Water-smart cities on horizon as splash-free paving slabs and roadside pollution filters receive Ofwat funding

  • A permeable paving slab that can absorb excess rainwater and mitigate flooding risk is one of 20 projects in the running to win a portion of the £4m made available in Ofwat’s latest innovation competition.
  • Ofwat’s Innovation Fund today announces 20 finalists for the Water Discovery Challenge, a competition to reward innovators from outside the water sector with bold solutions that can tackle its biggest challenges and benefit customers, society, and the environment.

A next-generation permeable pavement that allows rainwater to be absorbed by the ground beneath could soon be trialled across the UK in an effort to combat flooding through water-smart cities.

Government advisers have found that 325,000 homes and businesses are at high risk of floods when intense rainfall overwhelms drains, a problem exacerbated by concrete surfaces in cities. Kiacrete, developed by a team from Imperial College London, uses an advanced material consisting of concrete with a bespoke plastic drainage structure to efficiently drain stormwater. The gradual release means that the ground beneath the slabs don’t become overwhelmed and water-logged.

Kiacrete could lead to significant environmental improvements, reduced risk of sewage overflows (which occur after heavy rainfall), a more resilient and sustainable water sector, and lower customer bills.

The solution is one of the 20 finalists in water regulator Ofwat’s Water Discovery Challenge, a £4m competition for innovators outside of the water sector with bold and ingenious ideas that can help solve complex challenges.

A filtration device that enables roadside drains to catch particulate pollution is also amongst the finalists. The technology captures pollution that would otherwise be washed into the ocean following heavy rainfall in cities. The system, from Guerilla Technologies, will capture particulate matter – containing microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems.

Alalea Kia, Project Lead for Kiacrete and UKRI Future Leaders Fellow at Imperial College London, said:

“Cities face an increasing challenge from floods due to the impermeability of urban surfaces such as roads, pavements and garden patios, meanwhile extreme weather events such as heavy storms are increasing in frequency due to climate change.

“Our permeable paving solution will increase cities’ resilience to heavy flooding, improving conditions for adjacent industries including transport and other utilities, and ultimately future-proofing our urban areas by turning them into water-smart cities.”

David Black, CEO, Ofwat said:

“It’s no secret the water sector is facing tough challenges, and difficult choices, related to climate change, the wider environment, and society. As the regulator, it’s our responsibility to help the sector to find new ways to overcome these pressing challenges.

“Water affects all industries, so with the Water Discovery Challenge we wanted to cast our net outside the sector, and see what those in adjacent industries propose to help us maintain a safe and sustainable supply. The finalist ideas address numerous core concerns for the future of the sector – from future-proofing cities to anticipating the impact of climate change, and we’re excited to help bring these ideas to life.”

The 20 finalists will now be awarded up to £50,000 from the Ofwat Innovation Fund, as well as non-financial, capacity-building support, to develop their ideas further, along with expert support and mentoring from water companies. Up to 10 will go on to win up to £450,000, as well as further support, to further develop and test their ideas, including delivering pilots.

Other solutions range from hydropower turbines which can harvest electricity from water flowing through pipes, to a new membrane which could enable energy-efficient desalination, and a novel ‘spray-on’ pipe liner to repair leaks.

The Water Discovery Challenge is part of a series of competitions from Ofwat run by Challenge Works with Arup and Isle Utilities, designed to drive innovation and collaboration to benefit customers, society and the environment.

To find out more about the competition, visit: waterinnovation.challenges.org/water-discovery-challenge


Notes to Editors

For all media enquiries, please contact Alice Jaffe – [email protected] or Andrew McKay [email protected]

The report ‘Reducing the risk of surface water flooding’ was published by the National Infrastructure Committee in November 2022.

