As established players have known for years, food and beverage is a multi-trillion-dollar industry with relatively minor variations in water quality and regulatory requirements. Moving forward, major societal drivers are pressing both industry and agriculture toward novel water solutions.
To control water risk, the food industry is expanding its focus beyond processing plants to water savings across the value chain. With deeper pockets and a better market-oriented grasp of costs than municipal water, this industry is rich with opportunity for technologies that can reduce water needs, promote reuse, and efficiently pretreat wastewater for discharge. The industry will be forced as never before to listen both to downstream retailers concerned about sustainability and upstream agriculture that makes up much of their water risk.
The range of applicable technologies is as diverse as the opportunity is large, demanding an analytical framework – the Lux Innovation Grid – for understanding all the emerging innovative entities in the space. Focused solutions are rife, from crop like AquaSpy and UgMO that use moisture sensors and crop knowledge to monitor field conditions and Capilix’s capillary electrophoresis sensor technology for monitoring hydroponics systems, to production plant where the likes of Bilexys and Emefcy look to apply their variants on microbial fuel cells to generate chemicals or energy from process wastewater.
The overall takeaway is clear. With increasing trepidation about population growth in the face of climate change, and increasing world affluence driving more water-intensive foods, industry demand for novel solutions from farm to factory have just begun to accelerate.
The Natural Resource Defense Council and Tetra Tech recently published a study predicting that climate change will result in water shortages in nearly a third of the continental United States. Key to the analysis was the use of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) models to estimate the change in precipitation patterns that will ostensibly affect rainfall, snowpacks, and river flows. However, after a review of the study, we respond with a long yawn.
The regions cited include the U.S. Southwest, the Great Plains and Texas region, swaths of Florida, and a smattering of counties dotting the map from Long Island, New York, to Atlanta, Georgia. Most, if not all, are expected to see water shortages and, in fact, many already do. For example, the U.S. Southwest and California are virtually deserts, both have a burgeoning population that is already facing acute water shortages. The Great Plains is a prolific but dry farming region that depends on a depleted Ogallala aquifer to provide water. And central Florida’s growing population tapped available groundwater long ago – prompting Tampa Bay to build a large desalination plant. Any increase in water shortage risks are more likely due to regional population growth and intensive farming without adoption of water-saving technologies.
The good news, despite impending water shortages, is that there is no shortage of proven technologies in the pipeline to alleviate water issues. On the municipal front, firms like Takadu, Miya, and Echologics are continuing to make headway on detecting leaks that siphon away 20% of water supplies. Plus, proven and improving desalination and recycling technologies are available to fill the supply gap. Agriculture presents a trickier problem, but companies like AquaSpy, Jain Irrigation, and John Deere have smart irrigation and drip irrigation technologies that slash agricultural water intensity in half (see the report Malthus Returns: Solving the Unsustainable Agricultural Water Demand Conundrum – client registration required.) Coupled with improving yields and new strains of water-sipping crops, risks of crippling water shortages are avoidable.