Water innovation

Water innovation

Automotive know-how inspires water innovation

Ricardo’s Water and Environment business unit is already well established as a trusted consultant to the UK water industry. Now, in a radical extension of its thinking, the group is actively seeking to exploit innovation, technology and processes drawn from automotive and other industries for the benefit of its water industry customers.

Water is essential to almost every aspect of life, from the most rural to the most industrialized of societies, as well as to the wider environment and its ecology. Water is required for the health and sanitation of our towns and cities, it is a crucial enabler for vast numbers of manufacturing processes and, most of all, it provides one of the most essential inputs for agriculture
to grow the food that we eat.

Yet with growing urbanization, rising populations and the escalating impacts of climate change, clean fresh water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. Arguably, it now rivals crude oil as the most economically critical commodity of the modern world.

With the Ricardo Group’s long-stated strategic focus on energy and scarce
resources, the acquisition of UK water consultancy Cascade provided a new
level of market presence and capability. From that nucleus, the Ricardo Water and Environment business has quickly expanded and is already going much further, exploring opportunities for applying out-of-sector technologies and innovations for the benefit of its water industry clients.
This radical new thinking draws on the many synergies available from Ricardo’s geographical footprint and presence in a wide range of markets and industries.

“We’re a long-standing consultant and trusted partner of the UK water industry,”  explains Daressa Frodsham, Ricardo director for Water and Environment. “We’re known for our expertise in planning and overseeing complex and sensitive water and environmental projects, and the water industry looks to us for our strong aquatic and terrestrial ecology expertise.
We understand our customers’ issues and constraints, and have a unique perspective on their forward strategy. There are other infrastructure and environmental consultants who are much larger, but what we can offer is a fully independent, technology-astute source of expert advice and assistance that brings in smart systems thinking from outside the water sector.”

Exploiting automotive technology

Automotive development processes and technologies might at first sight seem a million miles removed from those of the water sector – yet there is considerable potential for opportunistic innovation.

The powertrain of a modern car or truck comprises fluid-based processes in both the combustion and coolant systems. Predictive CAE methods enable the simulation and optimization of these fluid processes, and allow the development of advanced control systems working on the principle of monitoring through sensors for temperature, pressure, or the presence
of oxygen, fuel and combustion products.

While water distribution networks exist on a fundamentally different scale, they obey the same laws of physics and can be modelled using essentially the same simulation processes.

Chris Barnes is MD Ricardo Software, and explains how this idea came to fruition at around the time of the acquisition of the business that now forms the kernel of the Ricardo water business unit: “The idea of adapting our commercially available vehicle system modelling product, IGNITE
– which was initially developed for use in the automotive sector – to simulate and optimize water distribution networks arose during pre-acquisition due diligence discussions with members of the water
team. We quickly came to appreciate that the physics, including system dynamics and water quality, of water distribution systems can be modelled and quickly analysed using this tool. We saw a clear synergy potential between automotive and water, and we are now partnering with key clients in the industry to bring the benefits of this technology to the UK water sector.”

Automotive software for strategic water network planning

Working with the water team, Ricardo Software is collaborating on an R&D
project with a major UK water company to adapt the IGNITE system modelling tool to enable the modelling of city and regional water distribution networks. New building-block models are being developed into a library of ‘components’ including reservoirs, pumping stations, abstraction points, treatment works and metered areas.

The next step in the project will be to use the new software tool to model the water distribution network of a mid-sized UK city lying within the water company’s area. This city is projected to have a significant increase in population over the coming years, but is currently heavily reliant upon ground water abstraction, with obvious risks if overused. Once this first region has been modelled, the company intends to extend modelling to
include other zones within its distribution area. The water company intends to use the new water system simulation package, based on IGNITE, as a strategic tool to guide future decisions – such as how and where they will need to replace assets within the network, and where will they secure future water supplies from.

Read the full article in RQ Q4 2017