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.
Traditional municipal wastewater treatment deserves some praise for preventing human disease, protecting natural systems, and efficiently disposing of the noxious and unavoidable products of human civilization. But more often it is faulted for gobbling up 3% of all electricity production, and imposing ever increasing sludge disposal costs. Next-generation wastewater treatments will totally revolutionize the practice. But the question is: Which technologies will win out, and where?
This week’s graphic comes from a recently published report, in which Lux Research looked at a number of companies fielding innovative new technologies for municipal wastewater treatment. It illustrates a quick order-of-magnitude assessment of the potential impact for select technologies in the developed and developing world. A quick disclaimer: the graphic presents market size on a relative scale, not in terms of cubic meters or customers served. That said, readers can derive a feel for estimated market size from the fact that, in our analysis, a score of 100 corresponded to an annual market of nearly 70 million people served worldwide.
In our shorthand analysis, the technologies of three companies – Aqwise, Entex and Microvi Biotech – came away a clear lead in our comparative analysis. Each has significant market potential in both the developed and the developing world.
While Aqwise and Entex have huge market potential, so do all of their competitors. Even so, their particular approach to offering fixed or moving media as an alternative to traditional activated sludge has enormous market potential worldwide – especially fixed media, which is a technically simple compromise to activated sludge. Establishing or defending any IP for such a simple technique is more of a challenge. Fortunately, there’s plenty of market to go around.
The other company, Microvi Biotech, also shows enormous market potential. It is inexpensive, widely applicable, imposes a small footprint and offers numerous possible uses. While the most striking potential of its technology is sludge reduction, the company is currently focused on reducing nitrate and phosphate using a specialized set of microbes. Its technique is simple and contained in a small footprint. But if the company doesn’t capitalize on its technology’s broader potential, it could miss out on a significant part of their huge projected market, not to mention their most noteworthy claim.