A Primer on Smarter Water

The HorizonWatch Community (this is the internal community at IBM I lead) recently had a conference call on the topic of Water Management trends and issues.  We reviewed the results of the recent IBM Global Innovation Outlook Study on Water and we also reviewed what IBM is doing to provide innovative solutions to our water management issues.   We had two speakers for that call Amy Hermes, from IBM’s Global Innovation Outlook team and Mike Sullivan, from IBM’s Big Green Innovations team.  

This post represents some notes I took from that call along with some additional research I conducted.  For those of you interested in learning about Water Management issues, I hope this is a good introduction and resource for you.

Most of us reading this post take our access to water for granted.  However, I would imagine that we all realize that water is critical to sustaining life on our planet.  Water makes up 60 to 70% by weight of all living organisms and is essential for photosynthesis.  If the Earth’s water supply vanished, there would be no plants, no animals, and no people. 

While the Earth’s water is not vanishing, many scientists believe that our global water supply is in crisis.  We may or may not be at the crisis stage, but we definitely need to take action to solve our water management issues.

Some Quick Facts About WaterWater Wasted

  • Water covers 75% of the earth's surface.  Nearly 98% of the earth's water is in the oceans.  Fresh water makes up less than 3% of water on earth, over two thirds of this is tied up in polar ice caps and glaciers.  Fresh water lakes and rivers make up only 0.009% of water on Earth and ground water makes up 0.28%.
  • It takes 700 gallons of water to make a cotton T-shirt, 2,000 gallons to make one gallon of milk, and 39,000 gallons to make a car.
  • Global agriculture wastes an estimated 60% of the 2,500 trillion liters it uses each year. 
  • Municipalities lose as much as 50% of their water supply through leaky infrastructure.  
  • More than one trillion gallons of water are wasted in U.S. homes each year from easy-to-fix leaks.
  • 1 in 5 of the word’s population still lacks access to clean, safe drinking water. 
  • The United Nations predicts that nearly half the world’s population will experience critical water shortages by the year 2080.
  • There are nearly 53,000 different water agencies in the United States alone, each managing a short stretch of river or a handful of reservoirs. 
  • In the last 100 years global water usage has increased at twice the rate of population growth.

For those of us living in developed nations, our water infrastructure is many decades old.  In fact, in some places it is centuries old.  As our demand for water is increasing, we need to modernize the existing infrastructure.  One way to do that is to apply information technology.

Today’s water management systems are operating without enough data and insights.   The planet needs new water management systems, based on smart technology that can collect and analyze real-time data.  These new systems will provide water authorities with the insights they need to supply more water to more people with lower energy-use and cost. 

How Can Technology Help?

What is needed are water management systems that can provide real time collection and analysis of all sources of data.  This includes integrating disparate sensor technologies that produce disparate data formats along with other data from an array of partners.  Information technology solutions are needed that can take data that’s coming in fast and turn it into intelligence that augments the ability to improve decision making about water distribution.  These solutions need to connect the folks in the central control room with those working in the field building bridges, dams, dykes to the sensor experts and sophisticated modelers.

  • Technology can monitor, measure and analyze entire water ecosystems, from rivers and reservoirs to the pumps and pipes in our homes.
  • The latest water meters, combined with appropriate Water Management solutions can provide a single, reliable, up-to-the minute and actionable view of water use for a government, a business, or a home.   These ‘smart’ water meters can provide real-time insight into water use, raising awareness, locating inefficiencies and decreasing demand.
  • Advanced sensors can help us collect all sorts of new data on water usage.  For example, sensors on levees can monitor changing flood conditions and respond accordingly.  Sensor based systems can provide the agriculture industry with detailed information on air quality, soil moisture content and temperature to calculate optimal irrigation schedules.
  • Advanced computing, analytics, and simulations can help us all move beyond “real time” to prediction, supporting better-informed policy and management decisions.
  • Technology can also be applied to our oceans to gather data on water temperature, currents, wave strength, salinity and marine life, and applying algorithms that can forecast everything from wave patterns over 24 hours to the right time to harvest mussels.

IBM Water Management Solution Areas

IBM is taking a leadership role among technology vendors in researching, piloting and developing a whole suite of water management solutions.  Here is a sample of what  IBM is doing…

  • Natural Water Resources – Provides sensor data integration, analysis and visualization to enable the measurement, modeling and management of water levels, usage and quality in natural water resources.
  • Water Utilities – Enables water providers to make rapid decisions regarding business processes and operational efficiency to maximize their return on investments as well as foresee and quickly respond to contamination issues and emergencies.
  • Water Infrastructure – Provides sensing systems for managing water infrastructure, such as levee oversight management and flood control.
  • Water Metering – Improves management of water supply and demand by integrating data between the dozens of stakeholders involved. Provides all stakeholders with consistent, real-time information to help them work together to make critical decisions about water supply in a geographic region.
  • Green Sigma for Water™ – is a business consulting service that identifies where water is being used, measures and monitors usage, and creates process improvements to reduce water use. IBM pilots have achieved reductions in water usage of 30%.
  • SmartBay Sensor System – Monitors wave conditions, marine life and pollution levels.  Provide real-time information to stakeholders in the Irish maritime economy, runs on a cloud computing platform, and is able to predict water conditions critical to those stakeholders.

Ten Innovative Vendors in the Water Management Industry

The Artemis Project recently announced winners of its first annual Top 50 Water Companies Competition.  The list provides us insights into who the advanced water and water-related technology companies are as this industry is on the verge of becoming one of the great high-growth industries of the 21st Century.

The companies on the list were selected by a panel of experts based on an integrated matrix of four criteria:  technology, intellectual property and know-how, team and market potential.  Here’s the top ten on the Artemis list along with a description of what each company is doing.

