The potential for cryptocurrency to be used to finance the rollout of water innovation was among a broad range of solutions discussed during a technology-focused roundtable from BlueTech Research and Imagine H2O.

It Doesn’t Help People if We Don’t Deploy It was the theme of the session which took place during World Water Week 2021 to showcase examples of water innovation having a real impact on the ground. Case studies were presented by water technology leaders L’Oréal, Fluid Robotics, SENTRY, Dupont Water Solutions and Plasma Waters.

Alfredo Zolezzi, chief executive at Plasma Waters, showcased a breakthrough sanitation system that can transform any liquid into non-thermal plasma, a procedure that quickly eliminates bacteria to deliver safe drinking water. Through a partnership with the Kenya Red Cross and The Airbus Foundation, a number of the purifying units have been deployed on a school premises in Mukuru, an informal settlement in Nairobi County, Kenya.

However, he said a new widescale approach to the adoption and rollout of innovative technology was urgently needed and highlighted the use of cryptocurrency as a potential financial enabler.

Zolezzi said: “There has never been so much scientific knowledge and technology available, but the life of the poor has not changed. Technological progress has not gone hand in hand with people’s real needs. Incremental innovation is no longer enough, we need to seek disruption.

“What we came up with is a breakthrough technology to address the global water crisis, but we need a different approach, or this technology will never be available for the people who need it most.

“We don’t want to wait for the regular systems to understand that we have to act today. We want to enable people to be part of the solution. We think we can really transform innovation with purpose – with purpose as the best promoter for the crypto world, but not only based on speculation but hope and compassion.

“If we do that, we can generate our projects into successful businesses. These businesses will be measured by profit but also by saving lives, reducing diseases. If we succeed, we will have a transformational effect and make people, government, institutions, see poverty and climate change in a different way.”

Thanking Zolezzi for his insights, Aoife Kelleher, corporate relations manager at BlueTech Research said: “This is certainly a very innovative way of looking at financing and adoption of technology. I wonder if other people will take a leaf out of your book and begin to look at it that way too?”.

Also presenting at roundtable were:

Hans-Ulrich Buchholz, environmental compliance manager, water & biodiversity, at L’Oréal, who spoke about the cosmetic leader’s journey from linear to circular water management. The group is undertaking a series of actions to meet ambitious water consumption commitments across its factories worldwide, including projects to treat, recycle and reuse treated water for industrial processes. Buchholz said a significant achievement for the company in the 2005-2020 period was a reduction in total amount of water withdrawal while production increased. He said: “That means we are able to decouple economic growth and environmental impact. More and more production units will be in water-scarce regions and it is very important to have the potential to grow and reduce environmental impact at the same time.”

Patrick Kiely, chief executive of SENTRY, has developed a bio-electrode sensor platform that provides real-time microbial performance monitoring in anaerobic and aerobic wastewater treatment systems. The technology solves issues of collecting reliable data from wastewater, enabling better understanding and optimising of wastewater treatment assets. Kiely’s case study focused on a project in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with local water company Sabesp. The project, with support from the Urban Water Challenge 2020, has seen the deployment of sensors at the Barueri treatment plant, one of the largest in the world. The sensors are enabling operators to profile what is coming into the plant, allowing for optimisation of processes and cost savings. In addition, the technology has had more than 100 installations worldwide.

Asim Bhalerao, chief executive of Fluid Robotics, showcased the company’s AI-based wastewater surveillance technology, which aims to tackle the issue of urban wastewater in developing countries being discharged into the environment untreated. The system includes the use of multi-sensor robots and is helping the city of Pune, India, divert and treat raw sewage from the Mula-mutha river. The project was supported by the Urban Water Challenge 2020. Prior to this, the technology was already helping about 12 cities in India to monitor close to a billion litres a day of discharges into the urban environment. Through this approach almost 70% – about 700 million litres of wastewater a day – is now being redirected away from water bodies to existing treatment facilities. The technology can also be effective in monitoring infectious diseases, Bhalerao explained, and has enabled tracking of Covid-19 during the pandemic.

Tina Arrowood, principal research scientist at Dupont Water Solutions, highlighted the potential of water reuse and salt recovery in the textile industry in India. Her case study focused on Tamil Nadu, in southern India, a region in which the government has imposed strict discharge requirements for the textile industry. Arrowood explored how the industry had been able to implement zero liquid discharge, highlighting the wastewater treatment schemes in place, their cost and circular value and additional cost-saving opportunities. She said she hoped water reuse success stories from India and similarly China will open up more possibilities for projects in North America.

Thanking speakers and attendees after the event, Kelleher said: “As water technology pioneers, our guest speakers highlighted a truly diverse range of solutions that are already benefiting global communities. It is time for global leaders to follow their example, stop talking about the potential of solutions and started implementing them.”

The roundtable took place on 26 August 2021, at the Stockholm International Water Institute World Water Week