Full list of finalists

About the 20 finalists for the Water Discovery Challenge

ACQUIRE (Artificial intelligence and Case based reasoning to improve water QUality Incident REsponse), Mounce Hydrosmart Ltd
The ACQUIRE Project will analyse drinking water quality incident report data from water companies using the latest AI techniques to develop an interactive management tool and online open source portal benefitting the industry and its customers.
Active Pulse Leak Detection, Seal Water Technology Ltd
A new signal transmission technology that doesn’t attenuate, travels at constant sonic velocity and can identify and range leaks as well as pipe features, such as tees and elbows, up to 7.5km in all pipe materials.
An innovative membrane technology for brackish and sea water desalination powered by low-grade waste heat, Waterwhelm Ltd
Waterwhelm will further develop its technology for brackish and sea water desalination powered by low-grade waste heat, enabling energy-efficient and sustainable water supply.
Application of Asset Risk Based Common Methodology to Water Industry Assets, EA Technology
This project will deliver a common framework to evaluate assets and their needs, enabling managers and engineers to maintain the assets in a safe, reliable condition at the lowest possible cost.
Destruction of high impact greenhouse gases and generation of green electricity at wastewater treatment sites using fuel cell technology, Water Research Centre Limited
Our project will develop a low-cost water sensing platform to monitor the quantity and quality of discharges from water company wastewater assets into receiving waters, providing an improved understanding of the impact of these discharges on the environment.
Development of verifiable freshwater analytics framework, Ecosulis Limited
The development of a verifiable framework of analytical metrics, for the aquatic environment, that will allow the end user to quantify the ecosystem uplift of investment activities.
Energy harvesting micro-turbine for powering remote equipment, Vysion Technologies LTD
To power pipeline monitoring equipment, the sector relies on a stopgap solution, using short life, single use, unrecycled, batteries. The project aims to develop an advanced micro-turbine designed for long-term value, that overcomes previous barriers to pipeline energy harvesting.
Fully Structural Spray in Place Pipe (SIPP) lining providing burst protection for high-risk sewage rising mains, Resimac Limited
Our entry focuses on the development of an innovative and highly cost-effective hybrid sewer rehabilitation solution which will combine existing spray lining techniques with cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) technology to deliver a fully structural, spray-in-place rehabilitation solution for existing deteriorating rising sewer mains to reduce bursts and improve network resilience.
Guerrilla is a retrofittable device for membrane-less removal of pollutants from surface water runoff.
Innovative coagulant free phosphorus removal technology, Cranfield University
The phosphorus (P) challenge in the UK remains unsolved and alternatives need to be explored, Cranfield Univerity and Microvi propose the new Bio-mineral P removal (BMPR) technology that offers the benefits of no coagulant use, high effluent quality through operation of an intensified reactor and with convenient P recovery.
Low-cost sensing to improve understanding of storm water discharges, School of Chemistry, University of St Andrews
Our project will develop a low-cost water sensing platform to monitor the quantity and quality of discharges from water company wastewater assets into receiving waters, providing an improved understanding of the impact of these discharges on the environment.
Magnetic nanocomposites for DOC removal from drinking water, Lancaster University
The project addresses an urgent industry need for the removal of steeply increasing concentrations of DOC from peatland-fed raw waters using a sustainable technology based on linearly-scalable oscillatory baffle flow process and innovative nanomagneto-composite sorbents.
Nonthermal 3D plasma – a novel Advanced Oxidation Process for water treatment, ANAMAD Ltd
ANAMAD Ltd. will develop a new kind of advanced oxidative process simultaneously generating UV and reactive oxygen species within a water column, requiring no additional chemicals and consumables and efficiently removing persistent and emerging contaminants in a sustainable way.
Optimising Sustainable Design of Solar PV Systems for Water Pumping Stations: AI-based Package (SolarAI), Riventa Ltd.
Maximising the net present value over a user defined life of solar photo-voltaic designs at pump station locations through an AI based load-shifting computation of the hydraulic network in which the electricity will be consumed.
Reducing sewage overflows through storage in sustainable precast permeable pavements (StoragePave/ Kiacrete), Imperial College London
Our project StoragePave will develop and test a new sustainable and low carbon pavement system that can capture and gradually release stormwater into the sewer network to decrease the frequency and severity of combined sewer overflow events.
Renewable Energy Via Aqueous-phase Reforming, REVAR , ICMEA-UK Ltd
Renewable Energy Via Aqueous-phase Reforming (REVAR) is a highly efficient process taking contaminated wastewater and extracting significant energy content from the organic matter while co-producing clean water that can be recycled into the water industry.
Replacement of chlorination using H2O2 synthesis; for the removal of pathogens and residual disinfection of potable water, Cardiff University
To meet the safe water challenges of tomorrow and contribute to chlorine elimination, we are developing green catalytically generated hydrogen peroxide for potable water disinfection.
senSiteUQ: Sensible Senor Siting, digiLab Solutions Ltd
digiLab is a pioneer in machine learning, using Uncertainty Quantification and optimisation techniques to create a platform for sensor and water data to drive efficiency in the next wave of sensor deployment and monitoring in the wastewater network, ensuring value for water companies and customers.
Novel direct nanofiltration for water purification, INFINITE WATER R&D LIMITED
Development of novel, ultra-low energy, chemical free direct nanofiltration treatment for cost effective and safe water and wastewater purification, targeting the removal of organic matter, micropollutants, PFAS and contaminants of emerging concern (CEC’s).
The Pico-Stream Turbine – Hydropower without the Hassle, The Fish Friendly Hydropower Company Ltd
The Fish Friendly Hydropower Company Ltd is developing the PicoStream Turbine for installation at WWTPs to further efforts to pave a greener and more sustainable future for the UK Water Sector.


