Costain and 3D printing lead £40m water innovation drive

water innovation image
Image: Ofwat

Innovation projects featuring Costain and 3D printing are among those being backed by Ofwat’s latest £40m fund.

Costain features on two projects backed by Ofwat’s Water Breakthrough Challenge.

The first initiative, fibreoptic leak detection, has been awarded £1.3m to find a leak detection solution using the fibre-optic cables already adjacent to water mains. These cables (often part of the broadband network) can be used to report tiny changes in ground stability, which act as an early indication of water leaks. This technique is cheaper and more environmentally friendly than current monitoring practices.

The project team successfully demonstrated the concept in the first funding round. The additional funding is to prove the solution at scale.

Under this project, led by Severn Trent Water, Costain will work in partnership with Severn Trent Water, Focus Sensors, Welsh Water, Northumbrian Water, South Staffordshire Water and Hafren Dyfrdwy.

Costain’s second initiative, called Stream, has secured £2m to unlock the potential of data to benefit water customers, society and the environment. Stream (led by Northumbrian Water) will put in place technology and processes to remove the barriers to sharing water company data within the industry. Costain is partnering with Pinsent Masons to provide the legal and commercial framework that will enable this improvement in collaboration.

Aarti Gupta, head of innovation investment at Costain, said: “Today’s water industry is facing huge challenges from population growth, extreme weather and ageing infrastructure. It’s vital we harness innovation to tackle these issues, thinking in creative ways to drive down costs for consumers and to improve the sustainability of solutions.”

3D printing infrastructure

Meanwhile, 3D printing plays a key role in United Utilities’ (UU) water industry ‘printfrastructure’ (WIP) project, which has secured £1.5m.  

UU’s partnership with Changemaker 3D, Manchester Metropolitan University (PrintCity) and Scottish Water takes experience from current working practices in the rail industry and lessons from academia, and converts these to “actionable, operational demonstrations for the industry”.

UU chief engineer (innovation) Lisa Mansell said: “The water industry requires unprecedented levels of construction to deliver environmental improvements and maintain existing ageing assets. We must address these challenges sustainably, efficiently and at lowest cost for our customers. Our WIP project will move 3D printing from good idea into a valuable tool for our business.”

Another 13 projects have secured the remainder of the £40m funding.

David Black, Ofwat chief executive, said: “The water sector has faced mounting pressure over systemic challenges related to the environment and society, while the climate around us continues to drastically change shape. That’s why we’re funding ground-breaking innovations with potential to help us save and reuse water and wastewater products, while supporting wider society.”

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