Ideas continue to flow for water quality

Meet ClearWater Sensors, one of the suppliers joining our Innovation Lab

Could you tell us how you found out about the Innovation Lab and why you decided to pitch your idea? 

We could see a clear need and application for our technology within United Utilities. However, widespread adoption would require demonstration and validation for this specific application, as well as a healthy exchange of ideas so that we could best meet United Utilities’ specific requirements. We saw the innovation lab as the perfect opportunity to kick-start and accelerate this process.

In simple terms, could you please summarise what your idea is for the lab? 

Our idea is a deployable phosphate sensor based on cutting edge lab-on-chip technology. It automatically records highly accurate and reliable phosphate measurements, and can self-calibrate using onboard calibration solutions in order to maintain accuracy when deployed. The sensor can be submerged in rivers, streams, deployed at treatment works, or in almost any other situation where automated high-resolution phosphate measurements are required. It can operate with very little or no infrastructure so can be deployed in remote locations away from mains power.

Excess phosphate concentrations (which can come from sewage or agricultural sources) are a major problem for rivers, streams and lakes. High resolution automated monitoring is key to understanding the problem and deciding how to deal with it.

As part of the Innovation Lab we are demonstrating our phosphate sensor, but our product range also includes sensors for other important water-quality parameters such as nitrate, silicate and dissolved iron.

What is the ultimate benefit your idea will bring to water customers in the North West? 

High phosphate concentrations are a major concern for rivers, streams and other freshwater bodies in the North West. Too much phosphate leads to excessive growth of algae (algal blooms). When these algae die they decompose and lead to a major reduction in water quality, potentially killing fish and other organisms in the river. It is incredibly important that we understand how phosphate concentrations vary and what the main sources are. This way, mitigation measures can be targeted in the best way possible. Sewage and agricultural runoff are the two major man-made sources of phosphate in rivers and lakes. The ClearWater Sensors phosphate sensors will provide key data that will be used to make informed management decisions and ultimately lead to improved water quality in rivers and lakes.

How are you hoping to develop your idea through the Innovation Lab? 

We area already starting to understand the specific requirements of United Utilities. For example, we are looking for ways to improve flow of data (how data leaves the sensor and reaches the right people in a timely and secure manner), deployment location requirements (how to mount sensors in rivers with very little infrastructure), and measurement frequency vs endurance (do we need to measure every 15 minutes, every hour, every two hours?).

How important do you think programmes like the Innovation Lab are for developing ideas? 

The Innovation Lab is a fantastic opportunity for us to connect with key individuals and decision-makers at United Utilities. We are now able to really understand the specific applications that United Utilities has, and fine-tune our offering to best match their requirements.

What does innovation mean to you in three words? 

Creativity, focus and impact

If you fast forward two years from now, where do you see your product?

We would like to see a growing network of ClearWater Sensors phosphate sensors monitoring phosphate concentrations at key points throughout the North West. This includes in rivers and streams (particularly in close proximity to combined sewage overflows), in lakes and reservoirs, and at water treatment works. These sensors will provide invaluable data about the quality of our water and lead to informed decisions about mitigation measures.