Industrial symbiosis: Innovation for the water sector

Ofwat, the water sector regulator in England and Wales, launched an innovation fund to stimulate environmental sustainability within Water and Sewerage Companies (WASCs).

The aim

International Synergies secured funding to explore innovative ways to re-use water industry wastes and by-products as inputs into other processes through industrial symbiosis.

The project was led by United Utilities and supported by Severn Trent Water, Welsh Water, International Synergies Ltd and Jacobs. This methodology keeps resources in productive use for longer, reducing the need for virgin material, a key principle of the circular economy. The approach improves resource efficiency within WASCs that in turn leads to enhanced operating margins and environment benefits from reduced waste and lower embodied carbon emissions (including Scope 3).

The result

International Synergies’ resource efficiency experts worked with UU employees and their supply chain to identify potential savings available through an industrial symbiosis approach for United Utilities’ capital delivery projects. Data gathered were analysed through use of International Synergies’ licenced resource matching database SYNERGie®4Water ™.  The following potential was identified over the course of 13 months’ capital delivery activity:

  • 57,500 tCO2e embodied carbon emission reduction through averted virgin material usage
  • 82 tCO2e embodied carbon emission reduction through landfill material diversion
  • £13.5 million cost saving through lower material purchase outlay
  • £1.2 million cost saving through lower landfill material diversion

The pilot also engaged with procurement teams within United Utilities to adapt their systems for industrial symbiosis. United Utilities identified and realised opportunities to divert material otherwise destined for landfill, reduce virgin material purchases and reduce embodied carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, evidencing the importance of the industrial symbiosis approach to an innovative and collaborative water sector.

During the life of the project, some of the opportunities were able to be advanced, with some being completed and some having alternative outcomes. One synergy identified unused resources  (including rigid drain duct, Hareas fence panels and PCC manhole rings) that could be used at Mere Brow WWTP and Station Road project, resulted in a savings (avoided cost of purchase) of £22,796 97 tonnes of CO2 avoided and 30 tonnes avoided landfill.

A further synergy planned to transfer concrete between Rossendale and the Vyrnwy Aqueduct renewal scheme was abandoned when the concrete processor agreed to pay £50 per tonne to the CDP if they could keep the resource and sell it on themselves. The potential reuse resulted in an income of £50,000 in addition to savings from avoided processing and transport costs.

Further plans

The water sector regards circular economy thinking as a key enabler to achieving economic, social and environmental value. Previous work in this area by UU has included the creation of a Roadmap for Circular Economy and inclusion in the company’ Environmental Policy Statement.

UU plans for Net Zero Carbon by 2030 in support of Water UK’s Net Zero 2030 Routemap (2020) and has set ambitions and targets to reduce emissions from construction services suppliers and other scope 3 emissions. UU has also embarked on a programme to determine carbon decision making approaches across UU business as an illustration for the wider water sector.

Adopting IS approaches will support wider Net Zero Carbon ambitions in several ways including providing opportunities to reduce Scope 3 emissions and an evidence base of quantified impacts.

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