Utilities Digital Solutions Europe

5 key developments from Aquatech Amsterdam 2023

Friday, 10 November 2023

1. Circular economy innovation in action

The ‘Circular Economy’ has always been seen by many water professionals as quite conceptual and aspirational, but often disconnected from the realities of running a water company wrestling increasing energy costs and the impacts from climate change.

However, during Aquatech Amsterdam there were more tangible examples of the circular economy in action.

One new partnership and development at this year’s event was the Circular Economy pavilion together with Global Water Intelligence (GWI), showcasing leading companies and presentations demonstrating circularity in water.

A participating pump company discussed its strategy that outlines how circularity for pump companies needs to go beyond energy consumption. There is a responsibility for water technology organisations to design products with increased longevity, including harder wearing components but also designed to ease refurbishment opportunities. This will mean less products going to waste once they reach the end of their lives, but also the recircling of technologies back into service.

In the Innovation Forum, leading utilities of the world spoke about projects that are embodying circularity. German utility Hamburg Wasser shared its story of engineering energy positive wastewater treatment plants, while Aarhus Vand from Denmark provided an update on ReWater – a project shaping up to be one of the world’s most resource efficient treatment plants.

Also, testament to companies scaling and being sold in this area – during the week it was announced that Dutch start-up CirTec was acquired by the Saur Group (more details below).

2. Getting ahead of the trillion dollar PFAS market

PFAS, otherwise known as forever chemicals, were one of the emerging topics visible across the show. From presentations across the Aquatech Worlds, to exhibitor solutions and booths now including PFAS to their communications, it’s clear the industry is trying to get its head around this environmental challenge.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) continue to be a critical concern in the water industry due to their persistence, toxicity and widespread presence in the environment.

As a result, there was a full house during the PFAS workshop at the Innovation Forum event on Monday, led by Bluefield Research. Ahead of the event, the organisation’s PFAS remediation forecast predicted that drinking water utilities could spend $13.5 billion from 2023 to 2030, an increase from previous estimates of $6 billion.

Interestingly, while it’s almost impossible to get water utilities to publicly speak about the topic, they were the largest demographic in the workshop, according to a Slido poll. Trans-Atlantic sharing of information between US and European perspectives was a welcome addition to the programme.

It’s clear that one company isn’t going to have all the answers here. A “tech stack” of solutions, including activated carbon, membranes and destruction technologies will need to unite as utilities grapple with matching decisions to questions over funding and regulatory drivers.

As a result, market activity and movement is expected in this area. Just before the event, start-up Aclarity completed its Series A funding round, raising $15.9 million, building on a $3.3 million Seed round secured back in 2022.

One start up in this space said PFAS will be “a trillion dollar market”. As equally frightening as it is exciting for the companies engineering solutions for this market.

3. Acquisitions continue apace from Dutch-French pairing

Acquisition activity, with companies being bought and sold in the water sector, continued throughout the week. The Saur Group announced, not one but, two acquisitions in the first couple of days of the show. First up was an acquisition of Nature Systems Utilities, a US provider of turnkey water treatment and reuse solutions, with over 270 systems in operation. The news followed the acquisition of US water purification, Aqua-Chem, in 2022.

Another announcement from the show was Saur acquiring advanced resource recovery company, CirTec. Winner of the Aquatech Innovation Award 2017, the Dutch company offers a set of cellulose recovery solutions to upgrade.

4. Award winners stack up

The Aquatech Innovation Award once again recognised world-class innovation and technologies. This year had a record 92 entries, with the winners announced on the opening morning of the show.

Dutch start-up REDstack BV’s EDBM ElectroMembrane Stack was announced as the overall winner, with the jury praising the solution's pivotal role in helping to scale up electroactive membranes and the ability to “connect multiple systems”.

In total, 14 innovative technologies were selected by the jury across five categories: Wastewater Treatment; Water Supply (drinking water, clean water, including point of use/entry); Transport and Process and Control; Green Chemicals for Water Technology and Innovation not to market yet.

5. Embracing mistakes

Historically, mistakes and when things go wrong are not often talked about in the water industry. And when it comes to providing a safe and reliable service, they shouldn’t. It’s critical that there are no failures on this side of the business.

However, when it comes to moving innovations through from concepts to pilots and beyond, mistakes do happen. It’s a necessity as part of the innovation journey.

For the second time, the Innovation Forum partnered with the ‘F**KUp Nights’ – a movement now active across 260 cities in 62 countries. It’s a global series of events sharing business failure stories.

In the context of water, an evening was organised to share these stories. It wasn’t to position this as a mudslinging opportunity to point the fingers and blame regulators, utilities or companies for their errors. Instead, we invited a leading investor, head of innovation from a utility and also a technology entrepreneur to share their personal stories of making mistakes.

It was a superb success – the evening was oversubscribed, with many people saying it’s the ‘hot ticket in town’.