy consumption and help to protect habitats and biodiversity. 

Designer Liner – led by Yorkshire Water – £173,880  Pipe lining is 50% cheaper than the more traditional method of digging up and replacing broken pipes. It also generates less carbon and is less disruptive for customers because there’s no need to dig up the road. There’s a gap in the current market to provide a lining solution fit for a 21st century water network. Water companies, led by Yorkshire Water, will collaborate to create a lining solution for clean water pipes with a much longer lifespan than existing linings and with the potential to include other technologies too. This will make water networks more resilient for the future and equip them to become smarter than ever before. 

Pipebots for rising mains – led by Thames Water – £230,930  Rising mains are sewage pipes which are pressurised so sewage can be pumped up hills to be treated at sewage works. It is difficult to survey these pipes because they are hard to access and to shut off so they can be inspected internally. Using robots on rising mains will help the industry spot, predict and fix pipes which are deteriorating before they burst, preventing pollutions to the environment. This project will test the use of robots to assess the internal condition of these types of pipes to radically change how the industry takes care of this type of infrastructure. The water industry already uses human-controlled robots to assess its partially filled sewer tunnels and sewers which use gravity to move sewage. This project will pave the way for the autonomous robotics technology to be used in fully pressurised sewer pipes. 

Support For All – led by Northumbrian Water – £632,270  Support for All will involve designing, building and delivering a hub to securely host data on customers in vulnerable circumstances – when submitted once, the data can then be shared with other relevant utilities. Each utility company has a Priority Services Register of customers requiring additional support, and customers must currently register with each utility separately. The new solution allows customers to ‘tell us once’, informing all relevant utility companies of the support they need. The aim is to develop a pilot of a working model, implement this at a regional level and then scale nationally. 

SuPR Loofah (Sustainable Phosphorus Recovery) – led by Northumbrian Water – £445,577  Northumbrian Water, with Northumbria University, the University of Newcastle, and Welsh Water will trial the use of an innovative loofah to remove and recover phosphorous from wastewater. This prevents it from causing damaging algal blooms, which can suffocate local ecosystems. This innovative SuPR Loofah treatment system will place micro-algae on a loofah material, and use this to capture phosphorous from wastewater. As well as being a more affordable and sustainable process to wastewater treatment, this world-leading circular approach will generate a vital form of phosphorous which can be used as fertiliser. 

Tap Water Forensics – led by Severn Trent – £371,215  This project will develop the use of genetic sequencing in drinking water treatment. Unlike current tests, genetic sequencing can determine all the bacterial species present in water. This will significantly improve the speed and accuracy of water quality investigations. The hope is that customers in England and Wales will benefit from a £3-5m-a-year reduction in bills, enabled by improve efficiency in water quality investigations, as well as a reduction in unplanned remedial work and disruption to supplies.   

Sub-Seasonal Forecasting to Improve Operational Decision Making – led by Thames Water – £678,750  This project will create a reliable weather impact modelling and forecasting system which will help water companies forecast weather events beyond ten to14 days, up to four to six weeks ahead. These systems will improve water companies’ understanding of how the weather impacts their water and wastewater management. Using these systems will improve their resourcing and operational management capabilities for areas at risk from severe weather events – for example, rapid changes in customer demand for water and regions which are prone to surface water flooding. 

Incentivising community-centric rainwater management – led by Thames Water – £225,000  Thames Water has partnered with Anglian Water, South West Water, Indepen, Isle Utilities and Our Rainwater to encourage communities in their regions to adopt rainwater capture tools and solutions, to help prevent rainwater from entering the sewer network. When it rains heavily, excess water runs off people’s homes and driveways and enters the sewer network which can contribute to the network being overwhelmed and lead to surface water flooding, sewer flooding and sewage discharges.  The project will encourage the widespread adoption of rainwater capture methods at a grass roots level. It will test and measure how communities can be incentivised to take up these measures and help protect the environment.    

Unlocking bioresource market growth using a collaborative decision support tool – led by Anglian Water – £314,316  Anglian Water will work with four water companies to develop a collaborative strategic planning capability, underpinned by Business Modelling Associates’ adaptive systems planning software. This will identify opportunities to trade bioresources across existing assets and determine the optimal blend of future inter-company investments, tackling common challenges and maximising environmental and customer value. 

Unlocking digital twins – led by Thames Water – £334,800  A ‘digital twin’ is a virtual representation of a water company’s physical assets or processes, for example a digital version of its pipe network and water treatment process. Water companies use these digital twins to unlock new data-driven innovations, which can improve their services and how they manage their networks for the benefit of customers. More companies are using digital twins but there is no agreed standard model and process for creating them, which has the potential to create inefficiencies, reduce the value delivered by these systems and increase costs. This project will create standards to support consistent digital twins throughout the industry. 

Water Quality As-A-Service Treatment-2-Tap – led by Northumbrian Water – £714,880  Treatment-to-Tap will demonstrate a step-change in the management of the water quality (WQ) for customers.  By the end of the project, Northumbrian Water will be operating Europe’s largest integrated network of WQ and leakage management sensors and analytics software. Managing WQ is an increasing challenge due to ageing networks serving a growing population. This new behavioural science research will assess how best to engage and support customers when real-time WQ insight is available – meaning water company operations will be more intimately connected to customers than ever. A consortium of five water companies will all input to define and validate best practice on how new insights can be built into proactive operations. A new business model template will then enable all water companies to see how they can share risk and scope with the supply chain to deliver at scale and pace for least cost and best service to the customer.

Ofwat said it would announce the winning projects for the Transform stream of Water Breakthrough Challenge 2 at the end of April, when it will award up to £34m to entries seeking funding of between £1m and £10m.


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