Pioneering database to keep ideas flowing

Posted: Wednesday 21st March 2018

Small and medium enterpises (SMEs) in the UK water industry's supply chain are being invited to submit details of their R&D and product development programmes to a database designed to co-ordinate innovation activity across the sector.

Linking Innovation To Societal Needs (LITSoN), a joint UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) and UK Water Partnership project managed by Mott MacDonald, will be a primary source of data on new ideas, solutions and technologies accessible to all UKWIR members.

"The UK water industry faces many tough challenges to meet societal needs and innovation is key to addressing these challenges," says Steve Kaye, head of innovation at Anglian Water, one of the project's sponsors.

"It needs to assess what innovations are already out there, and identify those areas where more research and development work is required, if it is to meet short-term targets laid down by Ofwat on leakage, for example, as well as the longer-term societal challenges.

"LITSoN will provide market information on water company needs that are not being met by existing products and services and accelerate uptake of new solutions through improved collaboration.

"There's an appetite from water utilities to be better at sharing and co-ordinating innovations to make it easier for suppliers to engage. This cross-sector buy-in is new for water and is what directly led to this project."

Water companies representing over 80% of the market took part in the project's initial pilot phase in 2017 and have committed to using LITSoN to co-ordinate innovation programmes and engage with SMEs. In addition to UKWIR, UK Water Partnership and Mott MacDonald, the project is funded by eight water companies.

The UKWIR Big Questions were selected as the statement of societal needs for LITSoN as they cover the full hydrological cycle and were identified by the UK water utilities industry to focus research efforts.

The first phase revealed a relative lack of initiatives to tackle two of these challenges: achieving zero water poverty by 2030 and zero leakage by 2050. It highlighted specific opportunities for collaboration including in aerial and satellite leakage detection, where there were six separate ongoing projects testing similar technologies. Other hotspots of activity included smart infrastructure, metaldehyde and treatment by-products and energy recovery.

The pilot amassed data on 380 projects. The ambitious target of the next phase is to compile data on 10 times as many innovations.

"Our aim is to capture all the research and development activity happening in SMEs and start-ups across the supply chain, including activity coming out of university spin-off companies," adds Jamie Radford, Mott MacDonald's project manager.

"By contributing to the LITSoN database businesses will get a platform to showcase their ideas. But it does not mean giving away commercially sensitive information or any kind of intellectual property.

"The database is like a catalogue. All we ask is that that businesses provide a 100-word description of their innovation and complete a short survey to explain what it does, how it will solve a problem and how it adds value. If a potential client or partner wants to know more, they can make direct contact.

"Information on the database will be accessible to all participants on a share and share alike model, meaning businesses will be able to use it as part of their own market research to identify gaps in the market."

LITSoN will be followed by the UK Water Partnership's Accelerator programme, offering practical support to SMEs and start-ups to help them take their ideas from proof of concept stage to market.

Businesses have until the end of March 2018 to contribute to LITSoN. Further details on how to take part are available on the UK Water Partnership website:

An in-depth report on the project's findings will be published in the summer of 2018.

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