In recent years, the water sector is experiencing unprecedented technological acceleration. There are many perspectives on how to analyse this evolution in more depth, but this process is undoubtedly extending the prism of applications that are generating new fields of growth and business development across virtually the entire spectrum of the water sector.
Climate change, digitalisation, energy efficiency, new regulations, and sustainability, among others, are driving forces that are already on the scene and will trigger high intensity business activity in the water market over the coming years.
Ongoing climate disruptions are increasing global water scarcity. More and more areas are becoming water-stressed, and expert sources indicate that this is not going to change. Therefore, there is a need to further develop new business fields in obtaining new water resources, where seawater desalination and reuse of reclaimed wastewater will play a crucial role in securing drinking water supply and in the future development of sustainable agriculture.
In addition, the new regulations advance new application vectors and extend to scales of treatment plants that were not previously on the roadmap. For example, in wastewater treatment, nutrient removal processes (basically phosphorus and nitrogen) are already becoming more critical for small and medium-sized plants. The business opportunities here are more than significant, as large-scale processes and technologies need to be adapted into economic models that can absorb this need for smaller-scale technological implementation. The development and validation of small-scale nutrient control and optimisation systems can provide a previously implementable business niche. Other regulatory issues that may lead to strategic business development spaces of interest are: (i) Emerging contaminants, mainly pharmaceuticals and microplastics. (ii) Monitoring in sanitation systems and COVID-19 health information network. (iii) Monitoring and control of effluents. (iv) New indicator parameters. For example, the implementation of TOC instead of COD for the regulation of organic load in wastewater.
We have a current scenario in the water sector with a set of driving forces that project unprecedented technological and business opportunities
Another point of great importance is energy. The use of green energy sources and the increase in energy efficiency are increasingly present in regulatory models in which the use of higher percentages of renewable energies is already encouraged. This opens up significant business opportunities for the integration of photovoltaic and wind technologies in the water sector. Also, the production of biomethane from biogas to be fed into the grid and green hydrogen are areas of business development with great potential. Although this is more applicable to the municipal sector, it also applies to the industrial sector where private companies are starting to incorporate sound environmental and resource optimisation sustainability policies. One example is the Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals 2030 established by the United Nations.
Another line of technology that will create areas of business development is the valorisation of waste substances into valuable products. This is a field of strong investment in current R&D. I would highlight the mining of concentrate from RO desalination processes and biotechnological processes for transforming waste substances into bioplastics. Undoubtedly, business lines are aligned with sustainable technological development.
Finally, there is the digital aspect. Digital technologies are increasingly more mature and constantly evolving. The business of data and ensuring data quality is another fundamental line of development for the optimisation of processes and the design of intelligent digital platforms for decision support.
A whole set of emerging needs are and will generate very diverse and high-impact business development scenarios in the water sector. But without a unified development of the technological matrices that allow the objectives and needs described above to be met, it will be difficult to generate a uniform and consistent business.