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Modern urban wastewater treatment plant. Modern urban wastewater treatment plant. | © Stockphoto/hxdyl

Water Technologies

More than EUR 110 billion of investment since 1990, an annual export volume of EUR 977 million (2015 & 2016) and a world market share of 11% (2016) – the prospects for German water technologies are bright. Climate change, demographic effects, exploitation of natural resources, digitization, and changing requirements in water-intensive industries are directly impacting the sustainability of water systems, creating demand for new solutions that improve efficiency and water quality standards.

Latest Publication

Datum_MockUp_Factsheet_1340x754 Fact Sheet Environmental Technologies in Germany

Fact Sheet - Environmental Technologies in Germany

A long tradition in environmental technologies aligned to pioneering environmental policy and a supportive legal framework have helped establish Germany as a leading green economy player and home to one of the most advanced environmental technologies markets worldwide.

KA International - Special Edition 2018 - 2019 KA International - Special Edition 2018 - 2019 | © DWA

KA International Special Edition 2018/19 [pdf]

The Fight Against Climate Change as an Opportunity in Germany? Current Developments and Further Needs where Water is in Excess

by Flérida Regueira Cortizo, Annika Förster, Michael Schnabel and Daniela Vaziri (GTAI - Berlin/Germany)

The German Water Industry

Market Development

Germany is the top location for the development of sustainable water innovations and Europe’s largest exporter of water and wastewater technologies with an export volume of EUR 1.1 billion in 2018 (VDMA, 2019). The German market for sustainable water management is the largest in Europe, with water supply and waste water treatment alone worth approximately EUR 17.2 billion annually, which is 15.2 % of the global market volume (VDMA, 2019). Research and development opportunities can be found throughout the country.

Legal Framework

German water protection policy makes legal provisions for the maintenance of good-quality water bodies, the adequate supply of both drinking and supply water in terms of quality and quantity, and the long-term securing of water for public use. The Federal Water Act and corresponding regulations such as the Wastewater Charges Act (AbwAG), the Drinking Water Ordinance (TrinkwV), and the Waste Water Ordinance (AbwV), as well as a number of local federal state provisions, create the legal basis for transboundary and sustainable water management.

A Selection of Business Opportunities

A selection of business opportunities at a glance: sewage sludge treatment

In 2014, 38 percent of the sewage sludge generated in Germany was used in agriculture. (Federal Statistical Office, 2017). Germany’s sewage sludge ordinance (AbfKlärV) regulates the application of sewage sludge on agriculturally or horticulturally used soils. It lays down conditions for its use, maximum pollutant contents, and monitoring standards. According to the ordinance, the application of sewage sludge for fertilization will be terminated and the recovery of phosphor and other nutrients will become compulsory.

Key points in the ordinance include:

  • Further significant reduction of pollutants in soil
  • Phosphorus recovery
  • Comprehensive requirements for phosphorus recovery: Duty to recover phosphorus as of 2029 for wastewater treatment plants covering more than 100,000 inhabitants; Duty to recover phosphorus as of 2032 for wastewater treatment plants covering more than 50,000 inhabitants
  • Exception from the duty to recover: Sewage with a low phosphorus content (< 20 g phosphorus per kg sewage; dry weight)
  • No specific recovery technologies are defined. This leaves scope for the application and development of innovative recovery procedures.

The new provisions of the amended ordinance have led to high demand for new sewage treatment solutions. This is the right time to approach this market in Germany.

Sewage Treatment in Germany
Sewage Treatment in Germany | © GTAI calculations based on Federal Statistics Office 2016

A selection of business opportunities at a glance: fishing for litter

Numerous resolutions and action programs have been adopted on several political levels to tackle marine litter.

Under German leadership, action programs were set up in 2016 and 2017. Those included several research activities such as PLAWES, a new project jointly coordinated by the University of Bayreuth and the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), which investigates microplastics contamination across ecosystems. For the first time, all scientific data published on marine litter was compiled in a single, comprehensive database called Litterbase ( Furthermore, Germany established a national action plan called “Oceans Without Polluting Waste”.

The plan includes:

  • The reduction of existing waste via the “Fishing for Litter” initiative. To date 14 harbors in the German North and Baltic seas have joined the initiative (UBA, 2017).
  • Reduction of emissions and discharges of microplastics particles. The plan aims to abolish the use of microplastics in cosmetics by 2020 at the latest (UBA, 2017).

Lastly, the federal government and the federal states have set up a round table with government representatives and specialists, scientific organizations, and fishery and environmental associations with the aim of combatting marine litter. There is therefore no better time to approach the German market along the entire water value chain.

