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Modern urban wastewater treatment plant. | © Stockphoto/hxdyl

Water Technologies

Germany is home to Europe’s biggest sustainable water management market.

A commitment to sustainable water innovation makes it the continent’s leading exporter of water treatment technologies as well as a major provider of solutions that guarantee higher efficiency and water quality standards for water-intensive industries around the world.

A Selection of Business Opportunities

In Germany, the energy transition, digitalization and growing sustainability is leading to the development of a series of new markets offering growing potential for innovative companies in the sustainable water industry.

Sewage sludge treatment

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. Contact our industry expert for more information. 

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

Micropollutants and microplastics

There is an acute need for cost-effective and energy-efficient solutions to eliminate micropollutants, especially in municipal waste water systems. The introduction of the “fourth purification stage” within treatment plants is currently being tested; applying technologies such as adsorption on active carbon, nanofiltration, and reverse osmosis. Marine litter presents another challenging issue, with several action programs to counter the problem set up under German leadership. The “oceans without polluting waste” national action plan includes efforts to reduce the discharge of microplastic particles.

Adapting to climate change

The minimum cost of not adapting to climate change in Europe has been estimated at EUR 100 billion a year in 2020, rising to EUR 250 billion in 2050. Climate change is creating increased demand for better monitoring of water resources and aquatic systems as well as weather extremes. According to the UBA, more than 90 percent of all major German cities are actively developing concepts and strategies to deal with climate change. Companies offering respective technologies should approach the market now to provide solutions for the future resilient city. The German Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change sets out the optimal framework for projects and investments. Measures and sought-after technologies include optimized water resource monitoring, flood protection (e.g. “sponge city” concepts), rain water, and drinking water management solutions.

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 Bernard, Fraunhofer IOSB, Digitalisierung der Wasserwirtschaft | © 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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