🌊 Water Tech Week: What's coming down the pipe

Happy Friday, readers! To close out Water Tech Week, today’s focus is expert predictions for the future of water innovation in the Midwest and beyond. Check out their thoughts after today’s tech headlines. Appropriately, the first news tidbit is water related.

🚰 WATER: Indianapolis-based startup Peril Protect launched its high-tech, in-home water monitoring system that uses sensors to detect leaks and emails or texts alerts to notify the consumer, in addition to a 24-hour call center and contractor network for fixes, reports the Indianapolis Business Journal.

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🌱 BIOFUEL: The University of Illinois and the Michigan Aerospace Corporation are among the six recipients of a collective $16.5 million in funding from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) for developing technologies to bridge gaps in the biofuel supply chain.

🛢️ OIL: Researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology are working on an innovation to decrease the energy needed for extracting oil at shale oil reservoirs and ultimately reduce the need to dig new oil wells.

Abdulmohsin Imqam working in his lab at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Photo courtesy of Abdulmohsin Imqam.

🏆 COMPETITION: The U.S. Air Force innovation initiative AFWERX launched a competition seeking technologies to boost the Department of Defense’s resilient energy production, transmission, use, and storage while reducing fossil fuel use. Submissions are due Oct. 1.

💻 VIRTUAL EVENT: Representatives from the Great Lakes Energy Institute at Case Western Reserve University and Argonne National Laboratory are among the speakers for a virtual event on Sept. 25 to provide an overview on Department of Energy laboratories and how students can apply for internships and fellowships.

Now, back to Day 5 of Water Tech Week on Centered. This week we’ve covered what’s driving Midwest water innovation, how advanced sensors and digital data are transforming water monitoring, the growing role of project partnerships, and challenges to water tech development.

Today, subject matter experts share where they see the industry going and emerging trends that will shape its future.

Environmental and social justice

A trend that’s already gaining momentum is a focus on water projects that improve disadvantaged communities and help them achieve environmental and social justice. Similarly, more diverse voices are being brought into the water tech mix.

  • “We were founded to make sure new technology goes into neighborhoods and communities where it can do the most good. … For us, that’s moderate- and low-income neighborhoods and minority neighborhoods. Those historically do not have as much green space and water funding,” said Hannah Grooms, senior project manager at Greenprint Partners, a green stormwater infrastructure developer in Chicago. 

  • “Chicago will be stronger if its economy is built on an inclusive economy,” said Alaina Harkness, CEO of Chicago nonprofit water innovation hub Current. “We're thinking about both environmental and economic justice — those are the twin pillars of the work. Organizations in partnership with us often are thinking about what technology and data can help lead to change.”

Cheaper technologies

The cost of advanced sensors and related connected technologies has prohibited their rapid, widespread implementation. But cheaper sensors and data-transmitting technologies are expected to create a boom in Internet of Things water technology projects.

  • “Generally, you send data through cyber modems, which works nicely but you incur a cost for each sensing device and need a modem for each one,” said Greg Cutrell, an environmental scientist at LimnoTech, which has deployed high-tech, sensor-laden buoys into the Great Lakes for water quality monitoring. LimnoTech is among the innovators working on more reasonably priced solutions for transmitting sensor-gathered data. “If you can place a lot of cheap sensors and not incur modem costs … that's something we see is going to get popular,” he said. “There are going to be more point sources for measurements.”

A LimnoTech water quality monitoring buoy near Toledo.

Predictive solutions

Predictive analytics is another area that’s just starting to be tapped. Sources see huge future opportunities for predictive technologies — leak detection or flood prevention, for example — as water becomes a more valuable resource amid changing climate conditions.

  • “To be able to do the predictive aspects — to know where the water is flowing, what water quality is like, and where is it going to rain so they can set up the valves to open and close for wastewater and stormwater management — it is helpful for speed but also from a preventive standpoint,” said Dean Amhaus, president and CEO of Milwaukee-based water economic development nonprofit The Water Council.

Water education and public participation

Public attention to water stewardship increased in the past couple of years with the prominence of government and corporate sustainability commitments. This is an opportunity for expanding public education about and participation in water solutions.

  • “There is now a better trust in education and citizen science. Students are getting involved in water testing. They have kits that are validated against the data in the laboratory. They are not only creating more data, but they are helping us to create more awareness of water,” Biswas said.

Agriculture

Farming’s negative environmental impact is well-known, but the topic isn’t exactly well-positioned on the public’s radar. The number of water innovations that improve farms’ sustainability, reduce their emissions and carbon footprint, and reduce their resource use is anticipated to grow. Already, there is more demand for agricultural water innovations due to more sustainability-conscious consumers or entities downstream on the supply chain, as well as the increasing prevalence of cost-effective technologies. Nutrient runoff and groundwater contamination solutions are among these innovations.

  • “I'm closely involved with a project that deals with carbon injection into the subsoil as a way to remediate water as it passes through crop roots. We’re testing this technique for improving groundwater quality,” said Dan Snow, lab director at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Water Sciences Laboratory.

  • “The nutrient [innovations] are very much in demand — trying to have more analysis of nutrients and installing sensors close to streams for monitoring,” said Saptashati “Tania” Biswas, research laboratory manager at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Water Sciences Laboratory.

Attention shift

The public view of “water” often centers on the tap and therefore on utilities. But the coming years will bring a greater focus on the diverse entities besides utilities that use or process water in some way and could therefore benefit from modern water technologies.

  • “In the water industry, everyone thinks innovation all about the utilities. … But you have a huge market of industrial users that have much faster adoption of technologies. They will pay for it and implement it much faster. There’s less bureaucracy,” Amhaus said. 

  • “A lot of companies right here in Chicago don't think of themselves as water companies, but they have lots of water needs. … Think of the food and beverage industry. They can use technology to meet sustainability goals and water quality goals,” Harkness said.


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Centered is a publication of the Energy News Network, in partnership with the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation and mHUB.