Drinking water is the core of life’s existence simultaneously spawning large global enterprises and new startups. When scientists explore new planets water is sought first as it is the key ingredient for life formation. The World Bank quotes “Water touches every aspect of development, and it links with nearly every Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). It drives economic growth, supports healthy ecosystems, and is essential and fundamental for life itself”.
Availability and quality challenges in drinking water
Water has multiple usages, not just potability. Drinking, cooking, sanitation, agriculture, industry and power generation, all scour for water. Due to the combination of widely spread human population and insatiable appetite for water consumption, both availability and quality suffers.
With industrial penetration, the quality of water has also deteriorated with contaminants causing illness and increased mortality. Contaminants regularly found in water are;
- Microorganisms like bacteria, virus and cysts.
- Organic compounds like Benzene and volatile organic compounds.
- Inorganic compounds like pesticides, arsenic, lead and mercury.
- Radio nuclides
The attributes which define contamination are the level of turbidity and hardness.
Turbidity – If the water is unclear and cloudy that means the turbidity is high which beyond 1NTU is unsafe for human consumption. Cloudiness is caused by large-sized contaminants like microorganisms and inorganic chemicals which can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Water Hardness – When water contains dissolved minerals like calcium and magnesium on a scale of 250mg/l or more, they create scale in pipes and appliances.
The challenges of getting good quality water for the well heeled has given entrepreneurs the business opportunity in selling packaged drinking water on the go. In this article we explore businesses which enhance the availability, quality and alternatives to consuming water from regular taps.
Drinking Water Businesses
While bottled water is the most visible part of this businesses there are innovations which aid the process of bringing healthy and low cost water. Innovations in home filters, filters at service utilities and monitoring water quality impact the overall drinking water ecosystem.
• Water filters
• Bottled water and its derivatives like enhanced water.
• Natural water substitutes like coconut water.
• Water ATMs
• Water quality and supply monitoring services.
Water Filters – cheaper drinking water?
Home water filters are required in most of the urban areas where water travels long distances through old infrastructure and leaky pipes. It is estimated by the food and agriculture organization of the United Nations that only 71% of the world population has access to contamination-free drinking water. The contaminants vary as per the region, water source, and infrastructure. As different types of filters have differential capacities to remove contaminants the water filter must be chosen for the right filtration requirements. Some types are good in removing chlorine, bad odour, bad tastes, some capable of removing metals and others organic chemicals.
Common types of home water filtration systems are:
1. Sediment Filtration
2. Activated Carbon Block (ACB) Filtration
3. Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) Filtration
4. Reverse Osmosis (RO) Filtration
6. Ion-Exchange (IX)
7. Ultraviolet (UV) Disinfection
8. Ultrafiltration (UF)
9. Activated Alumina (AA) Filtration10.Ionization
Bottled drinking water and its derivatives
Tap water is free and is 2000 times less expensive than bottled water along with a reduction in plastic waste created by disposable water containers, yet as of today, according to research and consulting firm Beverage Marketing Corporation bottled water has already crossed 12.8 billion gallons in retail sales.
Bottled water has steadily overtaken popular drink alternatives like soda and carbonated soft drinks and has arisen as the public at large have become better educated on the problems of too much sugar and calories consumed through these. This has then been compounded by the imposition of sugar taxes in many countries as pressing health issues such as obesity are being combated by local and national governments.
Enhanced Drinking Water – making water more valuable!
This trend for simple drinks that are not hampered by health concerns for the consumer is spilling out into other segments and the sports drink/enhanced water segments are benefiting significantly as innovation has helped push low calorie, less sugar options along with additional benefits not available in plain water. Enhanced water offers sports nutrition and health-focused products, by adding ingredients such as electrolytes or vitamins to enhance the nutritional capacity of plain water. Some of the varieties are;
FitWater is marketed as bottled water for exercise, containing zero sugar but added sodium, calcium, and magnesium to help replenish the loss through sweating and exercise, the product is of a similar make-up to Glaceau’s Smart Water but specifically marketed at active individuals, looking for a simple boosted water product to go with exercise.
One trend just developing is moving alongside the recent developments of increasing legalization of cannabis and hemp-based products. In Europe, the USA and Canada there have been strong movements to allow the growing and selling of cannabis products in various forms.
Several manufacturers both in North America and Europe have started producing water enhanced with CBD oil as a result.
Electrolytes like potassium, magnesium, and calcium are added to plain water for faster hydration after boiling and recondensing it from the steam to kill microbes and eliminate minerals.
Water is infused with sleep-enhancing natural ingredients like melatonin which induces sleep. They are claimed as no-calorie water though they have flavoured for taste.
Vitamins C, E & B, and antioxidants are added to plain water to replenish and energize body vitamins post-workout.
Black coloured Spring Water which is because of the presence of fulvic and humic acid promises to balance the electrolytes needed by the body.
