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Stockholm Water Prize awarded to virtual water innovator

22/01/2009

  • Water
  • Sweden

Professor John Anthony Allan has been awarded the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize in recognition of his contribution to the water sector. He pioneered the concept of ‘virtual water’.

A leading expert on global water resources, Professor Allan from King's College London received the annual Stockholm Water Prize in recognition of pioneering work on key concepts that have improved the understanding and dialogue on water issues globally. He has been at the forefront of highlighting the link between water resources and agriculture, climate change, economics and politics. The award was presented during the annual World Water Week, held by the Stockholm Water Institute from 17 to 23 August.

Professor Allan developed the virtual water concept in 1993. It involves measuring how water is embedded in the production and trade of food and consumer products. By using this form of measurement, the amount of virtual water in a product may be calculated. For example, 140 litres of water are required to grow, process, package and ship the coffee beans used for one cup of coffee. This is equivalent to the daily amount used by an average person in England for drinking and household needs.

Figures on the amount of virtual water in goods can indicate which nations consume the most. For example, per capita, Americans consume 6,800 litres of virtual water a day, while a person in China only consumes a third of that. Professor Allan also pioneered the 'problemshed' concept, emphasising that the most serious threats to water can be remedied outside the water sector.

Virtual water has had a major impact on global trade policy and research especially in water-scarce regions. It has also opened the door to more productive water use. The lesson that virtual water teaches is that water and food security can be enhanced when water-intensive commodities are traded from places where their production is viable.

More information:

Stockholm Water Prize

The Stockholm Water Prize has been presented annually by the Stockholm International Water Institute since 1991. The award is given to individuals or organisations for outstanding water-related activities. These activities can cover education and awareness raising, human and international relations, research, water management and water-related aid. The Prize Laureate receives $150,000 and a glass sculpture.

More information: http://www.siwi.org/sa/node.asp?node=53

The water footprint of energy consumption

A recent study set out to define the relationship between water and energy, especially between water and biomass for energy purposes. Results show large differences between the average water footprint (WF) of non-renewable energy carriers on the one hand and the average WF of energy from biomass on the other. But the WF of hydropower is also substantial. The WF of non-renewable energy carriers increases in the following order: uranium, natural gas, coal and finally crude oil, which shows a WF ten times that of the WF of uranium. Within the category of biomass for energy purposes, differences are even larger. These differences are caused by differences in crop characteristics, agricultural production situations, climatic circumstances, as well as by local factors. For example, the WF per unit of energy of cotton grown in Zimbabwe is forty times the WF of maize grown in the Netherlands. Biomass grown for energy purposes, such as poplar, miscanthus or winter oilseed rape, do not show more favourable WFs than food crops, such as, for example, maize.

The study showed that the WF of energy from biomass is 70 to 400 times larger than the WF of a mix of energy from non-renewable sources. The current and future economic development causes an ever increasing need for natural resources, such as freshwater. A shift towards CO2-neutral energy carriers, as promoted to decrease the impact of fossil energy on the climate system, will bring with it a need for more water. The concept of the WF and the results for biomass have led to new insights with respect to the large impact of energy from biomass on the use of fresh water resources. This knowledge can be a valuable contribution to research concerning energy needs and fresh water availability for the near future.

More information:

The Water Footprint of Energy Consumption: an Assessment of Water Requirements of Primary energy Carriers; Gerbens-Leenes, Hoehstra, van der Meer; ISESCO Science and Technology Vision, 4(5), pp 38-42 http://ww3.isesco.org/www.isesco.org/ISESCO-technology