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17 May 2024
Public Sector

Welsh Water Wins £1.5m for Innovation to Tackle Environmental Challenge

Welsh Water has been awarded £1.5 million by Ofwat to lead an innovative project to cut carbon in it's water treatment process.

The project is set to prove a concept which will deliver wide-scale benefits across the industry. The not-for-profit company will also partner with others to trial additional carbon and cost saving environmental projects which address wide-scale challenges.

Welsh Water provides safe and reliable drinking water to more than 1.4 million homes and businesses, making it the sixth largest of the 23 water companies in England and Wales. The company has water treatment works where raw water is treated to make it safe enough to drink, which supply more than 800 million litres of water every day through a network covering 27,000km. By the time water reaches rivers, reservoir or aquifers, water already contains a wide variety of substances including organics which determines its quality. It absorbs dirt, dust and gases from the air, debris and bacteria from the ground, and soluble minerals from rocks.

At a water treatment works, the main objective is to remove bacteria and other unwanted substances from raw water through a drinking water treatment process. Granular activated carbon (GAC) is used during this treatment process to remove organics from the raw water– an exhaustive process that means the GAC requires thermal regeneration every three years.

The current process is carbon intensive, creating around two tonnes of carbon per year costing around £1 million per year to manage. The solution proposed by Welsh Water’s innovation team and partners including Swansea University and Panton McLeod seeks to investigate ways to regenerate GAC in situ, reducing both financial costs and carbon footprint before proposing a recommended solution that can be adopted by Welsh Water and shared with the wider industry.

The innovation is one of the winners of a £40 million competition from Ofwat, the economic water regulator.

Paul Gaskin, Research and Innovation Manager of Water Services at Welsh Water said: 

“We are excited to be leading this project to investigate transformative ways of regenerating granular activated carbon locally. This project is an example of Welsh Water’s commitment to finding innovative solutions to environmental challenges, whilst bringing the wider industry along with us. This project ties in with our 2050 vision to become a truly world class, resilient and sustainable water service for the benefit of future generations. Along with our partners working on this project, this funding will help us tackle a key challenge faced by the entire water industry.”

Helen Campbell, Senior Director, Ofwat said:

“There are big challenges in the water industry that must be solved, some are well known, and others are less so. In our fourth Water Breakthrough Challenge we called for solutions with potential to deliver wide-scale, transformational change for customers, society and the environment – and that’s exactly what today’s winners have done. From raingardens to prevent flooding to green energy from treated sewage, innovations to cut the water sector’s carbon footprint to robots that patrol the pipe network, the winners are all helping shape a more sustainable and efficient water sector.”

Welsh Water is also partnering with others in the industry on other innovative projects including rainwater harvesting, robotic solutions for rising water mains and no-dig leak repair.

The Water Breakthrough Challenge is part of a series of competitions from Ofwat, run by Challenge Works with Arup and Isle Utilities, designed to drive innovation and collaboration in the sector to benefit individuals, society and the environment.

It supports initiatives that help to tackle the biggest challenges facing the water sector, such as achieving net zero, protecting natural ecosystems and reducing leakage, as well as delivering value to society.

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