Ofwat has named 13 projects that will be awarded a share of £5.2 million from its innovation fund for the Water Breakthrough Challenge.

The projects will receive between £155,000 and £760,000 each to develop collaborative cross-sector innovations that improve water quality, reduce pollution and raise customer service levels as part of the competition’s Catalyst Stream.

This is the second year the regulator has run the challenge, which was first announced as part of the 2019 price review as a means of allowing water companies to explore innovative ways of solving sector-wide problems. Funding will be awarded in each of the five years of PR19. For 2022 there will be another round of awards for larger projects, with up a further £34 million available later in the spring as part of the Transform Stream of the competition.

Harry Armstrong, director at Ofwat said: “It is great to see the water sector deliver more exciting and impactful projects through this round of Ofwat’s Water Breakthrough Challenge. The winners all have huge potential to benefit people, society and the natural environment. I’m excited to see these projects become reality and start to make a real difference in the way we do things.”

Projects receiving funding are:

  • HERU for Screenings: Led by Severn Trent – £198,144
    The Home Energy Recovery Unit (HERU) is a waste recovery system developed to manage domestic and commercial waste on site. It uses heat pipe technology developed from satellites to generate energy from waste.
  • Catalysing a NET-ZERO future: Led by Severn Trent – £762,447
    Researchers have found bacteria that can remove ammonia without producing nitrous oxide but would not thrive in wastewater treatment plant conditions. This scheme will develop techniques to capture and use these bacteria in existing treatment processes.
  • Defusing the nitrate timebomb: Led by Portsmouth Water – £154,800
    This addresses the problem of reducing nitrate pollution in chalky drinking water areas, which can be expensive to the sector and farmers. This project will develop modelling software to predict concentrations in chalk so that land use options can be tested to select those that deliver efficient nitrate reduction. The team hope it will reduce treatment costs and energy consumption and help to protect habitats and biodiversity.
  • Designer Liner: Led by Yorkshire Water – £173,880
    A collaboration of companies led by Yorkshire will create a lining for pipes as a cheaper alternative to digging up and replacing damaged water pipes. The team identified a gap in the market for suitable lining solution fit for the 21st century clean water network with longer lifespan for added resilience and smart capabilities.
  • Pipebots for rising mains: Led by Thames Water – £230,930
    This project will test the use of robots to inspect the conditions inside pressurised rising sewage mains pipes, which Thames said could radically change how the industry maintains such infrastructure. Human-controlled robots are already used to assess its partially filled sewer tunnels and sewers that use gravity to move sewage so this idea will develop the use of autonomous robotics technology in fully pressurised sewer pipes.
  • Support For All: Led by Northumbrian Water – £632,270
    Northumbrian will coordinate the design, build and delivery of a vulnerable customer data hub that can be shared with other relevant utilities. It will build on the priority services registers (PSR) for households needing extra support to ensure consumers only need to tell one provider to be supported by all. Northumbrian aims to develop a working pilot and implement it at a regional level before scaling nationally.
  • SuPR Loofah (Sustainable Phosphorus Recovery): Led by Northumbrian Water – £445,577
    Northumbrian, Welsh Water, Northumbria University and the University of Newcastle will trial using a loofah to remove and recover phosphorous from wastewater. The SuPR Loofah has micro-algae on a loofah material that will capture phosphorous in a more affordable and sustainable process that can use the phosphorous as fertiliser.
  • Tap Water Forensics: Led by Severn Trent – £371,215
    This project will develop the use of genetic sequencing in drinking water treatment to improve the speed and accuracy of water quality investigations by determining all the bacterial species present in water. This will significantly improve the speed and accuracy of water quality investigations.
  • Sub-seasonal forecasting to improve operational decision making: Led by Thames – £678,750
    The aim of this scheme is to create a reliable weather impact modelling and forecasting system for water companies to forecast weather events beyond 10-14 days, up to 4-6 weeks ahead. Understanding impacts of weather on water and wastewater management will improve resourcing and operational management capabilities for areas at risk from severe weather events, for example, rapid changes in customer demand for water and regions prone to flooding.
  • Incentivising community-centric rainwater management: Led by Thames Water – £225,000
    This project will encourage communities to use rainwater capture tools and solutions to help prevent it from entering sewer networks. The project will encourage widespread adoption of rainwater capture methods at a grass roots level across Thames, Anglian and South West’s regions. It will test and measure how communities can be incentivised to take up these measures and help protect the environment.
  • Unlocking bioresource market growth: Led by Anglian Water – £314,316
    This project will develop collaborative strategic planning capability, underpinned by adaptive systems planning software to find opportunities to trade bioresources across existing assets and determine the optimal blend of future inter-company investments.
  • Unlocking digital twins: Led by Thames Water – £334,800
    This will create standards for using digital twins consistently across the industry. At present there is no agreed standard model or process for creating digital twins, which could create inefficiencies, reduce the value they deliver and increase costs.
  • Treatment-2-Tap: Led by Northumbrian Water – £714,880
    This aims to be a step-change in the management of the water quality for customers through an integrated network of water quality and leakage management sensors and analytics software. Five companies will collaborate on the best practice on how insights can be built into proactive operations to bring more drinking water quality data to customers.