About Ofwat’s Innovation Fund 

Ofwat has established a £200 million Innovation Fund to grow the water sector’s capacity to innovate, enabling it to better meet the evolving needs of customers, society and the environment. It is encouraging new ways of working that go beyond business-as-usual innovation practices in the water industry, in particular, increasing and improving collaboration and building partnerships from within and outside the water sector.

The Innovation in Water Challenge, Water Breakthrough Challenge 1, Water Breakthrough Challenge 2, Water Breakthrough Challenge 3, and Water Discovery Challenge were delivered by challenge prize experts Challenge Works in partnership with Arup and Isle Utilities. Following the first three of these (the pilot competitions), Ofwat received 40 submissions in response to its consultation about the future direction of the Fund. In July 2022 Ofwat set out its headline decisions on the approach we will take for the Innovation Fund for 2022-25. Alongside opening Water Breakthrough Challenge 3, Ofwat has published ‘Innovation fund – approach for 2022-25 companion decision document’, which sets out further information on the headline decisions.

Ofwat consulted on its proposal to extend the Innovation Fund beyond 2025 in ‘Creating tomorrow, together: consulting on our methodology for PR24’ and will now consider extending the Fund. Details will be decided later in 2023.

The Innovation Fund forms part of Ofwat’s approach to innovation in the water sector. Ofwat with the Environment Agency and Drinking Water Inspectorate also runs StreamLine, a joint service for innovators and businesses to get informal regulatory advice.

To contact Ofwat’s press office, please call 07458 126271


About Challenge Works

Challenge Works is a global leader in the design and delivery of high-impact challenge prizes that incentivise cutting-edge innovation for social good. In the last 10 years, we have run more than 80 prizes, distributed £84 million in funding and engaged with 12,000 innovators.

Challenge prizes champion open innovation through competition. We specify a problem that needs solving, but not what the solution should be. We offer large cash incentives to encourage diverse innovators to apply their ingenuity to solving the problem. The most promising solutions are rewarded with seed funding and expert capacity building support, so that they can prove their impact and effectiveness. The first or best innovation to solve the problem wins. This approach levels the playing field for unknown and previously untested innovators so that the best ideas, no matter their origin, are brought to bear on the most difficult of global challenges. Visit us at challengeworks.org


About Arup

Dedicated to sustainable development, Arup is a collective of designers, consultants and experts working globally. Founded to be humane and excellent, we collaborate with our clients and partners using imagination, technology, and rigour to shape a better world. Together we help our clients solve their most complex challenges – turning exciting ideas into tangible reality as we strive to find a better way and shape a better world. With a community of over 1700 water professionals, Arup is leading global thinking across key areas like innovation, resilience, net zero carbon and sustainable water management.  Find out more: www.arup.com.


About Isle Utilities

Isle is a global team of independent scientists, engineers, business and regulatory experts with a common drive to make a positive environmental, social and economic impact through the advancement of innovative technologies, solutions and practices.

Our passion and expertise in technology and innovation enables us to connect expertise, investment and inspired ideas across the globe. At the core of all our activities is our ambition to make the world a better place. Find out more: www.isleutilities.com.