Puddle-free pavements receive innovation funding

Kiacrete permeable pavement being tested at White City, London.

A permeable paving slab that can absorb excess rainwater and mitigate flooding risk is one of 20 projects in the running to win a share of £4 million UK innovation funding made available by Ofwat, the water regulator.

Ofwat’s Innovation Fund has named 20 finalists for the Water Discovery Challenge, a competition to reward innovators from outside the water sector with bold solutions that can tackle its biggest challenges and benefit customers, society, and the environment. A next-generation permeable pavement that allows rainwater to be absorbed by the ground beneath is one of the finalists, and could soon be trialled across the UK in an effort to combat flooding through water-smart cities.

“Our permeable paving solution will increase cities’ resilience to heavy flooding, ... ultimately future-proofing our urban areas by turning them into water-smart cities.”

Alalea Kia, Imperial College London

Government advisers have found that 325,000 homes and businesses are at high risk of floods when intense rainfall overwhelms drains, a problem exacerbated by concrete surfaces in cities. Kiacrete, developed by a team from Imperial College London, uses an advanced material consisting of concrete with a bespoke plastic drainage structure to efficiently drain stormwater. The gradual release means that the ground beneath the slabs do not become overwhelmed and waterlogged.

Kiacrete could lead to significant environmental improvements including a reduced risk of sewage overflows into rivers and seas, which occur after heavy rainfall, and lower customer bills. A filtration device that enables roadside drains to catch particulate pollution is also amongst the finalists.

The technology captures pollution that would otherwise be washed into the ocean following heavy rainfall in cities. The system, from Guerilla Technologies, will capture particulate matter – containing microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems.

Alalea Kia, project lead for Kiacrete and a UK Research & Innovation Future Leaders Fellow at Imperial College London, said, “Cities face an increasing challenge from floods due to the impermeability of urban surfaces such as roads, pavements and garden patios, meanwhile extreme weather events such as heavy storms are increasing in frequency due to climate change.

“Our permeable paving solution will increase cities’ resilience to heavy flooding, improving conditions for adjacent industries including transport and other utilities, and ultimately future-proofing our urban areas by turning them into water-smart cities.”

"We’re excited to help bring these ideas to life.”

David Black, Ofwat

David Black, chief executive of Ofwat said, “It’s no secret the water sector is facing tough challenges and difficult choices related to climate change, the wider environment, and society. As the regulator, it’s our responsibility to help the sector to find new ways to overcome these pressing challenges.

“Water affects all industries, so with the Water Discovery Challenge we wanted to cast our net outside the sector, and see what those in adjacent industries propose to help us maintain a safe and sustainable supply. The finalist ideas address numerous core concerns for the future of the sector – from future-proofing cities to anticipating the impact of climate change, and we’re excited to help bring these ideas to life.”

The 20 finalists will now be awarded up to £50,000 from the Ofwat Innovation Fund, along with other kinds of support to develop their ideas further, along with expert support and mentoring from water companies. Up to 10 will go on to win up to £450,000, as well as further support, to further develop and test their ideas, including delivering pilot projects.

Other solutions range from hydropower turbines which can harvest electricity from water flowing through pipes, to a new membrane which could enable energy-efficient desalination, and a spray-on pipeliner to repair leaks.

The Water Discovery Challenge is part of a series of competitions from Ofwat run by the Challenge Works social enterprise, along with consultancies Arup and Isle. It is designed to drive innovation and collaboration to benefit customers, society and the environment.

Full list of finalists

1. Drinking water quality analysis using AI, Mounce Hydrosmart
The ACQUIRE project will analyse drinking water quality incident report data from water companies using the latest artificial intelligence techniques to develop an interactive management tool and online open source portal benefitting the water industry and its customers.

2. Long-distance leak detection, Seal Water Technology
An active pulse signal transmission technology that travels at constant sonic velocity along pipes, up to 7.5km, and can identify a range leaks, as well as pipe features, including tees and elbows.

3. Energy efficient desalination membranes, Waterwhelm
Waterwhelm will further develop its innovative membrane technology for brackish and seawater desalination, powered by low-grade waste heat, enabling energy-efficient and sustainable water supply.

