Ontario Water News

Innovation UpLIFT: WaterTAP Partners with WRF

L-R: Jeff Moeller, Melissa Meeker, Dr. Peter Gallant, Rick VanSant. Credit: Nick Spector/WaterTAP

As many Canadian startups will testify, the lure of foreign water markets has strong appeal, especially when adoption at home can be hard won. Yet, finding the right inroads to secure exports and partnerships can prove difficult without the proper support. With the announcement made this past fall that WaterTAP is embarking on an exciting new partnership with The Water Research Foundation (WRF), the goal is to alleviate this growing pain.

Based in Denver, Colorado, WRF is a non-profit research foundation which funds research and technology demonstrations that enhance the value of water. WaterTAP will be working closely with WRF through its Leaders Innovation Forum for Technology (LIFT) program.

The natural synergies between the two organizations complement this partnership; both WaterTAP and LIFT focus on advancing water innovation. The LIFT program includes a number of critical components including technology evaluation, policy improvement, communication/training, and a deep network for utility technology and R&D managers.

Through this agreement, they will collaborate in several ways, including identifying new technologies, facilitating pilots and demonstrations, and sharing information and data on technology performance.

WRF is the result of the January 1, 2018 integration of two organizations: the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF) and WRF. Jeff Moeller, Director of Water Technologies at WRF and the WRF manager of the LIFT program, calls this integration a truly one water approach that combines research on wastewater, stormwater, drinking water, and water reuse.

The power of LIFT

This unified vision will also round out the LIFT program, which is a joint WRF and Water Environment Federation (WEF) initiative. For companies beyond the research phase, LIFT accelerates innovation by putting new technology into practice in the water industry.

It isn’t an easy task. For water utilities, trying something new often signals risk. Through its LIFT Utility Working Group, LIFT takes a different approach to this challenge.

“The LIFT Utility Working Group includes about 400 municipal and industrial utility owners in its peer-to-peer innovation network,” Moeller says. “The Working Group allows for engaged discussion among facility owners to share information, expertise, and experiences regarding technologies and priority needs, as well as to collaborate and leverage testing and implementation efforts.”

“While the program’s focus is in North America, we have a significant international presence with members and partners across the globe in Australia, Korea, China, Europe, as well as other regions,” he says.

Another inviting feature in its second year of offering is LIFT’s utility travel scholarship. The LIFT Scholarship Exchange Experience for Innovation & Technology (SEE IT) program is a $30,000 scholarship funded by WRF, WEF, and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA).

“One common complaint from utilities is about limited travel budgets, which can become an impediment to innovation,” Moeller says. “Through LIFT, we remove that barrier. Utilities can fund travel for staff to study innovative solutions in action at other utilities, and help them focus on the more important task of adopting these solutions.”

“Participants also share what they’ve learned with peers and others in the industry through trip reports, presentations, photos and videos,” he says.

Partnering with WaterTAP

Moeller anticipates that the partnership with WaterTAP will spark more cross-border collaborations and opportunities for getting Canadian solutions into the U.S. market, and commends WaterTAP for its pioneering efforts to foster innovation.

“WaterTAP has worked diligently to help support and advance new water innovations in the Ontario region to get these solutions out into the global marketplace,” he says. “That is where I see a real alignment of effort between the two organizations: Ontario is a hub for world-class water technology solutions and we want LIFT members worldwide to benefit widely from these powerful resources.”

The partnership is set to strengthen an already deeply integrated network. To help researchers find proper testbed sites, LIFT has a directory of more than 70 test facilities that are available internationally, and includes the facilities of the Southern Ontario Water Consortium (SOWC).

As well, Moeller hopes that the new alliance will encourage more Canadian companies to take part in its LIFT Technology Scans program and become part of a growing list of LIFT technology companies. “We invite Ontario companies to have their technologies identified, evaluated, and accepted into our online collaboration and innovation platform.”

The platform called LIFT Link offers technology providers an optimal venue for introducing emerging, pre-commercial, and newly commercialized technologies to water facility owners, funders, advisors, end users, consultants, and other industry affiliates.

LIFT Link allows searchable queries based on set criteria. As well, users can contact companies directly and follow a profile page to receive notifications about new technologies, enhancements, and company updates. You can also track who else is following a particular technology.

“If there is considerable interest in a particular technology, there may be an incentive for organizations to partner on a project or demonstration, and share the cost and risk of conducting a pilot of that particular technology,” Moeller says. “LIFT Link can provide an early indication through a devoted following, whether a solution is investable.”

To be eligible for this database, the LIFT Technology Scans program sets up expert panels to review the applications according to stringent criteria and determine whether they are the right fit for the program.

“Our experienced panels review primarily for technical criteria, and provide meaningful feedback throughout the application process,” Moeller says. “Applicants, even those who do not progress beyond the review period, find this aspect especially helpful because of the honest and practical feedback it yields.”

Technologies that are accepted into LIFT are also invited to give presentations to the LIFT Utility Working Group and other WRF subscribers through the Technology Scan Presentation Series, as well as at LIFT workshops, special conference sessions, innovation forums, and other events.

The Ontario perspective

Already, LIFT members from the Ontario water community who are either established or recent inductees are anticipating great things from enrollment and the partnership.

One such seasoned LIFT member is Cambridge-based Lystek International Inc. According to Dr. Ajay Singh, Lystek’s Technical Director, the company participated in the WE&RF and WEF-hosted Intensification of Resource Recovery (IR²) Forum, which took place this past August in New York City. The forum showcases about 30 technologies and Lystek was one of the featured companies.

“LIFT is especially beneficial for the international exposure it provides, and especially in the United States,” Dr. Singh says. “Once the R&D phase is completed, and you need to get from the lab to the field, LIFT is an incredible resource.”

“The WRF webinars are excellent because they have an extensive membership across many municipalities in Canada and the United States,” he says. “Lystek needed to scale up to demonstration scale, and these webinars are partially how our company established its international presence.”

“In the future, if we come up with something new or different, or new applications, WRF is receptive to showcasing these developments,” Dr. Singh says.

As the Head of Policy, Communications and Liaison for the Environmental Services Department for York Region, Don Goodyear says that the municipality recently became a subscriber to WRF and is interested in plugging into an international network of innovation.

“We are really looking forward to participating in LIFT because it will allow us to build new relationships around technological innovation,” Goodyear says. “New technologies really matter to us, and we are always looking to connect with like-minded organizations and companies that share our passion for improving the delivery and treatment of water.”

“To instill a climate of innovation, we want our staff to work in an environment where they are encouraged to continuously learn,” Goodyear says. “The conferences and webinars provide great access to opportunities to learn from subject matter experts.”

“We are also hoping to find opportunities to fund innovative projects,” Goodyear says. “LIFT offers impressive co-funding opportunities, which would be very beneficial to advance research projects.”

“WaterTAP’s partnership with LIFT will bring together expertise and resources that will help turn current water resource challenges into future opportunities,” he says.

WaterTAP looks forward to not only working with WRF and LIFT to improve on existing programming, but exploring other ways to partner on initiatives that will make progress on shared mandates related to water innovation.

To learn more about LIFT, visit the LIFT website here.