Confluence contest seeks to identify the emerging technologies that will define water utility systems going into the future


“With close to a trillion-dollar investment in water infrastructure coming within the next 10 years, the challenge will be to identify the technologies that will define the new water utility systems,” says Melinda Kruyer, executive director of Confluence, a water technology innovation cluster in the Ohio River Valley Region. “Water technology is ripe for disruption.”

Those creating these innovations were honored recently by the Confluence Innovation Fund with its W Prize.

The W Prize is a challenged-based competition that facilitates collaboration across the water sector and incentivizes technological solutions to real-world water challenges. The specific challenges for the W Prize were developed by the Confluence Regional Utility Network.

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Potential solution providers submitted abstracts on their technologies, and 24 companies presented to the regional utilities and interested parties.

Four companies were awarded. They included the first-place ($2,000) Global Quality Corp. and a three-way tie for second place ($1,000 each) between Searen, Target Compound Monitoring and ZAPS Technologies.

Smart Event Detection

Global Quality Corp. of Covington, Kentucky, earned its award for its Smart Event Detection with EDGE Computing US EPA CANARY on a Raspberry Pi. Company President Dr. Sudhir Kshirsagar says the goal is for the device to become widespread in use. “It’s not just for bigger facilities. We want it to be affordable and easy to use, and then get a community of those users to grow.”

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Treatment plant operators are the product’s target audience, he added. Usually, information about plant/distribution systems is captured by a SCADA system, but this CANARY works “continuously like a big brother doing the analysis.”

In late 2014, the U.S. EPA released a Java-based CANARY event-detection application programming interface (API) library that can be easily integrated into any other software. CANARY operates using predictive algorithms, analyzes sensor data based on historical behavior and provides valuable information that is not captured by setpoint violations.

With a webserver running on the Raspberry Pi, a user fires up a browser, opens up the website, and it displays the information in what Kshirsagar calls a “very simple user interface.”

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“We saw the opportunity of running it with the same horsepower as your cell phone, but for cheaper than your cell phone,” he says. “It can run the CANARY and connect to sensors directly. As we get more sensors, you can have more and more data coming in.”

Kshirsagar says the CANARY integrated commercial HydroTrek real-time modeling desktop engine has been implemented for the city of Akron, and the results showed that anomalies can be detected with the existing chlorine and conductivity sensors. Raspberry Pi has been deployed at an innovative utility recently and the results are quite promising.

The device can be deployed at the edge of the network as an independent distributed node that communicates directly with the sensors, or as a central node that communicates with the SCADA Historian. The edge nodes can communicate with a central server or with a cloud-based platform.

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Remote Monitoring Technology

Second-place Target Compound Monitoring (TCM) was recognized for its autonomous, solar-powered gas chromagraphs with wireless communication for remote monitoring of Volatile Organic Compounds in groundwater.

Todd Dockrum and Willie Steinecker are founders of the company in Dayton, Ohio. They have been contracted by that city to make 10 units — four of which are currently deployed.

Michele Simmons, environmental manager with the city of Dayton’s water department says they are involved with a demonstration project with 10 of the units. The city has about 300 monitoring wells. 

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“What we’re hoping to do is if we can prove this technology to get this put into the regional groundwater monitoring project, then this could go national. This could literally be a game changer,” she says.

“Usually, we have staff that we have to coordinate to go out to these monitoring wells. Our staff have to manually go out there, grab a sample, purge the well and do a laboratory analysis,” she says. “This project could be a huge time saver. It can tell us in real time what contaminants are moving into the proximity of the well.”

While TCM is a startup, they have done about two years of troubleshooting and retrofitting. Dockrum says the Confluence competition “was our sort of reveal.”

In early 2016, they set up the company to roll out this service model, starting with water analysis. Dockrum says they’re also working with similar technology in air sampling.

Confluence is a significant force in Ohio, according to Steinecker. “We were pretty confident going in that we were going to be recognized as one of the top innovators. It’s a great show of credibility for us.”

Dockrum says the technology is like a large desktop printer. “Basically, the sample, liquid or gas, goes into this magic box, and what comes out is an analysis of the chemical sample. They’re starting to see this as an early warning system.”

TCM is ready to go to market, according to Dockrum. “Our marketing strategy is through a service model, rather than through a device sales model. This is very complex technology. The interpretation of data still requires quite a bit of analytical chemistry knowledge.”

Water departments and conservancy districts are their core customers. “Right now, we are a service model selling these units for $5,000 per month,” says Dockrum. “It’s more of a rental, but included in that is we maintain the system, we provide the data, we install the system, we service the system — every day data is coming in, we’re making sure the data has been properly vetted."

While the long-term goal for TCM is to become global, the company is currently focusing on its own region.

The remaining winners included Searen’s Bio Solar Purification operated by Vacuum AirLifts; and ZAPS Technologies’ Continuous Multi-Parameter Monitoring, Real-Time QA/QC.


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