Top of main content

Consortium wins £6 million for cutting-edge net zero innovation

Thursday 30th September 2021 08:00

Thames Water sludge manager Garry Strange interviewed by BBC

The project will help reduce sludge volumes and carbon emissions

A consortium led by Thames Water has won more than £6 million from Ofwat’s first Water Breakthrough Challenge to help decarbonise wastewater treatment. 

The water industry consumes between two and three per cent of the electricity produced in the UK - the same as around two million households - and around 55 per cent of the energy consumed by a typical sewage works is processing wastewater. 

The consortium, which also comprises the University of South Wales, Welsh Water, South West Water, United Utilities, Scottish Water, Yorkshire Water and Northumbrian Water, will work together to develop cutting-edge bioprocesses to reduce the energy required for wastewater treatment.  

The innovative operation will cut nitrous oxide emissions – while recovering beneficial resources including phosphorus and nitrogen – and will form a major part of the UK’s target to become net zero by 2030. 

Sarah Bentley, Thames Water CEO, said: “I’m passionate about leaving a legacy for future generations, just like the Victorians did for us. So, I’m delighted that we’ve won this award, which will allow us to change our approach to the wastewater treatment process in a way that will reduce our carbon footprint. 

“It’s fantastic to be able to work alongside seven great organisations who share our drive to innovate and shape the future.  

“I’d also like to offer my huge congratulations to all those who’ve been successful in these awards. I’m excited to see the outcomes on all of the projects being worked on.” 

Prof Sandra Esteves, project lead at the University of South Wales, said: “We have been at the forefront of R&D for anaerobic processes and recognise the importance that these bioprocesses can play in numerous sectors.  

“The funding will enable the team to drive the novel concept integration and evaluate its impact in reducing society’s wastewater treatment energy footprint and in promoting sustainable resource recovery.” 

Michael Gerardo, principal scientist, wastewater services, Welsh Water, said: “We’re proud to be jointly leading and supporting this sustainable wastewater treatment bid. This is a truly collaborative and transformative sector effort, with the aim to bring about industry-wide changes in wastewater treatment and resource recovery.   

“This in turn will help to realise the true benefit for our customers and the environment. We are pleased to be joining a consortium of specialists, including industry, supplier and academia; and believe it will embrace and encapsulate a new way of working in an innovative and collaborative way.” 

The Water Breakthrough Challenge is run by Ofwat and Nesta Challenges in partnership with Arup and is the second in a series of competitions funded through the Fund following the Innovation in Water Challenge earlier this year.  

Entries were encouraged from water companies in England and Wales, alongside partnerships with organisations within and outside the water sector, including universities and institutes, retailers, start-ups, or small businesses in sectors such as energy, manufacturing, health, or financial services. 

The Water Breakthrough Challenge tackles the biggest challenges facing water and wastewater services, including net zero, reducing leakage, protecting natural ecosystems, and using open data to deliver value to customers, society, and the environment. 

The Challenge contributes to water regulator Ofwat’s goal of creating an innovative and collaborative water sector that can meet the needs of customers, society, and the environment into the future. The Challenge funds initiatives that water companies would otherwise be unable to invest in or explore. 

A second Water Breakthrough Challenge will open for entries on October 11 to provide funding for further innovative water sector initiatives. Up to £35 million will be available to be shared between entries that deliver benefits for water customers, society and the environment.  

John Russell, senior director at Ofwat, said: “From Airbus and Microsoft to the Zoological Society of London and the River Trust, the Water Breakthrough Challenge has led to the formation of exciting partnerships with water companies to improve services for customers and improve the environmental footprint of the sector. Each of the winners contribute to the resilience, sustainability and effectiveness of the water sector in the years to come for the benefit of customers across the country. Thank you to the independent judging panel for its challenge and insight in recommending these impressive winners.”  

Holly Jamieson, New Frontiers director, Nesta Challenges, said: “The cross-sectoral collaborations established by water companies, academia, engineering and technology sectors in response to the Water Breakthrough Challenge are hugely impressive. From turning sewage into a valuable natural resource to the smart use of open data to reduce negative environmental impacts and reduce costs for water customers, today’s funding is an exciting step for the water industry in the UK. I congratulate all of the winners and look forward to seeing them deliver their projects in the months and years to come.” 

Arlene Good, innovation and infrastructure adviser, Arup, said: “The winning entries represent an exciting spectrum of innovative initiatives and we look forward to seeing the outcomes and benefits of those initiatives come to fruition. A further £35 million will be available for the next wave of innovative water sector initiatives through the second Breakthrough Water Challenge, opening on 11 October. We’re looking forward to seeing how the water sector continues to step up to the challenge, with more partnerships established to deliver breakthrough solutions that benefit both consumers and the environment.” 

New innovation challenges will be announced through to 2025, however Ofwat’s goal is that the Innovation Fund’s impact will be felt well beyond this. To find out more about the winners, and find out how to enter the second Water Breakthrough Challenge from Ofwat, Nesta Challenges and Arup, visit: