Water is like an open economy: Update from Paul O’Callaghan, CEO, BlueTech Research

You may have followed the discussions at the Davos World Economic Forum recently. Much of this of course is high level politicking, but it can signpost major trends in the general economy. A major theme this year was picked out in the report: The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond. What are the implications for water?

Water is like an open economy. It is really a collection of disparate technologies that have a common denominator in that they ‘touch’ water in some way. So, in that sense any developments in technology should impact water. Fourth industrial revolution trends include things like 3D printing, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, sharing economy business models like Airbnb, robotics and the micro economy. How long before water is impacted by these mega trends? We are told that the rate of disruption is increasing and will affect everything from automobiles to healthcare and energy.

I see technology providers becoming pseudo-operators. Through predictive analytics and remote real-time monitoring, sensors and automated controls will make plants more efficient through real-time process control, and robotics will be used increasingly in areas such as rehabilitation of ageing pipe infrastructure. Emerging economies may go to point-of-use drinking water treatment enabled by micro-economy based or service based business models. This disrupts the notion of centralised potable water networks as the sine qua non for meeting our water infrastructure needs.
Industrial water users may look to be part of the bio-based circular economy through resource ‘up-cyling’. Examples include nitrogen from industrial wastewater being used to produce animal feed substitutes, or organics to produce bio-plastics. 3D manufacturing may allow just-in-time manufacturing and delivery of spare parts, avoiding a need for inventories. It can also accelerate, and reduce the costs for, proto-typing and testing of new technologies, as explored by Stefan Urioc in this issue.

The major tech drivers may not be within, but from without. When looking for innovation, we – and I include BlueTech in this ‘Royal we’ – often focus on internal changes and improvements. It is good to see the broader canvas on which this all sits and how it is changing.

The theme for this year’s BlueTech Forum is 20:20 Vision: Insights to future proof your water strategy. Everything on the day is themed around this, from roundtable briefings to showcase sessions and panels. The companies in the Innovation Showcase will represent examples in the areas of predictive analytics, the bio-based economy, IoT and energy and resource recovery. The industrial themed sessions will look at the measures sectors such as oil & gas, food and beverage and apparel are taking to reduce water risk. Finally, to close and take us firmly away from any myopic water-centric world view, our keynote speaker, Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist with NASA, will talk us through some of the most significant challenges we face on the planet and the radical solutions being looked at to address these.

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