What will be the leading edge water solutions of the 21st century?

Throughout history, securing a reliable and safe water supply, and dealing with wastewater, have been two of the driving forces behind the development of human populations. Entire civilizations have grown and vanished in response to water availability and their environmental impact on water resources. What was true for ancient Babylonians and Maya continues to be true today: water management remains one of the greatest human challenges.

The technologies and science we apply today would be alien to our forebears, but scientists and engineers continue to respond to water challenges through the research and development of new water and wastewater treatment technologies; find new ways to extract value from wastewater through resource recovery; and implement sanitation treatment systems and technologies that improve both human and environmental health.

Addressing these critical issues was central to the recent IWA 15th Leading Edge Conference on Water and Wastewater Technologies in Nanjing, China. It brought together researchers and practitioners who are passionate about exploring and applying leading edge water solutions for the 21st century. This sector-leading event gives new insights into how pioneering science, technological innovation and leading practices are shaping the major transformation in water management that is underway. Amongst the hot topics debated during the meeting, several key emerging trends, likely to disrupt the water sector, were highlighted:


Towards a holistic ‘urban water cycle’ approach

In practice, water professionals have started to rethink and optimize water systems, moving to urban systems that integrate drinking water and wastewater systems for Direct Potable Reuse, tapping conventional water resources, increased use of resource recovery, as well as considering natural-based solutions in urban water management.


Breakthroughs in addressing emerging contaminants

An increased presence of emerging contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals, personal care products or pathogenic microorganisms, not only threaten the quality of water sources and wastewater streams around the world, but challenge the efficiency of current treatment processes. There is mounting urgency to advance research on innovative treatment technologies that can control these emerging contaminants and protect human health. Some promising modern tools and approaches include advanced oxidations, digital information technology, and state-of-the-art molecular genetics tools.


Application of advanced and new materials for water treatment

Looking at the evolution of water and wastewater treatment technologies, the rapid development and application of advanced materials has increased efficiency and decreased costs for water treatment. These include multifunctional membranes, nano technologies, novel catalysts and high capacity absorbents.


Engineering of microbiomes to fight antibiotic resistance

Fascinating developments in the microbial field have seen the application of microbiome engineering become more important for enhancing wastewater treatment and drinking water quality. Microbial control is getting renewed relevance and urgency with the rise of super bugs.


Digital water

Smart technologies are driving efficiencies across sectors, and water is no exception. Smart meters, sensors or real-time control solutions are becoming an indispensable asset for water utilities to improve overall performance. By increasing their ability to operationalize data into practical solutions, such as detecting leaks, utilities are able to reduce water loss and reduce energy consumption.


Tailored solutions to improve water quality and wastewater treatment in the Global South

More attention is now being focused on the improvement of water services and wastewater treatment in countries in the Global South. Small and decentralized water systems are increasingly applied together with onsite solutions (such as Non-Sewered Sanitation), to reach increasing numbers of previously unserved or underserved people.


The IWA’s Leading Edge Technology Conference is an important incubator for accelerating the development and diffusion of new technologies and leading edge practices. As the world faces a future of increased water scarcity, growing demand for water, and more frequent and severe water events such as floods and droughts, our response has to rise to the challenge.

Join us at the 16th IWA Leading Edge Technology Conference to be held in Edinburgh, UK, 10-14 June 2019, and be part of the solution.

Find out more here and visit the LET website for upcoming updates at http://iwa-let.org/




Hong Li

Asia and Oceania Director
Hong has been with IWA since 2009 and currently is the Regional Director for Asia & Oceania. She previously headed IWA’s Science, Practice and Policy agenda. Hong has vast experiences working with water leaders world-wide (e.g. through Spec... Read full biography