Home » Water » Can water innovation help save the world?

Piers Clark

Founder and Chairman, Isle Utilities

Imagine a world where streets are warmed by heat from wastewater treatment plants, raw sewage is turned into biodegradable plastics and natural gases produced during the water treatment process power our cars and homes.

Rapid technological advances mean an energy-guzzling sewage treatment plant can now be transformed into a resource factory that produces energy to heat homes, slow-release agricultural fertilizers and even clean water.

There are already hundreds of projects happening around the world where wastewater is no longer seen as a pollutant. Instead, it is converted into valuable products, transforming the way water and sewerage services will be delivered in the future.

Transforming water

The innovation I see in response to these huge environmental and social challenges astounds me. Included here are just a few examples from across the globe highlighting how innovation is transforming the way we use – and reuse – water and wastewater.

Water is essential, invaluable and life cannot exist without it, yet the infrastructure that supports it is largely invisible. Few customers know what happens behind the scenes to treat and deliver safe drinking water or how wastewater is cleaned so it can be safely reused or returned to the environment.

Water falls from the sky or is sourced from an aquifer, but then it must travel through thousands of miles of pipes and multiple treatment sites and undergo hundreds of thousands of tests before it is pumped into homes and businesses. These are complex and critical operations.

The crucial link

Yet climate volatility from global warming, including changing rainfall patterns and extremes of temperature, all directly impact water and sanitation.

Floods and droughts result in water scarcity, pollution, environmental degradation and the spread of disease. If water is the crucial link between the health of society and the environment, then the way it is managed must be critical in our response to the climate emergency.

Water is essential, invaluable and life cannot exist without it, yet the infrastructure that supports it is largely invisible.

Leading the way

The sector is rising to these challenges and in some cases, is at the forefront. In England, the water industry has pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2030 – two decades ahead of the UK Government’s 2050 deadline across all sectors.

At the global level, the World Water Innovation Fund is a collaborative initiative started in 2019 by Severn Trent Water to encourage the rapid adoption of water technologies through sharing of trials and research across international boundaries.

Beyond taps and toilets

Water utilities face profound challenges, but this is especially true during a global pandemic, where clean water and reliable sanitation are even more critical.

To support this, Isle launched the Water Action Platform in March 2020, to share experience and expertise about COVID-19 from industry experts. A year on, it has a growing network of more than 1,200 members from over 680 organisations across 90 countries.

As highlighted by the response to the pandemic, the sector understands its role in providing a public service goes far beyond taps and toilets and there is a drive to learn from each other and grow through shared experience and invention. 

So, can the water sector help save the world? The simple answer is yes. It is an epic task, but the drive and expertise are there and with collaboration, innovation and investment, it can lead the way.

Isle is an independent technology and innovation business consultancy. It is made up of a global team of scientists, engineers, business and regulatory experts, with a common drive to make a positive social, economic, and environmental impact through the advancement of innovative technologies and related practices.

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