4. Low cost asset management, EA Technology
This project will deliver a common framework to evaluate assets and their needs, enabling managers and engineers to maintain the assets in a safe, reliable condition at the lowest possible cost.

5. Monitoring wastewater discharge impact, Water Research Centre
This project will develop a low-cost water sensing platform to monitor the quantity and quality of discharges from water company wastewater assets into receiving waters, providing an improved understanding of the impact of these discharges on the environment.

6. Analysis of the aquatic environment, Ecosulis
The development of a verifiable framework of freshwater analytical metrics for the aquatic environment, that will allow the the quantification of improvements to ecosystems coming from investment activities.

7. Micro-turbines to power pipeline monitoring equipment, Vysion Technologies
To power pipeline monitoring equipment, the water sector relies on short-life, single-use, unrecycled batteries. The project aims to develop an advanced micro-turbine as an alternative, and that overcomes previous barriers to pipeline energy harvesting.

8. Spray pipelining providing sewer burst protection, Resimac
Development of a cost-effective hybrid sewer rehabilitation technology combining existing spray-lining techniques with cured-in-place pipe technology to deliver fully structural pipe rehabilitation method for deteriorating rising sewer mains, to reduce bursts and improve network resilience.

9. Retrofit device for pollution prevention, Guerrilla Technologies
Guerrilla is a retrofittable device for membrane-free removal of pollutants from surface water runoff.

10. Phosphorus removal and recovery, Cranfield University
The challenge of phosphorus in the water cycle remains unsolved in the UK, and alternatives means of extraction and recovery need to be explored. Cranfield University and Microvi propose the new bio-mineral phosphorus removal (BMPR) technology that offers the benefits of no coagulant use, high effluent quality through operation of an intensified reactor and with convenient phosphorus recovery.

11. Monitoring of stormwater discharge impact, University of St Andrews
This project will see development of a low-cost water sensing platform to monitor the quantity and quality of discharges from water company wastewater assets into receiving waters, providing an improved understanding of the impact of these discharges on the environment.

12. Improving quality of raw water from peatlands, Lancaster University
The project addresses an urgent need to remove steeply increasing concentrations of dissolved organic carbon from raw waters originating in peatland. It will deploy a sustainable technology based on linearly-scalable oscillatory baffle-flow processes, and innovative nanomagneto-composite sorbents.

13. Sustainable removal of emerging contaminants, ANAMAD
ANAMAD will develop an advanced oxidative water treatment process to efficiently remove persistent and emerging contaminants in a sustainable way. UV and reactive oxygen species are simultaneously generated within a water column requiring no additional chemicals.

14. Solar AI systems for water pumping stations, Riventa
This project aims to optimise the sustainable design of solar PV systems for water pumping stations, using an artificial intelligence based computation of the hydraulic network in which the electricity will be consumed.

15. Permeable pavements for stormwater capture, Kiacrete and Imperial College London
The StoragePave project will develop and test a new sustainable and low carbon pavement system that can capture and gradually release stormwater into the sewer network to decrease the frequency and severity of combined sewer overflow events.

16. Producing energy and water from wastewater, ICMEA-UK
This highly efficient process takes contaminated wastewater and extracts significant energy content from the organic matter while co-producing clean water that can be recycled back into water networks.

17. Chlorine-free potable water disinfection, Cardiff University
To meet the safe water challenges of tomorrow and contribute to the elimination of chlorine use, this project is developing catalytically-generated hydrogen peroxide for potable water disinfection.

18. Efficient sensor deployment and monitoring, DigiLab Solutions
DigiLab is driving efficiency in sensor deployment and monitoring in wastewater networks using uncertainty quantification and optimisation techniques to create a platform for sensor and water data.

19. Micropollutant removal using nanofiltration, Infinite Water R&D
Development of an ultra-low energy, chemical-free, direct nanofiltration treatment for cost effective and safe water and wastewater purification, targeting the removal of organic matter, micropollutants, PFAS chemicals and contaminants of emerging concern.

20. Hydropower generation at wastewater treatment plants, Fish Friendly Hydropower Company
The PicoStream Turbine is being developed for installation at wastewater treatment plants to capture energy from flows.