Water & Wastewater Treatment
The Water Industry is quite a special beast when you think of it.
Unlike other sciences, it rarely features a unique "right" solution. Instead, there's often a wide array of options, each of them having advantages and drawbacks.
And if some technologies are around for a while - like the "1914 Workhorse of Wastewater Treatment" aka Activated Sludge - new processes pop up all the time.
How can you navigate this jungle? Where can you swiftly find advice when faced with new pollution? What's new within the state of the art, and how can you leverage it?
In this section, we cover the fundamentals of drinking water and wastewater treatment. What is flocculation? What would you not find in water that's been through secondary treatment? About how long have wastewater treatment plants been in existence?
We also run a continuous market survey, to keep any possible trend on the radar. PFAS or micropollutant removal, advanced oxidation processes or coated membrane treatment, central vs distributed infrastructure...
The Water Industry has two very contrasting features: on one hand, it is very conservative and hard to enter for newcomers.
But on the other hand, it is highly fragmented, with a market leader that barely reaches a 5% market share (despite acquiring the n°2 company!)
In the meantime, the Water Industry also faces an impressive list of challenges. To name a few: emerging contaminants, reinforced regulations, water scarcity - not talking of climate change.
As a result, the market opportunity for water entrepreneurs is considerable, but the name of the game is very different compared to "conventional" business fields.
Don't worry, you don't need to go all-in blindly:
You can like it, fear it, or hate it: the fact is, that digitization is here to stay. And it has consequences in the Water Industry!
Behind buzzwords like the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning or simply Process Modeling and Digital Twins, there's a wealth of concepts and opportunities for the Water Sector.
Water 4.0 appears at all the ends of the Water Cycle. We see connected water networks while others build the Internet of Water on the last mile. Process Automation and increased autonomy of drinking water and wastewater treatment systems open new horizons for decentralized and distributed treatments.
And new risks arise: if water gets connected like any other part of our modern world, it inevitably faces the same cyber-threats.
How can the Water Industry leverage these new tools and playgrounds?
What happens, when you build your infrastructure on purpose to be invisible? It gets challenging to get everyone to grasp the challenge it represents!
Water Networks face two major threats. First, the limited investment we put in it represents a bet. The Water Industry is literally hoping for its lifelines to last at least a couple of centuries. And despite "thoughts and prayers," the galloping rise of Non-Revenue Water confirms, that this is a dangerous bet.
Then, Water Networks also face a changing landscape. Most of them were designed at times, where only a minority of people lived in cities. As a consequence, if 70% of humanity is to live in cities by 2050, Water Networks will be widely undersized.
Add to that the additional challenge of energy consumptions, mainly through pumping, that account for a large portion of the Water Industry's carbon emissions, and you build a quite challenging picture. A lost cause? Don't worry, there are solutions:
United Nations SDG 6
Since the 1970s and the inception of the Human Right to Water, nations try to bring Water for All. Let's be honest: so far, they didn't succeed, as population growth always outbalanced the Water Industry's efforts to provide everyone with Water and Sanitation Services.
Yet, in 2015, all the United Nations agreed to further pursue the target and meet it by 2030. As one of the 17 sustainable development goals, SDG 6 specifically focuses on this commitment!
The bad news is, that progress towards SDG 6 runs at a quarter of the speed it should. Why? Simply because the World invests 7 times less money into it than it should.
As a consequence, we still see billions of people without access to safe drinking water, improved sanitation, or even basic hygiene. And it costs one million lives every year...
Isn't it a pity when at the same time it represents a tremendous missed business opportunity?
What does an industrial site produce? Hopefully some goods. And its operators are probably absolute experts in these goods' production systems.
But there's a by-product.
Since the industrial revolution, there's hardly a single process that doesn't require water! As a consequence, tremendous levels of water are abstracted, used, and often polluted by industrial players.
But exactly as industrials are experts in producing industrial stuff, the Water Industry excels in solving challenging water riddles.
Hence, from water scarcity and associated regulations to limit the impact of industrial water uses, to complex pollutants that these processes draw into the water, the water sector has a wealth of solutions.
This comes with new business models, like Water as a Service. And with new opportunities, like resource recovery and closed water loops.
Wanna seize the opportunity?
Water Finance & Investing
Water is a good that is essential to the life of every single human on earth.
In business terms, it also means, it simply is the largest possible market!
As a consequence, it is tempting to deal with water like with a commodity like oil or corn. In many countries around the world, you can hence directly invest in Water.
Theoretically, it enables water to flow to its best use. But between theory and practice, there's sometimes a world...
On another end of that same story, the Water Industry evolves in an almost infinite market. Which in turn represents, again, a tremendous business opportunity.
So, if finance doesn't invest in Water as a commodity, it can also invest in water companies, start-ups, technologies, and systems. From venture capitalists to impact investors, this is appealing to a large array of profiles.
Do you wonder how to navigate in this challenging environment?
You could hardly imagine more of a swear word for water professionals. Marketing. Isn't that the trick, bad technologies need to convince people they are any good?
The problem with such a negatively biased approach is that you tend to forget what marketing really is. Aka, understand the needs of the market and tailor a solution to them.
What could go wrong? Well, a neighboring industry could be much better at marketing and cannibalize the Water Industry. This is not science fiction: by 2034, the World will spend more on bottled water than on utility drinking water!
Worse: if the Water Industry fails to convey its messages and tell its stories, it limits the chances that people value water right. And in turn, it limits the attention and budget countries and communities allocate to it.
