🌊 Water Tech Week: What’s driving Midwest water innovation?

Welcome back to the workweek and the first day of Centered’s Water Tech Week!

The Midwest is playing an important role in developing and deploying technology to help ensure communities have access to clean water. I recently discussed the region’s water-tech sector with several of its leading innovators and advocates. After today’s tech headlines, I’ll share a deeper look at what experts say is propelling the growth.

The Midwest is home to several water-focused research, economic development, and/or innovation hubs, and I spoke to leaders from three of them. Alaina Harkness is CEO at Current, a nonprofit water innovation hub in Chicago. Dean Amhaus is president and CEO of The Water Council, a water economic development nonprofit in Milwaukee, and Karen Frost is the organization’s VP of economic development. And at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Water Sciences Laboratory, part of the Nebraska Water CenterDan Snow is the lab director and Saptashati “Tania” Biswas is the research laboratory manager. They offered insight on water innovation trends.

What’s driving new water technology adoption? Several factors are occurring concurrently. Sensors have been used for decades in water testing and management, but significant improvements to the devices in the past five to 10 years have made them more high tech. They’re now more sensitive and able to collect larger amounts of data.

“Some of the sensor technology that was available 20 years ago was not very sensitive, robust, or reproduceable. The newer sensors have better accuracy, precision, and are able to measure concentrations at much lower levels than what they once were,” Snow said.

Water quality sensors also are more connected and have become an integral component in Internet of Things-based smart water systems, which transmit real-time data. Plus, they’re getting smaller and much cheaper.

  • “[People] want more data, more quickly, at a lower cost. That’s probably the biggest driver for the rise in sensor technology,” Snow said.
  • Connected, high-tech sensors relay information without researchers needing to travel into the field to collect water samples. “There is a cost and time when you have to transport samples to the lab,” Biswas said.
  • As high-tech sensors proliferate, they provide more real-time information for data analytics platforms, which identify patterns and come to conclusions faster and more efficiently than humans alone.

Corporate and public climate and sustainability commitments are booming, too, and many include clean water as an element.

“In the last four or five years, the attention to and impact of climate change… I think is increasing expectations or needs for solutions. Both from the management of how to handle and treat water, but also the technologies associated with that,” Amhaus said.

In addition, increased public knowledge of recent water contamination crises in Flint, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio — as well as other Midwest communities — is creating pressure for better water quality technologies.

Why is a significant amount water tech emerging from the Midwest? The Midwest is chock full of waterways including rivers and lakes. That makes it ripe for nearly all types of water technologies, except desalination. Waterways such as the Great Lakes, Chicago River, and Mississippi River helped foster the region’s reputation as a commerce, industrial, and manufacturing core.

  • Farming is prevalent in the Midwest and is a major contributor to nutrient runoff into waterways. “There are lots of technologies and a big economic impact potential for helping ag producers manage their nutrient runoff,” Harkness said.
  • Water tech stretches into a variety of discrete sectors that come together through Midwest innovation hubs. “We really are working with technologies broadly to stress water quality and quantity. That can fall into the energy space, the agtech space, and it can even fall into automation and AI in the water space,” Frost said. Harkness points out that having many diverse but like-minded water innovation collaborators — tech startups, nonprofits, and research institutions — in the Midwest is beneficial. I’ll explore the increase in partnerships as part of the evolving water tech pipeline later this week.
  • Fun fact: It sometimes surprises people that The Water Council’s headquarters is in Milwaukee instead of a water-stressed city, but that aligns with the city’s beer-filled history. “It was an organic development tied to the breweries and their need for clean water… They needed to have suppliers that made pumps and fixtures to process water. That was a strength in Milwaukee,” Amhaus said.

Tomorrow on Water Tech Week I’ll give you an inside look at some of the Midwest’s current and upcoming water innovation projects.

Today’s headlines:

🚀 SPACE: Researchers at Wichita State University, along with Kansas State University and the University of Kansas, received a subcontract as part of a $127,000 grant from NASA to design a method of 3D printing a hybrid engine that powers unmanned space mission vehicles.

💰 FUNDING: MITO Material Solutions, a hybrid polymer modifier developer in Indianapolis, closed an oversubscribed $1 million Series Seed funding round led by Chicago-based groups Clean Energy Trust and Dipalo Ventures.

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***SPONSORED LINK: Minnesota heating tech startup 2040 Energy wants your opinion. Click here to take our survey and help shape the future of clean energy heating!***

🚗 TRANSPORTATION:

  • Detroit-based GM is transitioning its Corvette engineering team, which contains some of the company’s most elite talent, to the electric and autonomous vehicles development team, reports InsideEVs.
  • As demand for e-commerce rises, so too does demand for electric delivery vehicles from giants including Amazon, FedEx, and UPS, according to the Chicago Tribune. Midwest EV truck startups Bollinger MotorsRivian, and Workhorse are named as key players in converting delivery fleets to EVs.

💻 VIRTUAL EVENT: The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and GTI are hosting a virtual event tomorrow (Sept. 1) to discuss the role of hydrogen and other low-carbon resources to achieve economy-wide decarbonization.

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🌊 Now, more on water innovation for Centered’s Water Tech Week…

Major technology advances are changing how scientists and communities keep tabs on water quality, clean up pollution, and manage wastewater. Advanced sensors combined with machine learning and artificial intelligence-driven data analytics are producing better and faster real-time water monitoring with fewer trips to the field.

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