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“Water is a matter of life or death for humanity”

water in glass
Published Feb 02, 2021

Saving water, tracing Covid-19, growing food in the sea and tracking down leaks in water pipes. These are a few of the WaterCentre@KTH projects aimed at securing future access to water for society.
“We are looking to ensure society is able to manage water resources in the best possible ways,” says Centre Director David Nilsson.

A shortage of clean fresh water is one of the crucial challenges for future societies. During the drought in 2018, a third of municipalities in Sweden reported that they were experiencing an inadequate supply of drinking water.

“Similar situations are likely to arise in the future, and we want to drive development towards reducing water consumption in general, not least in our households,” says Nilsson.

David Nilsson portrait
“Everyone on the planet is dependent on water. Access to water is one of the life or death issues for humanity, and is closely linked to politics, economics and climate change,” says David Nilsson, Director of WaterCentre@KTH.

WaterCentre@KTH aims to help research groups in society come in contact with each other and mobilise their combined know-how in different water projects.

“For example, we have helped start tactical systems for water recycling on seven islands in the Baltic Sea , where they are testing measures such as using rainwater or treated wastewater to flush WCs. In Sweden, we are wasteful with resources in flushing the loo with clean drinking water, which is something we want to change,” says Nilsson.

“We want to find practical processes to save water that can also be used in urban environments in the future.”

In another WaterCentre@KTH project, risks of leaks in water mains in big city regions  are being mapped. Surveys show that large volumes of water are disappearing from water systems – according to Nilsson, over 20 percent of the water in the Municipality of Stockholm does not reach end users.

“This can be due to bad connections, faulty valves, old pipes, the oldest pipes still in use in Stockholm are over 150 years old. Together with Stockholm Vatten och Avfall (Water & Waste) we are developing digital tools that can be used to explain and predict where leaks can be a risk.”

Seawater is a resource to count on to produce enough food to feed the growing world population.

In partnership with Kristineberg Marine Research Centre, researchers at WaterCentre@KTH are pursuing projects such as Algaculture for food production.
In yet another project, energy technology researchers are engaged in analysing the thermal energy in urban water systems, and investigating what would happen if this energy were recycled for use in society.

At Hammarby Sjöstadsverk,  an experimental water treatment plant that KTH owns and operates in partnership with IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, new technologies are being developed that enable purified wastewater to be transformed into nutrients, energy and water.

Wastewater can predict virus outbreaks

Wastewater has also proven to be a potentially valuable asset in mapping the spread of viruses  in society in association with epidemics and pandemics. Since March 2020, researchers have been analysing wastewater to measure levels of coronavirus in it.

“Thanks to our existing partnership with Region Stockholm we can continue this Covid project up until summer 2021. If the virus measurements prove to work, this can mean we won’t need to test a million people in future and process millions of samples to be able to map infections in society,” says Nilsson.

“We will also then be able to see when the rate of transmission is decreasing, which will make it easier to ease restrictions and recommendations at the right time.”

Nilsson has been Director of WaterCentre@KTH since the start in 2017, and has been working with practical water and environment research for over 25 years, including ten years abroad with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

“We can learn a great deal from countries where water is in much shorter supply and the conditions worse, such as Uganda, Kenya and India, where urban environments are rapidly expanding. An incredible number of small, local innovation  projects within water technology are being created there, very largely thanks to not sticking to society’s standard solutions.”

Katarina Ahlfort
Photo: Unsplash, KTH

About WaterCentre@KTH

• WaterCentre@KTH started in 2017, thanks to an initial investment of SEK 10 million from KTH. The centre is currently running 14 projects for KTH and partners, totalling SEK 128 million.
• The Centre operates within four transversal theme areas:
• Digitalisation
• Decentralised solutions
• Circular water management
• Marine science and innovation
Report on WaterCentre@KTH activities during its first four years 2017-2020
Information page about WaterCentre@KTH

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Last changed: Feb 02, 2021