Why a water/wastewater industry cluster was established for Ireland
24 November 2015
The water/wastewater industry cluster for Ireland was established in May of 2015 with the facilitation and support of Enterprise Ireland (EI). Approximately 50 attendees were at the establishment meeting of the cluster and these represented SMEs involved in the sector, relevant researchers/third level institutions and other stakeholders, including Irish Water.
Why establish a water/wastewater cluster?
Ireland has good national capability in the water/wastewater area as a result of successive waves of water intensive industrialisation. In the 1970s large dairy and meat processing plants were established, followed by large chemical/pharmaceutical plants in the 1980s and subsequently large ICT manufacturing plants in the 1990s.
All these industry sectors are large water users and consequently large wastewater producers. Water and wastewater treatment technology providers developed to meet the needs of these industry sectors, along with the needs of the expanding market for new municipal water/wastewater treatment plants to meet the needs of an expanding population and stricter environmental controls on discharges.
While there is good capability at national level, much of the capability is fragmented, with individual companies seeking out opportunities on a case-by-case basis and little interaction between key industrial players.
A similar situation occurs in the third level/researcher sphere, where duplication of effort and competition for funding has led to individual institutions operating in isolation from each other despite often complimentary technological capability. Interaction between industry and third level/researchers is (with some notable exceptions) often poor, resulting in sub-optimal innovation within the sector.
The role of the cluster, therefore, is to build collaboration between these disparate elements with a view to:
- Building collaboration between industry players in order to offer a more comprehensive product and service portfolio. This would enable joint ventures of cluster companies to bid for larger projects than companies can currently do on their own;
- Bringing together mainstream water/wastewater companies (that is, those directly involved in the provision of water/wastewater products and services) with those companies in a more peripheral role (for example, those providing software, sensor systems, control systems, mobile workforce management solutions, etc) to provide an extended product and service offering to the market;
- Building closer links between industry and researchers, with a view to driving innovation within the sector. Many industry players are unaware of the capability of researchers in this area and where to go if they need research done, while some researchers are unclear as to the key technical issues for buyers of water/wastewater solutions;
- Offering a comprehensive ‘one stop shop’ for national and international buyers, whereby all national capability in the area can be showcased using a single organisation.
Who is involved in the cluster?
The cluster is open to all those persons and organisations that have a professional involvement in the area of water/wastewater. This includes, but is not limited to, SMEs, researchers, third level institutions and state bodies, including Irish Water. At the moment, the cluster contains 37 SMEs, ranging in size from micro enterprises to our largest company, EPS, which has 350+ employees.
In addition, more than 30 researchers (representing 13 third levels/research centres) are registered to the cluster. It can be said that the cluster includes the vast majority of those organisations involved in the water/wastewater area in Ireland.
EI provides key co-ordination and support for the cluster. The initial establishment was initiated by EI and it continues to be the primary contact point and facilitator. Funding for meetings, workshops and so on is provided, and substantial time resources from Liam Curran and Maureen Barry have been contributed to helping establish and maintain the cluster.
EI will continue to support the cluster until at least May 2016 and will then review the growth and success of the cluster to determine if it is willing to continue to provide financial and other supports.
At the initial meeting a number of key issues were identified as critical to the cluster becoming established and subsequently growing:
- The first of these was a directory of the companies, organisations and researchers involved in the cluster. Work on this is under way and is being managed by Liam Curran;
- The second issue identified was the need for market intelligence regarding the key areas of opportunity for global water/wastewater markets and technologies. To meet this need EI invested in a market intelligence service provided by Bluetech Research. This company, based in Cork, is a cluster member and provides a global market intelligence service for the water/wastewater industry. In addition to providing the service to EI. Cluster members can avail of a reduced rate information service for any specific geography or technology area globally. Bluetech Research has also agreed to provide sectoral information at cluster events aimed at exploring opportunities in specific market areas;
- The third key outcome of the establishment meeting was the setting up of a working group to provide direction and focus for the cluster. This group includes people from the following organisations: EI, DCU, EPS, Response Engineering, Glan Agua, Hydrolight, NIMBUS Centre and Irish Water. This group met once in June and is scheduled to meet again at the end of September. One of the key issues identified by the working group was the need for ‘quick wins’ to maintain interest and momentum among cluster members. One area where quick wins could be obtained was around organising buyer events for the cluster.
Events planned for the cluster
A number of events have been planned for the cluster for late 2015 and 2016. These events have been primarily built around critical existing and emerging markets for companies in the cluster:
- A Turkish water/wastewater market intelligence report launch on September 29. The cluster will be well represented at the publication event. The Turkish market is an emerging one and provides substantial opportunities as Turkey is currently undergoing an EU funded water/wastewater infrastructure upgrade as part of its accession process for EU membership;
- A workshop on October 15 exploring the challenges and opportunities that exist in water/wastewater in the Irish dairy processing sector. This sector is a large water user and therefore a large wastewater producer. Key personnel form various dairy processors including Carbery Milk Products and Lakeland Dairies will be putting forward their critical challenges on water/wastewater and the cluster participants will be offering solutions to those challenges. The advantage of this event for the dairy processors is that practically the entire national capability in water/wastewater will be in a single room, while cluster members will benefit from practising pitching skills in a relatively friendly environment. There will also be a briefing on opportunities in the dairy processing sector in the UK and Bluetech Research will be presenting on challenges and opportunities globally in this sector;
- An inward buyer visit from tier one contractors in the UK water utility market is being organised for February 2016. This will involve senior buyers from this sector putting forward their critical challenges and the Irish cluster addressing these, either at the industrial scale if solutions exist, or at the researcher scale if solutions need to be explored and developed;
- A knowledge event in May 2016 around opportunities in a subsector (as yet undecided) of the UK food/beverage industry. The UK is the primary market for Irish water/wastewater companies and approximately 60 per cent of Irish exports in the sector are to this market. Tightening environmental controls on wastewater discharges, along with voluntary environmental agreements will mean that food/beverage companies are increasingly seeking to reuse treated wastewater – this represents a growth area of opportunity;
- A second inward buyer event in September, focusing on the northern European food/beverage industrial sector. Again, the current challenges will be put to the cluster, with industry buyers seeking technologies and services to meet those challenges;
- Finally, an event will be run at some point in 2016 around innovation and emerging technologies in the water/wastewater area. This will allow the researchers to showcase research projects, but will also look at global innovations and new technologies in the sector.
Links with other organisations
The cluster has established links with other similar organisations in the UK and Scotland and is hoping to work with these organisations in the future:
British Water: http://www.britishwater.co.uk/
UK Water Partnership: http://www.theukwaterpartnership.org/
HydroNation Scotland: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0045/00458322.pdf