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Today, more than 780 million people worldwide lack access to clean water and 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation. According to the World Water Council, within two decades the demand for fresh water could exceed the supply by 40 per cent.
Firms that operate in Ontario, Canada are perfectly positioned to lead the global effort to develop innovative water treatment technologies. In fact, two of the world's most widely employed water treatment solutions - UV disinfection and membrane filtration - were invented here. By leveraging Ontario's positive business climate, generous R&D incentives, market access, and highly skilled labour force, and government support, Ontario companies have been able to launch many smart water breakthroughs. One such company that is emerging as an innovation leader in creating such technologies is newterra Ltd.
Many traditional municipal sewage and water systems throughout the world currently operate at capacity. Those systems require efficient, cost-effective solutions to handle increasing demands for clean water. Of additional concern in remote communities is an increasing focus on environmental responsibility and "green thinking" when it comes to water treatment. Without water a diminishing global resource and wastewater treatment, economic growth in densely populated as well as remote areas will stagnate.
According to U.S.-based technology and business analytics firm BCC Research, the worldwide water and wastewater treatment market is worth about $100 billion. A growing portion of this market is for portable, modular water treatment systems required to efficiently service remote resource industries, such as mining and oil operations, as well as for municipal, industrial and agricultural infrastructures.
newterra initially earned its reputation as a leading North American provider of groundwater remediation systems. Based in Ontario, it then expanded into waste and water treatment. Determined to control its own supply chain from design to installation and service, newterra acquired its German membrane supplier in 2011.
The firm currently employs over 170 people and expects to double its exports, workforce and revenues over the next three to five years. It has been recognized as one of Deloitte's 50 best managed companies for the past six consecutive years, and the firm is a big reason why Ontario is regarded as a global leader in wastewater treatment technology.
Based on membrane bioreactor technology (originally developed by ZENON, another Ontario company), newterra developed membranes (with a pore size of 0.04 microns) so small that no further filtration is required before water is re-used or returned to the environment. As a result, facilities reusing the treated wastewater can conserve water efficiently and economically. As an added bonus, the treated water also exceeds World Health Organization standards. "It's clean enough to drink," says company CEO Bruce Lounsbury.
The newterra approach also offers flexibility. As a particular resource development shifts locations, the treatment modules are easy to disassemble, transport and then put back together again. Mining companies from around the world, especially in South America and Africa, have adopted newterra's unique products. The company now has more than 4,000 installations worldwide.
In seeking new markets, newterra realized it had competitive advantages even beyond the actual membrane technology it had developed. Ontario's track record in wastewater treatment and water innovation creates "momentum," says Lounsbury. He explains: "Successful companies attract top students. As a result, the province has a great workforce with graduates from great schools."
Lounsbury notes that excellent government support, both from the Ontario and federal governments, made the province an ideal place for his company to establish a beachhead to take on global markets.
Lounsbury also cites Ontario's location and close proximity to major U.S. urban markets as a great strategic advantage. "We can easily access any North American supplier," he says. "And when we shipped to Zambia, we only had to put our products on a truck for a few hours to Montreal and then on a ship to Africa. No problem."
November 19, 2013
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All figures are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise noted. Information is accurate at the time of publication.