(Invited) Intelligent Innovation in the Water Sector.  Opportunities and Challenges in Sensor Design for the Drinking and Wastewater Markets

Tuesday, 3 October 2017: 08:00
Chesapeake J (Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center)
D. Kroll, C. Salzer, R. Young, and V. Rajasekharan (Hach)
The water and wastewater industries face many challenges in providing safe drinking water, sanitary services and environmental protection to the public. The dynamic nature of our water systems along with new regulations, emerging contaminants and increasing environmental concerns combined with the constant pressure to reduce operating costs and conserve energy make the development of sensors for the water industry a field ripe with opportunity. As with all areas of opportunity, to be successful in developing sensors for the water industry there are hurdles to overcome and pitfalls to be avoided.

Harsh environmental conditions in wastewater sensor deployment scenarios are a given, but, the severe conditions commonly encountered in drinking water applications are often not addressed with the diligence that they merit. Factors such as debris in the pipes, turbidity, fluctuating pH, various types and levels of disinfectants and other water treatment chemicals; fluctuating redox conditions and variable conductivity are just a few of the complicating elements that can hamper sensor development. Once a sensor has been developed the last hurdle has been by no means cleared.

The water industry is a notoriously reactionary group. The barriers to change are extremely large and adoption curves for new technologies tend to be extremely slow. One of the chief factors in these slow adoption rates is the glacial pace of regulatory acceptance of new methods. Even for measurements not taken for reporting purposes, the industry tends to favor methods that have EPA or other regulatory body approval. Unfortunately, this approval process can take several years (2 to 3 years for drinking water and up to 7 years for wastewater applications). There are several industry initiatives sponsored by groups, such as the Water Environment Federation, that are attempting to speed up the innovation curve in the water industry but these groups are just beginning to act and it is unknown if they will meet with success.

In this presentation, the above constraints will be discussed, as well as others, which are commonly encountered in the research and development cycle for sensors tailored to the water industry. Examples of obstacles encountered in a recent development project initiated for the use of nano-fibers in sensors for the water industry will be utilized to illustrate various points. A thorough knowledge of the technological pitfalls to be avoided as well as an understanding of the market and regulatory forces that can come into play in this market arena will lead to the development of robust sensors that serve the industry and help to ensure developers of a reasonable return on investment.