England and Wales’ water regulator Ofwat has launched the Water Discovery Challenge, a £4m competition for innovators working in farming and agriculture with bold and ingenious ideas that can solve the biggest challenges facing the water sector today and in the future. The competition is the latest from Ofwat’s £200m Innovation Fund, which seeks to generate new ideas to tackle issues including managing leaks, preventing pollution, improving water efficiency, reducing emissions, boosting flood and drought resilience, prioritising sustainable practices, and supporting vulnerable customers.
Where previous Ofwat Innovation Fund competitions have focused on innovations from, and led by, those within the sector, the new Water Discovery Challenge is incentivising ideas from, and led by, those outside of the water sector – including farming and agriculture.
It is seeking solutions from industries dealing with similar challenges to those faced by the water sector or implementing solutions that could benefit water and wastewater services in England and Wales – with no requirement for entrants to partner with a water company. The goal is to open the sector to new ground-breaking insights and thinking that benefit consumers and the environment. Up to 20 teams of the most promising innovators will be awarded up to £50,000 to develop their ideas, with expert support and mentoring from water companies. Up to 10 will go on to win up to £450,000 to turn ideas into pilots.
David Black, Chief Executive of Ofwat said: “It’s no secret that the water sector has faced challenges in the last year. As a regulator we’re constantly pushing the sector to overcome these. Water affects everyone, and it’s time we see what the water sector can learn from astronauts, farmers, data specialists, architects, and planners. This is about preparing the water sector for the future, and I look forward to the ideas that come out of it.”
John Russell, Senior Director at Ofwat, said: “Our £200m Innovation Fund has already supported projects that detect and fix leaks, capture carbon emissions from water processing plants to convert them into fuel, and remove fertilisers from waterways to be re-used in our food system. Now, we’re broadening the opportunity to innovators in any industry that can make a difference to improving the water system for all of us.”
Ofwat is looking for bold and innovative entrants from outside the water sector. It has identified five sectors where it believes there is particularly high potential for innovative crossovers: agriculture, energy, cities and transport, construction, and data and internet of things. To deliver the competition, Ofwat is working with innovation prize experts Challenge Works, alongside global engineering, sustainability and water sector experts Arup, and Isle Utilities. In addition to financial incentives, successful teams will benefit from expert mentoring and capacity-building support, including access to insights and mentoring from water companies and support for scaling solutions for the extensive water network in England and Wales.
Holly Jamieson, Director at Challenge Works, said: “Our experience of nurturing and rewarding innovators across multiple challenge prizes has shown us that it is often the least likely suspects that can provide the solution with the greatest impact. And with the support of Arup and Isle Utilities, we can work closely with innovators from outside the water sector to turn great ideas into real-world solutions.”
Previous examples of Ofwat Innovation Fund winners that showcase the value of collaboration with farming and agriculture include:
- The Organics Ammonia Recovery project – to recover ammonia in wastewater and turn it into green hydrogen fuel.
- SuPR Loofah – Removing phosphorous from wastewater using an innovative loofah to capture the chemical that can produce damaging algal-blooms in waterways.
- Diffusing the Nitrate Timebomb project – is exploring methods that could prevent high levels of nitrates seeping into drinking water.
The Water Discovery Challenge opened for entries on 25 January and will close on 5 April. To find out more about the competition and enter, visit waterinnovation.challenges.org