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| Water water everywhere

Desalination Plant
As we deal with environmental change, the security of our water supply is becoming one of the most important concerns for mankind. Safe drinking water in particular is neither guaranteed nor universal. In the developing world many millions of people still do not have access, and in Europe water networks are under threat from pollutants like endocrine disruptors and waterborne bacteria.


TECHNEAU is a project within the European Union’s Sixth Framework Programme that seeks to develop innovative and cost-effective strategies and technologies for safe drinking water. It responds to three main EU targets. The first is competitiveness (part of the Lisbon agenda) – developing state of the art technologies that positions Europe as a leader in any given field. The second is a response to the EU’s commitment to the UN Millenium Goals, specifically goal seven (of nine) which seeks to halve the proportion of people around the world without access to drinking water by 2015. A final goal is to improve public health in Europe and a safer and more reliable water supply is a sure way to achieve this.

The TECHNEAU project brings together around 100 researchers from 30 different institutions across the EU and further afield coordinated by Dr Theo van den Hoven of Kiwa Water Research in the Netherlands. The consortium comprises a good balance between research centres (including eight universities and 14 specialised research institutions) and industrial partners (mostly SMEs that have developed innovative technologies).

Launched in January 2006 and with a time span of five years, the project budget totals €19 million, of which €13.2 million is contributed by the European Union. The project has been divided into eight different work areas, with titles ranging from “Rethink the System” to “Operation and Maintenance”. All are devoted to the creation of an integrated source-to-tap approach – the development of technologies for every stage of the water production cycle.

Just a year into the project, Dr van den Hoven can already see the benefits: “working at such a scale definitely adds value, especially as we avoid duplication and instead foster multiplication”. By bringing together a disparate set of researchers – from Norway to South Africa and from Portugal to India – the project avoids the waste of talent incurred when different research teams are conducting the same research. Instead, through cooperation the research teams are invited to find their own niches within the research paradigm and as Dr van den Hoven states, “niches are innovations”.


Early results are already promising. For example, innovative water quality monitors are being developed which include a UV spectrometre and a low-cost biomonitor that uses fish. Desalination is also being researched, building on European state-of-the-art reverse osmosis technologies. At a more general level, TECHNEAU seeks to develop de-centralised and more flexible technological solutions that can respond more effectively to future challenges than the current prevailing system of large water plants and extensive distribution networks. This is especially relevant for developing countries plagued by poorly maintained and deteriorating water systems.

The Riga RTP, October 2006

Innovation means nothing without implementation, and TECHNEAU makes good use of “Regional Technology Platforms” (RTPs) for its dissemination work. These RTPs are regional workshops held around twice a year that bring together TECHNEAU researchers and local stakeholders, such as regulators, utility operators and engineers in a specific region. The first was held in Riga, Estonia in October 2006. The researchers can display what technology is being developed, while the stakeholders can provide feedback about their core preoccupations. In such small ways are partnerships created.

It is early days yet, but what does Dr van den Hoven see as TECHNEAU’s main objectives? “To develop a variety of technologies, that will be broadly adopted and implemented”. In other words, TECHNEAU has the potential to revolutionise the way our water supply is managed. Research results should also feed into the EU policy debate about water – enhanced measurement tools and treatment technologies at our disposal will allow EU legislators to integrate the WHO’s Water Safety Plan into the European drinking water directive. And that will mean higher water security for all of us.



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