SOWC’s cutting-edge research, development, testing and demonstration facilities are attracting attention from those interested in water technology south of the border.

Delegates of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Centre (MassCEC), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the New England Water Innovation Network, recently made a trip to Ontario to tour a few of the SOWC’s facilities.

There is currently a big push in the U.S. to support the development of the water technology industry and one of the key components to bringing innovations to market is providing companies with testing facilities. “As a result, SOWC has become part of a much broader conversation on how to go about establishing these facilities,” says Brenda Lucas, SOWC’s Executive Director.

US Delegation

Dr. Ravi Selvaganapathy explains a lab sample to U.S. delegates during tour of SOWC/McMaster Sensor Facility

“They are aware of what we have done in Ontario and know that the facilities we have built are unique and don’t exist anywhere else,” says Lucas. “We hope that we can work together, whether that’s having specific research collaborations or sharing best practices,” she continued. “By understanding each other’s goals and how they align, I hope that they will want to work with us and build facilities that complement ours.”

The group of delegates was in the area for the World Water-Tech North America Summit held in Toronto in November and added an additional day to their trip so they could visit three of SOWC’s facilities.

University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Water Innovation Network was recently awarded funding from the USEPA to establish a research and innovation centre focused on small to medium sized drinking water systems. The State has also recently committed to financial investments for water innovation to be administered by the MassCEC.

“It’s quite impressive what SOWC has been able to do,” says Michael Murphy, director of water innovation with the MassCEC. “It’s a complex thing to try and pull together all the industry players and universities. We are working to develop a similar network of testing facilities and are interested to learn about the dynamic between the researchers and the facilities, the relationships with the companies as well as the collaboration between nodes.”

The first stop on the tour was SOWC’s Sensor node in Hamilton. Sensor technology can be used to detect pathogens, chemicals and elemental contamination in the water.

“Sensor technology is about changing the old paradigm of going out into the field, collecting a water sample and bringing it back to the lab to test it,” says Lucas.

Managed in collaboration with McMaster University, this facility supports the development of automated, wireless and distributed sensing. Companies and researchers can use the facility to design, prototype and validate sensors for specific needs. There is also expertise available to build chemical, electrical, optical and electrochemical sensors for a variety of analyses in water systems.

After touring the facility, the delegates expressed excitement over the possible innovations that could come out of the Sensor node.

“This facility is really interesting and it has a range of opportunities,” says Alicia Barton, CEO of the MassCEC. “The sensor fabrication technology has a lot of potential and this facility will definitely help in creating applications.”

SOWC’s Ecotoxicology node in Waterloo was the next visit on the delegates’ tour. Led by Wilfrid Laurier University, this facility focuses on using biological and chemical analytical tools to assess water quality and its impact on aquatic animal and plant life as well as the development of technologies aimed at improving water treatment and aquatic ecosystem health. Along with expert scientific and technical support, the Ecotoxicology node includes two mobile field trailers designed to function as mobile laboratories that allow users to test water quality and impacts on aquatic life on site.

Guelph wastewater treatment plant bays

A total of three bays with municipal wastewater flow are available for real-world research, testing and demonstration at the SOWC/Guelph Wastewater Facility

The last stop on the tour was the Guelph Wastewater Facility. At this facility, sewage is drawn from the city’s wastewater plant and made available to companies and researchers for the development and testing of water treatment technologies. Run by the University of Guelph, this building provides users access to wastewater as it goes through the different treatment stages from raw effluent to treated water, enabling them to get an accurate picture of how a technology would work in an actual wastewater treatment plant.

“The wastewater treatment facility supports the development of technologies that revolve around treating wastewater in ways that are more beneficial such as technologies that use less energy to treat water or that can extract useful elements from wastewater,” says Lucas.

In addition to accessing the wastewater, the facility also has a room dedicated for technologies working with sludge and a lab where users can analyze the wastewater during different stages of testing for standard water quality parameters.

Sally Gutierrez, director of the U.S. EPA’s Environmental Technology Innovation Clusters Program, was impressed by the facility’s technology testing capabilities.

“We are always looking for the next generation of technology to help us improve water quality, especially in the face of an increasing number of contaminants,” says Gutierrez. “Having these kinds of test beds available is vital for evaluating the effectiveness of innovative technologies.”

“The wastewater demonstration facility is the most directly relevant facility in the short term as far as what we are hoping to accomplish,” says Murphy. “It’s the sort of facility needed to really support the development of waste water technology.”

Murphy and his colleagues were pleased by the diversity of facilities under SOWC because it allows for a variety of needs to be met. They also commended the structure SOWC has put into place and are hoping to replicate it in the U.S.

“We are interested in a structure that can organize and provide guidance,” says Per Suneby with the New England Water Innovation Network. “SOWC essentially acts as a consultant to help direct companies and advise them on who they should talk to and what facility they should be using. Providing this exchange function is very important and we want to build up this exchange function because right now it is very informal. Basically, SOWC is couple years ahead of us.”

This recent tour was just one of two SOWC hosted in November. A group of international media, also in the area for the World Water-Tech Summit, was invited by WaterTAP to visit SOWC’s London Wastewater facility, which serves a similar purpose to the Guelph one but on a larger scale.

Lucas says she is pleased SOWC is becoming known internationally.

“If we can embrace the conversation, then we can help others understand what we have and what we do and find synergies rather than duplicate capacity.”

This sharing of information will not only educate others but also create potential relationships that can benefit SOWC and its goals. Lucas says she is hoping the recent connection they have made with the U.S. delegates is just the beginning of a long-term strategic partnership.