IBM Dives Into Clean Water Management

IBM is dropping anchor in the water management industry with the development of several new technologies and the launch of a new consulting service targeting utilities.

This is not an entirely new focus for IBM, although it is clearly a deviation from its pure IT heritage. Big Blue has been mulling so-called smart water technologies since at least 2006, when it kicked off its Big Green Innovations initiative with a US$100 million investment.

This latest series of offerings represents a tangible commercialization of the company’s research in this area.

Diagnostic Tools

In the immediate term, IBM is leveraging its know-how in a consulting service for utilities, the IBM Public Sector Energy and Environment Diagnostic. Eventually, the research under way at the IBM Almaden Research Center will be incorporated in services for utilities offered through the new consulting practice.

The consulting service will help government organizations analyze energy and water use in order to develop improvement strategies. It will also provide diagnostic tools to help U.S. federal agencies comply with current environmental requirements.

These include a proprietary Heat Map tool for use in making an initial analysis. This tool breaks organizations down into specific segments, such as finance, operations and procurement, and then analyzes how well each is performing in terms of efficiency, cost and environmental impact.

Specific targets for analysis might be the performance of an environmental management system; the management of renewable resources; the effectiveness of programs to reduce water consumption; the efficiency of waste prevention and recycling programs; the use of sustainability practices in motor fleets and in renovation and construction operations; and the establishment of workforce sustainability programs.

Other services might include sensor data integration, analysis and visualization for the measurement, modeling and management of water levels, usage and quality in natural water resources; sensing systems for managing water infrastructure, such as levee oversight management and flood control; and integration of data between the stakeholders involved in a regional water system.

It’s expected that these services will be offered in tandem with consulting practices and tools that IBM has already developed. For instance, the company already has established a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) Assessment and Benchmarking Utility, a Carbon Tradeoff Modeler, Green Sigma, Environmental Product Lifecycle Management, the Supply Chain Network Optimization Workbench (SNOW), and Strategic Carbon Management.

New Technologies

IBM will also leverage ongoing research in its consulting practices. One particularly promising technology underway is membrane technology that filters out salts and toxins in the water. Membrane filtration is already used to remove salt and improve water quality, of course. However, the ones used today are easily damaged by chlorine, which is typically added to water by utilities to keep bacterial growth at bay. The new membrane is very resistant to chlorine damage.

It was developed by scientists at IBM Research in collaboration with Central Glass of Japan, the King Abdul-aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in Saudi Arabia, and the University of Texas, Austin.

If the technology continues to develop as it currently promises to, it could represent a breakthrough in water management, Bob Allen, manager of the water purification project at the IBM Almaden Research Center, told TechNewsWorld.

“We have demonstrated in the lab a 99.8 percent removal of arsenic — that is very exciting,” he said. “We have a lot of hope for the future use of this material.”

IBM’s Three Reasons

IBM is tapping a growing demand for water management technology among the world’s utilities and governments, Tom Lindley, co-chair ofPerkins Coie’s cleantech practice, told TechNewsWorld.

There are three fundamental drivers for the strategy, he said. “Climate change is changing water patterns. Population growth is driving greater demand for water just as there is less availablebecause of climate change. Costs are the third reason. It takes energy to move water — and as these increase, there will be more and more demand to reduce water use.”

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