Technical University of Denmark: Students tackle climate challenges in the water sector

International students and startups are taking part in the finals of the Next Generation Water Action initiative with proposals for solving problems caused by drought, water pollution, and lack of drinking water.
Development of new systems for purifying drinking water using sunlight, desalinating water, detecting leaks in pipes, and recycling water used in car washes. These are some of the projects that 11 startups and 10 student projects will present at the finals of Next Generation Water Action (NGWA). The finals will be held at DTU Skylab, and students from India, Korea, Ghana, and Kenya will participate virtually from national events via the Danish embassies in their home countries.

“NGWA is an initiative designed to involve young students in tackling the major climate challenges. It draws on innovations and technologies from participating partners and universities and engages students in solving real-world water problems in the participating countries. This gives the young people a strong international network that can help them on their way,” says Marie Pollmann-Larsen, project manager for NGWA.

Since the initiative was launched in February, the NGWA students have worked on their solutions in a process involving boot camps, coaching sessions, and presentations by experts. The students have formed groups within five challenges posed by both Danish and international companies and organizations in the water sector.

International network
In one of the challenges, the Danish company Grundfos asks the students to offer proposals for recovering scarce or non-renewable resources from wastewater or saltwater streams in order to reduce the environmental impact of water treatment processes. In another challenge, Rambøll calls for suggestions for how a city like Rio de Janeiro, with a huge informal sector and a growing population, can adapt to a changing climate when official data sets are not sufficient to carry out a risk assessment.

All 100 students will take part in the semi-finals on 12 May, when 10 projects will be selected for the finals on 18 May. In the finals, the students will compete to become the best Danish and best international student groups, and there are similar categories for the startups that are part of the initiative. Six winners will receive grants to participate in the 2022 World Water Congress, including travel, accommodation, and conference access for all the days, and thus a platform to further develop their projects and strengthen their network in the water sector.

While many countries and regions are plagued by water shortages, other countries have too much water. Or rather too much water in the wrong places – and often too suddenly. Flooding is a well-known problem, but climate change and urbanisation have moved the problems to new areas and significantly increased their impact.

The total bill for claims in connection with flooding for insurance companies in the EU over the past 15 years totals EUR 25 billion according to the European Commission. There has been a growing trend over the period, so the annual cost is now almost EUR 5 billion. According to the European Environment Agency, this figure will increase five-fold towards 2050.

In view of the high costs and human tragedies, it is not surprising that handling water from cloudbursts and other flooding is high on the international agenda. This also applies to rising sea water levels and storm floods, as well as the particular problem of sea water penetrating the aquifer, so that in many places the water table is almost permanently high, which means that the increased volumes of rainwater are unable to penetrate deep into the underground.
Read more in DTU’s Sector Development Report ”Lad vand og data strømme” (“Let water and data flow”).

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