United Utilities to lead multi-million pound national programme of nature-based solutions to help improve water treatment

United Utilities has today announced that it will be leading an £8.9m national programme to bring more nature-based solutions into the water sector.

The North West’s water company, working with The Rivers Trust, Jacobs, and Mott MacDonald, and partners from across the water industry and other sectors, has been awarded £8m in the latest round of industry regulator Ofwat’s Water Breakthrough Challenge. A further £900,000 will be provided by partners.

Southwaite wetlands pic.jpgThe five year programme aims to put a wide range of nature-based solutions such as wetlands, Sustainable Drainage Systems and peatland restoration to the test, to demonstrate how they can be used to make the water environment more resilient to climate change and other pressures. The findings will be shared across the industry, potentially helping to fast-track the introduction of nature-based solutions and improve water and wastewater treatment across the nation.

Kieran Brocklebank, Head of Innovation at United Utilities, said: “We understand and share the concerns that our customers have about wastewater treatment and the quality of rivers and streams, and this programme will enable us to explore more ways to tackle the challenges we face.

“Natural solutions such as wetlands and peatland restoration have wide-reaching benefits, not only to improve water quality but also in slowing the flow of rainwater to help prevent flooding and providing important habitats for wildlife.

“We’re delighted to be leading this national research and development programme and look forward to sharing our findings with the industry to help improve water quality right across the country.”

United Utilities has also received funding for two other projects and is supporting eight more projects with other water companies:

£1.5m to work with ChangeMaker 3D, Manchester Metropolitan University and Scottish Water on how to embed the use of printed infrastructure printing with both concrete and plastics, and digital construction and maintenance techniques into the sector.

£6.1m to work with partners including Royal HaskoningDHV, Cellvation, AquaMinerals, Cranfield University, Yara, Glasgow Caledonian University, Severn Trent Water and South West Water to explore opportunities for the recovery of biopolymers for other industrial uses. These organic materials are produced naturally by bacteria in wastewater treatment, and if they can be extracted they could be used instead of other chemicals for a range of industrial processes such as agricultural fertilisers and alternative wastewater treatment chemicals.

Is a partner on eight other projects that have been awarded more than £16m. These are focused on activities including preventing tree roots growing into sewers, dealing with extreme heat, achieving net zero for large wastewater treatment works, and, algal monitoring using AI. 

Kieran Brocklebank continued: “We’re delighted to receive a total of £15.7m from the latest round of the Water Breakthrough Challenge.

“While each project is very distinct, they all have sustainability and innovation at their core, and the ultimate goal of enhancing how the water and wastewater industries perform so that we can all enhance our environment and offer the best value for our customers.

“They have the potential to transform the way we create new infrastructure and treat water and wastewater, and will help us make the best use of the waste materials produced in our processes, which will benefit other industries too.

“These projects could also support the development of new skills and bring new talent the sector, and all this will help us make our region stronger, greener and healthier.”

David Black, CEO at Ofwat, said: “The water sector has faced mounting pressure over systemic challenges related to the environment and society, while the climate around us continues to drastically change shape. That’s why we’re funding ground-breaking innovations with potential to help us save and reuse water and wastewater products, while supporting wider society.”

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 encourages 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.

More information about the winners of the Water Breakthrough Challenge can be found here: https://waterinnovation.challenges.org/winners/