Water sector in the UK called for aid. And the young water professional answered. Forty young academics, engineers and consultants gathered and competed in Water Industry Forum (WIF) sponsored event aimed to revise and deliver solutions integrating water management in the UK with circular economy principles.
For over 8 weeks, 10 teams - each counting 4 members with diverse backgrounds - had been developing the ideas and analyzing implementation feasibility of some of the latest solutions that circular economy have to offer in water sector. However, 8 weeks may not seem to be long enough, the enthusiastic cohort made the effort. On the 10th of April, when the final day came, and the clock chimed 2 p.m., the London headquarter of Arcadis became a vibrating discussion hub and a battleground soon to be covered with better or worse ideas.
The event was inaugurated by Peter Drake , CEO of WIF who briefly explained the rules and presented judging panel consisting of 6 water industry senior experts among with WIRC Director Jan Hofman. Once the judges took the seats and the notepads into their hands, the main scene was taken over by the presenting teams. One by one, the teams were entering the stage and pitching for the chosen idea. The time given to convince and steal the attention of the judges was a short 8 minutes. And when those 480 seconds passed, there was neither extension time nor mercy for those who failed to finish on time. Back in the days when the Wall Street was a ghost city consumed by the Great Depression, the good elevator pitch was making the difference between living and dying. Since those days, it has been the art by itself and the WIF event proved the importance of presentation skills needed to deliver your idea till successful end.
After each presentation, the jury kept the presenting team under the fire of scrutinizing questions for the next 5 minutes. For some, it was time giving opportunity to elaborate on presented idea, others found it rather to be a nail in the coffin. Overall, the presentations covered very broad range of ideas including both technical and socio-economic aspect of circular economy. Three groups focused on energy recovery, yet in a very different way. As much as both domestic heat pumps and incineration of sludge are a commonly discussed solutions and already present in water management schemes, the idea of heat exchangers integrated with sewerage brought certainly a fresh air into the room and triggered the discussion about the costs of retrofitting. And those were some really big numbers brought up by the experts from the jury. The ideas related to resources recovery have been further elaborated in 2 more interesting presentations, pitching for phosphorous recovery and water reclamation. Phosphorus recovery from wastewater is a long-discussed issue and until now hundreds of scientific papers have been written about subsequent struvite (magnesium ammonium phosphate) production and soil amendment with sludge. Yet, the phosphorus recovery team made an effort and pitched for a very fresh idea- recovery of vivianite (ferrous phosphate) from wastewater. The later presented water reclamation idea, aimed for combining water supply chains with wastewater management by feeding water works with treated wastewater. Reuse of water was also proposed in the context of rainwater harvesting based on rain gardens.
All the presented technical solutions, promoted new and exciting engineering solutions, however, the jury was rather skeptical about feasibility aspect since the implementation timescale was supposed to show measurable impact on water sector in the UK by... 2030. Giving the extent of water and wastewater infrastructure in the UK, any 10-year implementation plan would require not only billions in investments but also effective policy making- indeed it is hard to say which one would be more problematic these days.
The remaining 4 presentations were focused on socio-economic links between circular economy and water sector and all have presented solutions limiting the water consumption either on household or
industry sector level. Two projects have addressed the problem in particularly novel way combing the education with economy.
The proposed smart water meters coupled with mobile application with real live notification, were estimated to bring 180 GBP of annual water bill savings for a household. Besides economic data, the application was developed to provide information about condition of water resources in local catchment, thus engaging the consumer into water management activities. Another idea introduced water footprint index (WFI) for food products and was developed as a potential solution enhancing implementation of water saving technologies in food industry. Food product water footprint index further develops the concept of water footprint first described by Arjen Hoekstra in 2002. The WFI implementation pathway takes full advantage of the power of water-conscious consumers who shape the industry behavior in which case governmental subsidies and legal regulation are no longer necessary for market transformation, following the dreamed model of free market.
Once the presentations were over, the jury was left alone for 1 hour to declare the winner. The decision was made and the results were openly discussed afterwards. The winner was a smart water meter concept and the team presentation skills, idea feasibility and novelty were all in favor for the final decision.
The event was concluded by a lecture given by Craig Bennett, the CEO of the Friends of the Earth. In his 25 min-long speech, Craig discussed the alarming rate of Earth’s devastation, and presented rather pessimistic perspective stating that the Earth’s ecosystem trajectory will be defined within the next 20 years… Nevertheless, he left the audience with some hope, showing great enthusiasm and passion that stands behind the growing number of volunteers who are willing to challenge the fate and fight for greener (i.e. through doubling the tree cover in the UK) future.
- Franciszek Bydalek, FRESH CDT and Department of Chemical Engineering