Given the depth and breadth of the water resources in BC, and the leadership role our province is taking in cleantech, it’s not surprising that there are a growing number of watertech companies active in managing water resources across the whole value chain – from filtration to wastewater treatment to infrastructure and software.
So it was in that spirit of knowing its importance to our future, that leading watertech and wastewater experts in BC met for a roundtable discussion of the watertech industry on Nov 5, 2019.
Convened as part of the BC Cleantech Cluster Initiative, the discussion focused on innovation in cleantech and water – what’s happening, what are the opportunities and what could be done to further the industry and support the growth of the watertech sector in the province.
What are the Opportunities in Watertech?
(Image courtesy: BQE Water)
There are multiple areas of opportunities arising in watertech.
Driven by climate change imperatives, and stricter environmental legislation, many industrial processors are looking to decrease their water footprint inside their fence, and this is leading to opportunities for watertech companies that can find cost-effective and innovative solutions for improving industrial water usage.
There are also opportunities for water processing work with the Alberta oil & gas sector, as there is a push to reduce pollution and GHG emissions across the whole industry. For example, an organization called The Transition Accelerator has recently been set up in Alberta to solve major business challenges where significant GHG reductions can be built into the solutions, and one of their projects (AZETEC) has a number of BC-based companies participating. While this wasn’t a water related project, it’s an example of the type of opportunities water companies could look into as they expand their markets.
For watertech companies, there are also huge opportunities emerging to address PFOS pollution. The US EPA has established health advisories for PFOA and PFOS due to complex organics such as PFOS leaking into the water systems from landfills, washing machines, old carpets and consumer goods. This is a cross-sector opportunity.
There are some business opportunities at municipalities, particularly as they move toward carbon neutrality or being net carbon positive, and in ultrapure water for the electronic industry and brine management.
It was also noted that that there is a new water metric being used in some industries ($ of revenue / oz of water used), and more research and information is needed to see how this could be turned into a market opportunity.
The opportunities in, and the importance of international markets was also discussed. International markets are key for the growth of water and wastewater SMEs. Successful companies in this sector are not only supporting natural resource sector domestically but also have various international markets.
What are the Challenges/Barriers?
Right now in Canada, there is no umbrella organization to tie together all the pieces in the watertech sector, and this was seen as a barrier to growth, as there is a lack of a cohesive voice for advocating policy, for sharing resources and information, or potentially making local partnerships or cooperative bids.
There is also a challenge for the BC watertech sector in accessing capital, particularly with subsequent financings. For example, one local SME in the watertech field had initial success raising local capital at the venture stage, but had to go US/ international for further funding rounds.
Focus on the Future: Telling the Story & Building an Ecosystem
Given the level of innovation coming out of the watertech sector in British Columbia, the participants felt that it was surprising how little is known globally about watertech innovation in BC, and they struggle for recognition.
The story needs to be told, and the brand of BC as a watertech innovation hub, the place to start a watertech business, work in watertech or invest in watertech should be developed.
And part of developing the brand is the coordination of activity around developing international market relationships and interest in BC companies, including creating a watertech cluster (or, to put it more accurately, to start strategically supporting the watertech cluster that already exists).
Overall, there was enthusiastic support for a cluster approach, as the participants saw multiple benefits and possibilities, including:
- Customized match-making in solving large scale industrial problems
- Introductions to local customer base, sharing of network
- Lessen the cost of doing business due to sharing and having access to resources
- Learning and sharing CEO-CEO experience of engaging in foreign markets. (Mentoring programs leverage the fact that more experienced firms can support smaller firms across sectors – mining, agriculture, food and beverage, etc)
- Engage with large corporations (head offices), the end-users and EPCs
- Educate regulators on technology (the regulators do not know about new technologies that are emerging and companies spend too much of their time doing this individually – having a collective voice in communicating with regulatory bodies)
- Use of digital marketing tools for companies (Some SME’s need support on this)
- Sector specific business education, marketing opportunities and events
Bluetech Research & Bluetech Forum
I want to end this article with a special thank you to Jeff Guild and his team at Bluetech Research, who were instrumental in bringing this roundtable together and are real industry leaders in water research and watertech.