Stimulating Innovation: Clean Water Technology Test Sites

Stimulating Innovation: Clean Water Technology Test Sites

OCTOBER 26, 2018

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on water infrastructure. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MA DEP) identified approximately $150 million a year is spent on energy for treatment of water and wastewater across the state, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified water systems as the largest energy consumer, often accounting for 30 to 40 percent of total energy consumed by a municipality. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth is facing a $20.4 billion funding gap for water infrastructure.  

Given these factors, the Commonwealth, through the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), is interested in opportunities to mitigate capital expenditures, lower energy consumption, and drive innovation. The agency hired Woodard & Curran to evaluate the possibility of driving innovation by investing in test centers and fostering an inventive ecosystem. The evaluation included the technical constraints, economic viability, impact of investment and economic sustainability of on-going operations after investment.

Feasibility study focuses on three potential test bed sites

While water treatment facilities operate on reliable methodologies that are familiar to operators and designers, challenges such as emerging contaminants, severe weather, and tightening permit limits, not to mention serious budget constraints, rising energy costs, and competing priorities are testing the limits of these tried and true practices. As an economic development agency, MassCEC is investigating innovation opportunities at water and wastewater treatment facilities. With respect to advancing technology at these facilities, MassCEC hired a team led by Woodard & Curran to conduct a feasibility study for the development of a network of Water Technology Demonstration Centers. The study focused on three potential sites with existing wastewater treatment facilities (WWTFs) that expressed interest in hosting a demonstration center and could potentially offer different scale of testing.  The team evaluated the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center (MASSTC) in Barnstable County, the Wastewater Pilot Plant at University of Massachusetts Amherst campus (UMA), and a pilot plant at Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s (MWRA) Deer Island Treatment Plant (DITP) to determine the feasibility and the investment needed to create a demonstration center at each site. 

Massachusetts is already a leader in education, science, and technology, which makes it well-positioned to establish a network of demonstration centers to pilot new water technologies. Establishing these hubs at existing treatment plants allows emerging water technologies to be tested close to full-scale operation. Testing the technologies in real-time will ultimately attract and accelerate technology developers while providing water system operators with credible, third party validated performance data.  These test centers could play an important role in enabling innovation and expediting the launch of new technologies into the market.

Our team determined the sites would require an investment of anywhere between $1.5 million and $5.3 million.  Under several of the investment scenarios, the centers would produce enough revenue to cover operating expenses through test site rental, sponsored research, events, or platform services. Based on market research, we found such a center for testing innovative approaches would likely attract enough investment from across the water technology ecosystem to support itself. 

Two potential test beds sites already leaders in the field

Each facility in the feasibility study was evaluated based on current operation status, suitability of existing equipment, assessment of facility design, review of mechanical and operations records, and inspection of the building infrastructure. While all three sites had strengths and weaknesses, DITP would not likely attract enough customers to be self-sustaining because it required the largest initial investment, the size of the pilot facility, and other site limitations. Both MASSTC and UMA appeared to be the most practical options, requiring investments of about $1.5 million and $3.9 million respectively and offering the best possibility for economic viability.  Furthermore, these sites are in the best areas to offer economic development opportunities and create a regional impact outside of the job-saturated Boston area.

In addition to the feasibility study findings, it is clear that Massachusetts is already making progress on water technologies. UMA is already the site of innovation in this sector, with professors and graduate students doing pioneering research. The site is already home to one of two national centers for research on small to medium drinking water systems funded by the EPA, including research on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as an emerging contaminant of concern. Similarly, MASSTC has successfully provided a controlled location for testing small on-site systems for nearly two decades with about 30 companies having used the site for National Sanitation Foundation product validation. 

The full report offers myriad scenarios for implementing demonstration centers at all three sites, including a breakdown of potential return on investment. It identified an existing innovation ecosystem that MassCEC could capitalize on through the demonstration centers with many companies looking to demonstrate and commercialize new technology. The final report may help Massachusetts bridge that gap to offering dedicated centers for research organizations and private companies that are working on addressing energy efficient treatment, improved process control, lower cost filtration products, more resilient treatment systems and other opportunities.


Senior Client Manager
Government & Institutional

View All Posts

Enter your email address below for industry news and updates about Woodard & Curran.