Paul O’Callaghan, Chief Executive, BlueTech Research

At BlueTech Research we are always exploring news on the latest innovation and market developments in water. Here I have picked out four very different stories. Each caught my eye for the story behind the headline, which was actually more interesting than the way it was initially presented.

1. Moleaer raises US$9 million

While the business press led on the amount raised by US nanobubble technology company Moleaer – US$9m – I was more interested to see the mix of investors involved: S2G Ventures’ Oceans & Seafood Fund was joined by existing investors ADM Capital’s Cibus Enterprise Fund and Energy Innovation Capital. S2G Ventures and ADM’s funds are focused on food, which links to the Moleaer opportunity in aquaculture and agriculture.

The food-water-climate nexus is about as interesting a nexus as one could possibly imagine. The macro drivers are coalescing and creating the need for innovation. In Moleaer’s horticulture webinar, aerated water is reported by chief executive Nick Dyner to improve root health and nutrient uptake, achieving better plant growth and yields with less water. In aquaculture it is presented as an efficient way to keep water aerated.

Here at BlueTech we have been exploring the best commercial applications for nanobubbles and agriculture and aquaculture appear to be a large addressable market opportunity. The agriculture sector will be conservative, slow to adopt new technologies, and as such the journey through the innovator and early-adopter section of the market will be important to track to see the actual number of reference sites per year.

2. Queenslanders will soon be able enjoy PFAS-free water from the tap

This story about a new filtration system soon to be released by Australian company Complete Home Filtration caught my eye because they say they are using a ‘proprietary mixed media filter’, but do not disclose what that media is. I looked up Curtin University, their academic partner on this project, and can find no evidence so far of research into proprietary media. What is more visible is the work of the School of Molecular & Life Sciences at Curtin University on PFAS detection. The full paper is here.

I will be very interested to hear BlueTech’s water quality and ecotoxicology expert, Dr Corina Carpentier’s view on this. This may be a tailwind opportunity around perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), potentially harmful chemical materials that have been used for a long time in various commercial and industrial applications. In a world where commodity technologies such as activated carbon and reverse osmosis still rule supreme, maybe this demonstrates a new way to differentiate product offerings and create market-ready innovative solutions.

The appetite for PFAS destruction technologies is there, but the market is moving faster than the classic technology development and diffusion curve. The ‘crisis’ atmosphere around PFAS may accelerate adoption, but the technologies for destruction are not yet developed to the point where rapid adoption is possible.

Chemical companies have a long history of capitalising on sensors to help sell services and products, so this type of technology play may be a way to differentiate in a crowded and competitive space. To date, the winners in the PFAS debacle have been researchers, – both at academic institutes and within the research arms of major consulting groups such as CDM Smith and Stantec.

3. Report confirms Proteus filtration demonstration results at Michigan WwTP

Following US technology company Tomorrow Water’s successful demonstration of its Proteus biofiltration technology at the Anthony Ragnone Treatment Plant in Michigan, an independent validation report has been released by Dr Glen Daigger, president of One Water Solutions and professor of engineering practice at the University of Michigan.

Dr Daigger, who is part of BlueTech’s technology assessment group, served as the independent reviewer of the 13-month pilot. This project provided valuable data in real-world conditions supporting Proteus and Proteus Plus technologies as promising solutions for increasingly common peak flow events at water resource recovery facilities.

This work caught my eye because it is an example of innovation driven by market need. In this instance, the need is for high-rate filtration with biological treatment to help deal with stormwater events, peak flow events and wet weather events that infiltrate the sewer system at above 3-6 times dry weather flow. The drivers are particularly strong due to increasing climate volatility leading to extreme weather events.

4, Leuven community tapping into vital water source at brewery

This article has appeared in the food & beverage media and the reason it caught my eye is because it is greenwash, or perhaps more precisely – bluewash.

The company press release says, “When you think of beer, flowing taps at your local pub probably come to mind. But AB InBev also has a different kind of ‘tap’ – one that serves up millions of liters of purified water free-for-the-taking by local government and community partners in Leuven, Belgium. Since 2019, our flagship Stella Artois has donated 2.158.200 million liters of purified water leftover from brewing and other processes to the city of Leuven and Green Service.”

The first question that leaps out is how do you read the figure 2.158.200 million liters? If that is two million million litres, that is two billion cubic meters, over say two years. Assuming 700 days, that is 2.8 million m3/day, which is not possible. There is no way a brewery is producing that much water.

So maybe they mean two million litres over two years – they just added in a million after the digits for extra dramatic effect, or by accident. Over 700 days that would mean 3,000 litres/day, or 3m3/day – not that significant, but more realistic. In fact, that amount of water is very low in the context of the likely daily flow of wastewater from a major brewery, which would be in the hundreds of m3/day, or single-digit thousands.

Herein lies the issue with these corporate social responsibility (CSR) and ‘sustainability’ stories. If you add anything up on an annual basis, over many years, and use a small enough unit, you can get to a big number. Very good for Marketing and Communications teams.

More helpful is Bill Gates’ approach, where he reduces all climate change solutions down to one metric – annual tonnes of CO2 reduced. To establish a comparable metric in water, a useful lowest common denominator is m3/day. The m3 is a significant unit we can all grasp and water is typically used daily. Now we just need to roll the news out to corporate public relations departments and the media.

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