Coconut water is true natural water with its heuristically known benefits. The key is to retain its quality over a long period of time for consumption.
Superfruit and Plant Water
Alternatives to coconut water like Birch, maple, cactus, watermelon and even artichoke waters have entered the market. Aloe water marketed by Coca Cola has been making its presence as a high-profile alternative to coconut water.
It is a Bluetooth-enabled tap water purifier. It consists of a biodegradable water filter faucet made from activated carbon to remove chlorine, lead, microplastics, organic substances, magnesium & agricultural chemicals. Provides a cell phone application that can be used to monitor the filter cartridge status, cost savings made, and order a filter.
Located in Skokie, Illinois, cyclopure uses a proprietary absorbent called DEXSORB made from corn, that removes micropollutants from the water. It also removes compounds like PFOA, PFOS, atrazine, chlorpyrifos, organic synthetics, pharmaceutical compounds, and others.
Puralytics has developed an award-winning water purification technology that uses a light-activated & nanotechnology-coated mesh to disinfect and detoxify water. The purification process uses light energy, either from LEDs or sunlight, to activate an advanced nanotechnology photocatalyst. Water is purified by simultaneous photochemical reactions, breaking apart chemical compounds, reducing and removing heavy metals, and sterilising microorganisms.
The OffGridBox is an independent system that fits entirely inside a 6x6x6 feet shipping container and is equipped with all the hardware needed to produce electricity and clean water. The patented system integrates photovoltaic and wind energy production, and many modular add-ons such as “H2 Block” (a rainwater capture and treatment for domestic use and family agriculture, membrane for the production of hydrogen as a gas for cooking), and “Sea Block” (a desalinator for the seawater desalination). They can be used for different segments (emergency/development, household retail, service to industry).
VitaNourish water has microscopic vitamins that cannot be detected by the human eye. That makes it possible for the multivitamin water to remain clear and odourless with a refreshing taste. The multivitamin water contains vitamins B1, B3, B5, B6, and Vitamin C with the Recommended Daily Allowance.
Drinkwell offers “HIX” (Hybrid Ion Exchange), a patented nanotechnology-based resin platform capable of consistently removing arsenic and fluoride from the world’s most challenging waters thanks to a unique zirconium-based product composition which has a 10x higher affinity for selectively removing impurities such as arsenic and fluoride relative to existing solutions in regions like Bangladesh and India. They operate water ATMs for arsenic and fluoride-affected communities through patented filtration technology, IOT enabled operations and pay-as-you-go cards.
Israeli startup, Lishtot, uses a small portable device called TestDrop Pro, which uses an electrical circuit to detect changes in the current flow because of metals, chemicals, and other contaminants in the water.
This edible water “bottle” was created by UK-based Skipping Rocks Lab in 2013 and has been going through a series of public demonstrations, events, and further testing. The water bubble is made from brown seaweed, one of nature’s most prolific plants having an extremely quick rate of growth. Cheap and easy to harvest, seaweed may be the magic bullet that the packaged drinks industry is praying for since it biodegrades in the soil in six weeks or less. The product is still not commercially available as there are challenges. Branding might be more difficult to introduce since the product is edible. Keeping it clean during storage and transport could require additional packaging. However, this technology does hold tremendous promise as it takes away the biggest issue of disposable packaging requirements of bottled water.
While there is a lot of branding and marketing activities in the enhanced water category, these products have not been successful in crossing the hurdle of value creation in the consumer’s mind. The bottled water category in the developed markets already see a plethora of choices ranging from plain water, spring water, to a mix of soda water creating immense confusion at the point of purchase. Enhanced water adds more fluster with the amount of science they push down the consumer’s throat. Hence startups in the enhanced water category can succeed only when they get picked up by the larger brands like Aloe water which got picked up by Coca Cola.
The home water filter category is a large category as all households will need one with the fear of contamination of all the tap water reaching households. But like bottled water here the challenges are with the diverse range of water purification needs across the globe, due to differences in water based on its regional source. A water filter working in Canada will not work in Bangladesh as the tap water has to be purified of very different contaminants.
There have been many innovations in water purification like a membrane, photocatalysis, nanotechnology, and ultraviolet. Of these, the one which seems to work against most of the contaminants is nanotechnology with its large surface-to-volume ratio of nanoparticles that enhance the adsorption of chemical and biological particles while enabling the separation of contaminants at very low concentrations. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are one of the prominent nanomaterials used in water purification.
Puralytics, a water purification equipment company headquartered in Hillsboro, Oregon, has developed a patented photochemical water purification process using only light energy to activate an advanced nanotechnology photocatalyst. While Puralytics, which was founded in 2007, can’t be classified as a new startup, yet remains nimble because it continues innovation in filtration technology. Having won numerous technology awards, their last funding round was in 2014. While the financials are not available in public the company has stated that it continues to grow year on year and is profitable. Given its technology leadership especially in nanotech, this company is a ripe takeover target in the water filtration space.
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