Shall we look at ways to prevent the Water Industry to fall victim to this trick?
Water & Wastewater Reuse
If we keep the current pace, the World will lack 40% of the water it needs, by 2030. Where will we find the missing water?
Well simply, we could stop seeing water as a "one-way resource" and start closing the loop. Actually, that loop has always been closed: every drop of water we drink has been through a dinosaur at some point!
It's about closing shorter water use loops. And it doesn't mean we shall generalize horrible marketing approaches like "Toilet to Tap."
There is instead a wealth of shades of grey... water, that represent as many opportunities for our thirsty world. Shall we explore them?
Water Energy Nexus
Do you know the future? Well good news for you: I do!
Don't be so skeptical, I'll tell you my trick. The Water Industry, in general, is kind of a laggard sector - for many good and bad reasons.
But it has a twin that's a bit faster to react: the energy sector. So, by looking at what happens in that industry, you can actually predict what's coming in the Water Industry. Do you believe me now?
To go one step further, there is a deep relationship between water - aka liquid energy, and other energies. That nexus sometimes extends to food to build the famous water-food-energy system.
Is all of that still abstract to you? You don't know what's in it for you yet?
Nature Based Solutions
For decades, the water industry has tried to out-engineer nature. We wanted to treat water faster and better. To domesticate rivers and channel every water stream.
That was ambitious... and probably arrogant (who said "stupid?").
Besides any judgemental considerations, the water industry rediscovers that, throughout 3.8 billion years of R&D, Nature has developed quite clever engineering marvels.
And nature-based solutions can solve quite a bunch of our modern world's challenges! All of that also represents an inviting sustainable business opportunity. How?
Come on, what's to learn about water? We know it since middle school: it's H2O, and that's about what you shall know.
OK, so... what color is it? Is it wet? What does water taste like? Why does water expand when it freezes?
All of that can sound interesting but anecdotal. But don't get fooled: better understanding water can be a key to new worlds for the Water Industry.
For instance, did you know that there is a fourth phase of water? And that it could have crazy consequences like water batteries or direct solar desalination?
Many questions are hard to ask as a water professional.
(Come on, aren't you supposed to already know this?)
But don't worry, because I'll raise all of them for you - and try to answer them in...
Net Zero Water
The World will need to decarbonize to reach equilibrium at the latest by 2050. But did you know that the Water Industry is responsible for more carbon equivalent emissions than the entire aviation sector? That wastewater systems alone reject more greenhouse gases than all the vehicles on the US roads?
The Water Sector will need to adapt - and to do it fast. It may involve rethinking some of the technologies we commonly use.
But it also implicates rethinking our leadership, procurement, and priorities. How? Let's find out.
About the Host
Antoine WALTER is the host of the "(don't) Waste Water" podcast, airing every Wednesday on all platforms. Holding a master in water and environmental engineering, he's been working for 10 years in the water industry with a special dedication to solution driven wastewater treatments.
And he's French, nobody's perfect.
We monitor the Market Pulse (and share it with you weekly!)
There are two sides to our water industry. Sure, we're quite conservative on one end. But water is a never-ending field for innovation!
This means, there's always a "new thing".
So, when will you learn about it? If this happens when your competitors integrate that said new thing in their offering, that's probably too late... But of course, it's always a remarkable experience to learn things "the hard way". 😄
To preserve you from this pain, I commit every week to running your market intelligence (for free).
And I share it with the water industry, with the "don't Waste Water" podcast!
Why a Water Podcast?
Simply because our lives are busy! In "normal" times with travels. And in "special" times with some restrictions...
And where do you compromise, when you have to fit a tight agenda? Often in the worst possible place: you reduce your personal time allowance. These moments where, you can learn, evolve and improve.
Win back your time: switch to a water podcast! Be it this one or any other (there are some good ones - ask me for insight, I'd be happy to recommend some).
Podcasts have your back anywhere. Doing the dishes? Mowing the lawn? Out for a split-running session? Sitting on the bus?
Give your brain some food for thought, and tune in. I'll ensure, you'll shine on your next all-hands meeting, customer interview (or family dinner.)
Get Season 1+2 Summaries!
Solve your Water Challenges with Collective Intelligence
Too many water professionals are on their own. They face a challenge and need to find a solution. Why re-inventing the wheel each time?
In this podcast, we share real case studies and supply you with project stories.
Thus, you can leverage your peer's experience
Thanks to the transparency of our awesome guests, we hear from many pitfalls and truths they learned the hard way.
... and leverage our Water Podcast to stay on top of best practices!
It might be tempting to do things "as you've always done".
Yet, our guest's experience shows, the state of the art is always evolving in the water industry. Workforce evolve (ever heard of the silver wave?) and data fundamentally change our operation.
Discover potentially better ways of addressing process issues, with our wide panel. Former guests range from water majors (SUEZ, Veolia...) to SMEs (Puraffinity, LiqTech, Fluence, Mazzei...) through Start-Ups (Kando, Aquassay, Cambrian Innovation, Ketos, Qatium, Bosaq, 120Water...), Book Authors, Researchers and High-End Monitoring Bodies (BlueTech Research, GWI...).
We investigate together how countries control their water resources (Israel, Singapore...).
We review industry reports, clean water systems, utilities' system management, control of water as a resource, access to clean water worldwide, sustainability, security, public relationship to water... on top of everything I already listed above!
And if you feel like, we did not address yet the issue that keeps you up at night, contact me!