🌊 Water Tech Week: Innovators are inviting more partners into the pool

Happy Wednesday! Today on Day 3 of Water Tech Week here at Centered we’ll hear from industry leaders about the growing role of partnerships in developing water innovations. But first, here are today’s tech headlines:

Today’s headlines:

🔌 ENERGY EFFICIENCY: A professor at Bowling Green State University is developing a new method to demonstrate semiconductor conductivity, which would allow common electric-powered devices — such as phones and electric vehicles — to consume less energy.

⚡ UTILITIES: Illinois utility ComEd is using synchrophasors — technology that provides real-time analytical insight into grid functions — to help anticipate future potential system conditions, reports T&D World. Synchrophasors are considered essential for grid modernization in the coming years.

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  • Projects in Akron, Ohio; Chicago; Des Plaines, Illinois; and Grand Forks, North Dakota are among the 27 to receive a collective $72 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for developing carbon capture technologies. The projects fall into two groups: those for coal, natural gas, and industrial sources, and those that directly remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • The Discovery Partners Institute in Chicago is providing more than $1 million in seed funding to launch eight research teams from the University of Illinois system and partner institutions. One of the focus areas is improving farmers’ sustainability by accelerating the use of artificial intelligence-driven farming technologies.
  • Case Western Reserve University and Ohio State University are among the 14 global higher learning institutions to receive $12.5 million from the National Science Foundation to study climate change and ecosystems. Dozens of scientists from a variety of disciplines will participate.


    • Poet biofuels company and Farmers Business Network, both based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, are partnering on a digital marketplace called GRO Network to connect farmers who use environmentally friendly technology with buyers who want to buy “low-carbon grain.”


  • Chicago-based environmental, social, and governance platform developer Goby is partnering with the Urban Land Institute’s Greenprint Center for Building Performance. Goby’s tools will help ULI members track year-over-year performance and reduce buildings’ environmental impact, especially energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Now, back to water technology…

The path from laboratory to market for water technologies has changed a bit in recent decades. In the past, sensors, filters, and other products were more likely to be developed by a single entity trying to solve a single problem. Today, as in many industries, things are less siloed. We’re seeing more projects with multiple partners from their inception and multiple end goals.

  • “Our organization launched in 2016 as a nonprofit, and that allows us to work as a mutual convener across broad stakeholders — public sector, government partners, utilities, big industry, and small startups,” said Alaina Harkness, CEO of Chicago nonprofit water innovation hub Current. She says advancing successful water projects involves having the right stakeholders involved with the strategic and focused conversations. Synergistic hubs like Current help “industry to find the right startup, and startups to find the right investment. We make sure people can find each other. Chicago Water Week (Sept. 28-Oct. 2) is a wonderful opportunity to shine a light on the partnerships.”
  • “Water is a multidisciplinary resource. It requires collaboration across disciplines to solve some of the problems we’re encountering,” said Dan Snow, lab director at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Water Sciences Laboratory.
  • “The multidisciplinary aspect of this can be to our advantage. [Water] is of interest to various fields. With that collaboration also comes funding opportunities. The more awareness we can create, the more we can have better stakeholders and partners who can support the projects we are doing,” said Saptashati “Tania” Biswas, research laboratory manager at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Water Sciences Laboratory.

A byproduct of this collaborative environment is that companies and research organizations tend to be more nimble and resilient — traits that are increasingly necessary due to the fast rate of change in modern society.

A prime example is the pandemic. In recent months, some general water quality or pollution testing quickly transitioned to advanced sensor projects that test for COVID-19 in wastewater, for example. “Researchers and stakeholders are interested in measuring that quickly. With COVID-19, they can’t have results fast enough,” Snow said.

Partnerships, nimbleness, and resilience can all help a technology reach the marketplace. It’s an advantage for projects to seek partners and applications across sectors, which could lead to unexpected new markets.

“Many times the industrial market is quicker moving and has the ability to make decisions faster than municipalities. We encourage emerging technologies… to look at the industrial space alongside municipal because it’s advantageous in getting a product to market sooner,” said Karen Frost, VP of economic development at Milwaukee-based water economic development nonprofit The Water Council.

In addition to these projects often having numerous stakeholders, they often have numerous end goals. Attention to sustainability is booming and so are municipal and corporate commitments related to water quality and access. Public attention to sustainability is putting greater pressure on the public and private sectors for commitments. This is driving technologies for clean water, decontamination, and wastewater management projects, in particular.

  • “There’s a good connection around ESG goals — environmental, social, and governance — that investors are pushing. We’re tracking this and seeing a huge amount of activity on this,” said Dean Amhaus, president and CEO of The Water Council.

Although ESG goals are driving some demand for water innovation, “feel good” causes aren’t always enough. Some water groups have already melded an environmental focus with financial cases to various stakeholders. Cleaner water has potential, for example, to increase crop yields, real estate values, community development, and other economic ripple effects.

“We are an economic development player… In the economic development frame, we care about solutions that have a global market. It’s exciting because there are things we build here in Chicago that might be an exporting solution,” Harkness said. “We’re working to have a backyard impact on consistent global water challenges.”

Tomorrow, I’ll show you what innovation leaders cite as major barriers to water innovation development.

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