Interview: Drinking Water Safety - Water 4.0 in Germany

Germany Trade & Invest’s Anne Bräutigam and Flérida Regueira Cortizo spoke to Dr. Thomas Bernard of the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB about opportunities being created by digitalization and international cooperation in Germany’s drinking water sector.

Thomas Bernard, Fraunhofer IOSB, Digitalisierung der Wasserwirtschaft Thomas Bernhard | © Fraunhofer IOSB

Drinking Water Safety - Water 4.0 in Germany from the Perspective of the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB

Concepts and software solutions for monitoring and optimizing drinking water 

GTAI: Mr. Bernard, you are the Group Leader of Process Control and Data Analysis in the Department of Systems for Measurement, Control and Diagnosis (MRD) at the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB in Karlsruhe.

What concepts and software solutions are being developed in your research group to monitor drinking water infrastructures and optimize operational management?

Dr. Thomas Bernard: On the one hand, we develop solutions to clearly visualize or communicate measurement data, key figures, reports, and special events (e.g. alarms). Here, we partly rely on commercial software (Tableau for example), but we also do a lot of programming ourselves. It is essential that these software solutions can be used with a normal internet browser and that they are easy to use. On the other hand, our focus is on automated data analysis. Machine learning or artificial intelligence (AI) methods are also used here. These solutions are usually based on powerful, freely available software libraries. Using these data analysis tools, forecast models, for example, are generated and constantly updated. The forecast data is then visualized on the one hand, and on the other the data can be used by other modules – for example to issue warnings at an early stage or to optimize network operation.

It is becoming increasingly important to aggregate information automatically and make it available to the user in report form. These reports must be very much tailored to the respective user. For example, management is more interested in aggregated key figures, whereas is also important for operating personnel to be able to understand plant faults in detail for example.

Potential and challenges of the water industry

GTAI: Is the potential offered by digitization currently being fully exploited in the water industry? Where do the challenges lie?

Dr. Thomas Bernard: Many potentials of digitalization currently remain untapped. The degree of automation in the water industry is actually very high. However, it can be seen that very many plants or network areas operate in "isolated mode." Although these plants or network areas are functioning, it has nevertheless been difficult to analyze or optimize these systems across the board because the data is usually stored separately. Therefore a major task lies in combining the data from different plants or network areas. Another major task is the development of tools and methods that enable the user to efficiently evaluate and use this very extensive data, for example, through the automatically generated reports previously mentioned. There is a great need for customized tools (we are working on such solutions in the Federal Ministry of Education and Research “W-Net4.0” project for example). Over and above this, there is a need for more training of employees in the field of data analysis - or even the recruitment of appropriate specialist personnel, i.e. “data scientists.” However, they are very much in great demand and only the large water utilities will be able to afford them.

Expectations and achievements of collaborations

GTAI: International networking is, without doubt, one of the hallmarks of the German R&D landscape. The subject of the German-French  “SMaRT-Online” and “ResiWater” projects – which involved Fraunhofer IOSB and the Institut National de Recherche en Sciences et Technologies pour I`Environnement et I`Agriculture (Irstea - Bordeaux Centre) amongst others – was the development of an early warning and safety management system.

What do you expect from such a collaboration? What would you like to achieve in the end?

Dr. Thomas Bernard: These German-French research projects were funded in Germany by the BMBF. The overall objective was to develop and investigate new methods and tools for the protection of critical infrastructures - especially drinking water networks. Synergy effects were to be leveraged through cooperation with French research institutions and major water utilities from Strasbourg and Paris. For example, at that time numerous sensors (flow, pressure and water quality) were already installed in the drinking water networks of Strasbourg and Paris. We were able to use these data in the project and develop appropriate models and analysis methods based on them. The goal of these research projects is, after all, to jointly develop new knowledge, new methods and tools. However, the final product development and operational implementation after the end of the research projects usually takes place separately in each country.

Chances and opportunities for water supply companies

GTAI: Do both foreign manufacturers of digital sensors for online water-monitoring systems and consulting companies offering customized concepts for small and medium-sized water supply companies have a chance in the German market? Where do you still see opportunities for new players? 

Dr. Thomas Bernard: At the moment there is a strong trend for sensor manufacturers to also offer corresponding data portals and evaluation systems as a complete package. I think it is crucially important for foreign manufacturers to establish very good sales and support in Germany. Experiences from our projects show that the requirements and prerequisites at the different water utilities can vary greatly. This concerns the selection of the sensors (adapted to the respective installation conditions), the installation and commissioning of the sensor technology as well as the visualization of the sensor data by means of dashboards up to the use of the data (leakage monitoring or consumption prognosis for example). I see opportunities here, especially for players who can cover the entire spectrum in a service package.

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