1.  AbTech Industries, Inc. (Arizona, USA)  To combat nonpoint source water pollution, AbTech developed the Smart Sponge®, a patented technology that effectively removes pollutants from stormwater.

2.  Oasys Water, Inc. (Massachusetts, USA)  Oasys (Osmotic Application Systems) is a Cambridge MA based company developing a suite of proprietary water treatment products to address the growing global water crisis.  The Company’s Engineered Osmosis (EOTM) technology is a novel treatment platform that can produce clean, potable water at significantly lower cost than current desalination methods.

3.  Seldon Technologies, Inc. (Vermont, USA)  Seldon has developed a new nanostructured material which includes carbon nanotubes: “nanomesh™” that can be produced in large scale and used for purification applications.  This new fused nanomesh material forms the basis for safe, tested and proven products in three major fluid filtration applications: ground water, fuel and air purification.

4.  Emefcy (Caesarea, Israel)  Emefcy’s MEGAWATTER™ platform is a bio-electro-chemical process for electricity and hydrogen production using wastewater as a fuel. This technology addresses an enormous market of industrial wastewater treatment plants in which anaerobic treatment is not applicable, thus expensive-to-operate aerobic treatment is applied.

5.  NanoH2O (California, USA)  NanoH2O has applied nanotechnology to create advanced membrane materials for desalination and water reuse.  With freshwater scarcity an increasingly worldwide issue, desalination is a vital treatment method to provide freshwater for industrial users and a growing world population from fresh, brackish and seawater sources.  Despite recent advances, desalination remains an expensive source of freshwater because it is energy intensive.  NanoH2O’s next generation energy-efficient and fouling resistant membranes dramatically improve the baseline economics of desalination and water reuse.

6.  SolarBee, Inc. (North Dakota, USA)  SolarBee, Inc. manufactures and installs solar-powered, long-distance water circulators.  The floating, up-flow circulators can move up to 10,000 gallons per minute from depths of more than 100 feet with a solar-powered pump.  SolarBee’s circulators help solve water-quality problems worldwide in freshwater lakes, wastewater lagoons, storm-water ponds, estuaries, potable and recycled water storage tanks and other reservoirs.

7.  AquaPure (Upper Galilee, Israel)  Aquapure’s mission is to play a pivotal role in the groundwater and municipal treatment industry by offering an ozone-hydrogen peroxide-UV In Situ Advanced Oxidation Process (AOP) water treatment solution, allowing for effective purification of water contaminants.  Aquapure’s technology has provides advanced purification over other existing technologies for a variety wide refractory pollutants characterized by high solubility in water and high toxicity

8.  HydroPoint (California, USA)  HydroPoint is focused on reducing water wasted when used for landscape irrigation.  Proven in 23 independent studies, including the EPA, the WeatherTRAK solution saves water, reduces energy demand and protects water quality while it minimizes liability and expense exposure.  Drawing on information delivered wirelessly from 40,000 weather stations, the WeatherTRAK ET Everywhere service automatically schedules irrigation based on individual landscape needs and local weather conditions.  The result is higher property values, lower water bills and a healthier environment.

9.  MIOX Corporation (New Mexico, USA)  MIOX is focused on applying technology to help solve the need for affordable, safe, and healthy water.  Its patented technology can purify water without dangerous chemicals and enables significant cost and energy savings versus traditional treatment methods.  MIOX technology uses a process referred to as on-site generation (OSG) – the use of salt, water and electricity to produce a powerful chlorine-based disinfectant, “mixed oxidants”, on demand.

10.  ScFi (Cork, Ireland)  ScFi provides a solution to disposing of wet waste (sewage sludge, putrescible waste and other organic materials) safely, quickly and efficiently while minimizing cost.  ScFi’s technology, AquaCritox®, destructs wet waste without the generation of any hazardous waste or emissions and in addition can be a source of renewable energy.

The 10 companies on the list above look like they are positioned well to participate in this growth.

Recommended Next Steps

More work is needed as we transform the water infrastructure to digital technology:

  • Continue to Build Awareness for Water Issues.  Many in leadership positions are not aware of the critical need for water management information technology solutions.
  • Continue Market Testing & Solutions Platform Development.  Technology vendors need to continue to build assets and test solution platforms.  Stronger linkages are needed across the growing ecosystem.
  • Continue to Build Thought Leadership Deliverables.  Tech vendors need to develop content highlighting case studies, references, demonstrations, and white papers.

For More Information

There is a bunch of more reading material available.  Here some links…

12 thoughts on “A Primer on Smarter Water

  1. The following book was interesting to read:
    Bottlemania: Big Business, Local Springs, and the Battle Over America’s Drinking Water (Paperback)
    by Elizabeth Royte (Author)

  2. Fantastic and inspirational posting. I love your blog and judging by the commentary you have a great list of followers. Will bookmark this site and keep updated..cheers!

  3. Inspirational Post ! I read your blog and guessing that you have good list of fans. If you don’t mind, I would like to tell about it to my friends as well..

  4. This is a good article, I think, water is a basic human survival is a factor, it can be said, no one will be impossible to have human existence, but we still lack the Earth’s water resources, many Water and can not be directly used by humans for us to save water.

  5. I’ve taken a look at AbTech Industries’ website and saw their Smart Sponge. It’s a pretty nifty innovation if you ask me. Stormwater is really a problem since it’s a carrier of many water pollutants. If proper stormwater treatment is done, then the treated water can be reused as a good resource for irrigation. I hope that engineers would consider making the best out of all the treatment options available in this day and age. Good waste water management practices will definitely help the community and the environment.

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