The Times

Water Innovate: Bringing new technology to the international water market

Dr Steve Callister
Water Innovate (WI) has been breaking new ground by commercialising advanced environmental technologies developed by organisations such as the internationally renowned Water Sciences group at Cranfield University.

WI bridges the innovation gap by providing, for the first time, an effective technology transfer conduit from the laboratory to the marketplace, challenging tried and tested but often outdated and inefficient processes, and introducing a range of new innovative solutions.

Cranfield University is a leading provider of research, teaching and training in water and wastewater treatment, management and policy.  Its unique facilities, made available to WI as well as staff and students, include state-of-the-art laboratories and a pilot hall facility at its own sewage treatment works.

The Water Sciences group offers MSc courses and professional development programmes accredited by the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management.  It has been awarded 'Technology Platform' status by the Environmental and Physical Sciences Research Council, and is the first university department outside the United States to be granted American Water Works Association Research Foundation funding.

WI was established as a spin out business from Cranfield University in 2005 to exploit leading edge technology with clear market potential.  An experienced management team was recruited from the water industry, and a consortium of investors assembled to finance the new venture.   Investors included NESTA (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts) Oxford Technology 4 Venture Capital Trust, Cranfield Enterprises Limited, as well as a group of angel investors and the company’s management team.

By evaluating new environmental technologies and investing significant resources in their development, WI clearly identifies and exploits routes to market.  A range of exciting technologies developed by leading experts in water and wastewater treatment have been assembled in the last eighteen months.

ODOURsim® models critical phases of odour emission that feed into existing dispersion models

ODOURsim® is one of these revolutionary products, a software tool that predicts exactly where and when odour is emitted from sewage treatment works.  The technology aids development of odour management plans for existing and planned installations.

The software is unique because it calculates odour formation and emission from different sources in the treatment process in a dynamic fashion.  This eradicates the traditional inaccuracy of assuming a constant emission rate.

WI is winning significant contracts on the back of the ODOURsim® development project.  A typical example is a recent project with Yorkshire Water that involves assessing the impact of a planned works upgrade, utilising the advanced capability of ODOURsim® to model scenarios before and after construction.

SHELL Springboard Southern Region Final. 
Left to right: Tom Stephenson (Technical Director, WI), James Smith (Chairman, Shell UK), Steve Callister (MD, WI), John Catling (Executive Chairman, WI), and Tim Curtis (Chief Operating Officer, Energy Saving Trust – Southern Region Judge)

N-Tox®, a monitor that detects nitrous oxide, was also launched by WI based on research by Water Sciences which demonstrated that this gas is an early indicator of  wastewater treatment failure.  Its detection can be used to help prevent release of ammonia (a highly toxic pollutant) into rivers.

Many treatment works are legally required to discharge ammonia at a concentration of less than five parts per million.  Some industrial effluents, such as landfill leachate, have very high ammonia levels, making the requirement for N-Tox® critical as the consequences of treatment failure can be serious.

WI has been granted R&D funding from the DTI via the East of England Development Agency to enable further development of N-Tox®.  By analysing the exact pattern of nitrous oxide emissions, a new diagnostic tool will be developed to help determine specific causes of wastewater treatment failure.

Nitrous oxide is also a potent greenhouse gas with almost three hundred times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.  Over four per cent of its emissions arise from wastewater treatment so monitoring levels using N-Tox® can help towards mitigating its effects.

WI’s N-Tox® monitor

A recent prize from SHELL of £ 40,000 development funding was given in acknowledgement of the potential of N-Tox® to contribute towards greenhouse gas reductions.  WI was one of three Southern UK finalists selected to go through to the SHELL Springboard National Final in London.

WI and the Water Sciences group are working in collaboration with organisations such as PERA to develop an innovative process for the treatment of spent metalworking fluids.  This ‘MEMBOX’ project, funded by the DTI Technology Programme, aims to develop a two-stage treatment process incorporating MC-R®, the Membrane Chemical Reactor, a WI process combining ultra violet light with titanium dioxide to remove organic pollutants and colour.

Additional products being developed by WI include ND-R™, the Nitrification-Denitrification Reactor, a novel technology for removing nitrogen from wastewater, OEM-R™, the Odour Extraction Membrane Reactor, which removes odour causing molecules, and ZR-Coag®, a product enabling high efficiency treatment of drinking water and waste effluents using special zirconium compounds.

As can be seen, WI is leading the way in taking bright ideas out of the laboratory and introducing them to international water market.  In doing so, it is helping to ensure safer drinking water and reduced environmental pollution as water companies begin to adopt its leading edge technologies. 

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