Waterstink’s take on the Guardian’s Global Cleantech 100

A month ago the Guardian Newspaper published its top 100 companies in clean technology.

This was the first time that a ‘global’ list had been attempted. The task of preparing the list was a difficult one. It was undertaken by 35 venture capitalist experts with the support of hundreds of expert colleagues. They took an initial list of 3,500 companies, made a short list based on weighted opinions then it whittled down to the final 100.

Twelve new water and wastewater technologies made it into the final top 100. Given how much time we spend bemoaning the general lack of innovation in the sector, we thought it was worth taking a moment to discuss these in detail here. These companies clearly have some innovation to offer and we hope they can not only make money for their investors but also of course contribute significantly to easing the current global water and sanitation crisis.

The list is indeed an exciting one, so here we go. First, there’s Danfoss AquaZ. This is a really exciting new membrane system based on natural aquaporins. Supported by Danish component maker Danfoss, the company claims its membranes could be 5-10 times more effective than conventional reverse osmosis (RO) membranes. However I suspect that the most important part of this technology that needs demonstration is the continuing robustness of the membranes in real operation.

Second, there’s Inge. This is a low cost ultrafiltration system, already quite well developed in Germany. Although this seems to reduce the need for many peripheral processes it will still have to address the recurring ‘colour and disinfection’ problem common to many recycling applications.

Third, we have Microvi Biotech. This is a biotechnology company that to date has focused on using stabilised ‘bio-beads’ in groundwater remediation. It now appears to be concentrating on developing large-scale environmental applications for biotechnology. It seems that this company will need considerable investment to deliver real results. However since it’s California-based this may well happen!

Fourth is Miox, a well-developed, portable, onsite ‘electro chlorinator’. This one looks like a practical device, where the innovation is in the packaging rather than in the science.

Fifth, is NanoH2O, an innovative ‘new’ membrane company using nanotechnology. This one appears to have exciting initial results but it’s likely they will find it quite a long haul before they reach the stage of having commercial, large-scale products available.

Sixth, there’s Neosens. This is an ‘inline’ sensor company. These kinds of technologies are vital especially if they can be made to be robust and reliable. Many attempts have been made to address this market in the past. At the moment it looks as if this company may well have succeeded in breaking into this area commercially.

Seventh, we have Oasys Water. This looks like a novel operational solution to reduce the significant amounts of energy currently needed for RO. It’s likely it could become a crucial part of any RO system which is good news as this should potentially increase the opportunity for using more membrane technology in new applications.

Eighth, is a really innovative applications company using the latest generation biological processing methods, called Aqwise. They are already developing a market presence, it seems.

Ninth… well, I guess it’s fair to mention this one because it did appear on the list, but I should disclose that it’s obviously quite close to my heart: it’s Arvia! I’ve been personally involved with this project, so of course I would say so, but this is nevertheless a highly innovative technology. One of its main benefits is that it will remove colour and hard organic micro-pollutants very cost effectively whilst at the same time disinfecting to drinking water standards. Arvia is still an early-stage company but it should have broad applications in the future.

Tenth, there’s Epuramat, a highly impressive, process development company, specialising in small package plants. This one has real potential for developing the ‘next generation’, small footprint, sewage treatment plant. However I do feel that the issue of energy minimisation will probably need to be addressed at some stage here.

Eleventh is a system labelled, Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies. It addresses recycling in an area that is a real and growing problem for both materially developed and developing countries. A number of technologies do already exist in this area so only time will tell whether this one will be the most energy economic option.

Twelfth and last in our little survey of the water-related technologies from the Guardian’s list is the HydroPoint Data System. This is an important one because the management of irrigation systems will be vital if the world is to continue to feed itself. Clearly for commercial reasons the company is currently focusing on urban water. However they hope to use lessons learnt in this marketplace to later target the wider global agricultural market.

Well those were the companies the judges’ thought had been most innovative in addressing the world water crises and had the best chance of addressing the many problems the world faces both now and in the future.

After briefly looking into these companies and their technologies I am considerably heartened. However I do personally understand many of the barriers that the introduction of such technology will throw into their path. I feel it’s important that all of us inside and outside the water sector who are interested in the future availability of clean water and the sustainable treatment of wastewater on this planet help them achieve their goals as quickly as possible – for the benefit of all and not for just their shareholders!

Update (16/11/2016): Featured image added from this source.

Roger Ford

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