Ofwat’s Water Breakthrough Challenge winners announced


Water regulator Ofwat has awarded £5.2m to innovative projects using new technology and cross-sector collaborations to improve water quality, reduce pollution and enhance services for consumers as part of its Water Breakthrough Challenge.

The Water Breakthrough Challenge is part of a series of competitions from Ofwat, designed to drive innovation and collaboration in the sector to benefit individuals, society and the environment, is run by Nesta Challenges with Arup and Isle Utilities.

Harry Armstrong, Director of Ofwat, commented: “It is great to see the water sector deliver more exciting and impactful projects through this round of Ofwat’s Water Breakthrough Challenge.

“The winners all have huge potential to benefit people, society and the natural environment. I’m excited to see these projects become reality and start to make a real difference in the way we do things.”

13 projects will benefit from the first tranche of awards, known as the “Catalyst Stream”, which include:

  • A HERU for Screenings – Led by Severn Trent – £198,144
    The Home Energy Recovery Unit (HERU) is a waste recovery system developed to manage domestic and commercial waste on site. About the size of a chest freezer, this solution uses heat pipe technology developed from satellites, to turn screenings into energy, that can be recycled.


  • Unlocking digital twins – Led by Thames Water – £334,800
    A ‘digital twin’ is a virtual representation of a water company’s physical assets or processes, for example a digital version of its pipe network and water treatment process. Water companies use these digital twins to unlock new data-driven innovations, which can improve their services and how they manage their networks for the benefit of customers. More companies are using digital twins but there is no agreed standard model and process for creating them, which has the potential to create inefficiencies, reduce the value delivered by these systems and increase costs. This project will create standards to support consistent digital twins throughout the industry.


  • Catalysing a NET-ZERO future – Led by Severn Trent – £762,447
    One of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from the water industry is nitrous oxide – 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It’s produced by bacteria that plays a vital role in removing toxic ammonia from wastewater. If ammonia isn’t removed, it damages aquatic life. Recently researchers have identified naturally occurring bacteria that can remove ammonia without producing nitrous oxide but these don’t ordinarily thrive in treatment plants. This project will develop innovative techniques for capturing these game-changing bacteria and putting them to work in our existing treatment processes.

The Water Breakthrough Challenge is a £39 million competition split into two streams: the £5.2m Catalyst Stream and the £34m Transform Stream, where funding will be awarded later in the spring.

Both competitions are a part of Ofwat’s £200m Water Innovation Fund.

A full list of the winning projects is available on the Ofwat website.