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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Drones, converting air into water, “systems capable of thinking”… Initiatives against a drought that the rains cannot alleviate

Despite the storms and rains that this first half of September has brought, the data on the dammed water continues to be very worrying. 14.6% of the national territory is in shortage, 27.4% is on alert and the Spanish water reserve is thirstier than normal: in the last two years the reservoirs have reached their worst level since 1995, with basins that drop below 30% of their capacity. The loss of this resource is very dangerous in Spain, but the problem is global. In this context, there are several initiatives launched to alleviate the lack of water… and some with Spanish DNA.

The heart of Stockholm (Sweden) hosted World Water Week at the end of August, the most important annual international event on this issue in the world. It brought together experts in the field and business leaders who try to explore and provide a joint response to the problem of the scarcity of a vital resource. From the Swedish capital, they highlighted the work to find a way to improve water management, betting on technological innovations.

While renewable energy, desalination efforts, the protection of aquifers and dams or the improvement of sewage and sanitation systems are traditionally necessary solutions, changing times demand new measures that seek to employ digitization and artificial intelligence to monitor processes… and create new ways of obtaining water.

Get water from the air

Talk about drought On a planet where 2/3 of the surface is marine it may seem contradictory. However, of all that immensity, only 2.5% is sweet and Only 0.3% is suitable for human consumption. For this reason, companies are born that offer R&D&i alternatives to increase the volume of drinking water.

Under the umbrella of European Union, Genaqa young company from Lucena (Cordova), has developed a technology capable of obtaining pure water from air. “It is a technology for places with little or no availability of water, in remote locations and for human consumption,” he explains to 20 minutes its spokesperson, María Velasco.

Three images that show the current situation in Riotinto, where Greenpeace has reported a possible breakage of one of its large waste ponds.

The company is committed to a very high filtration system that takes advantage of humidity to generate “pure and drinkable water”, and that it has better quality than that extracted from the taps in many parts of Spain, such as “the Levantine coast, the Balearic Islands or the Canary Islands.” Quality, and also lower cost and environmental impact because, according to its promoters, it is cheaper than bottled water and does not use plastic. We must remember that in our country there are populations that suffer water cuts due to lack of supplyand this technology manages to produce up to 5,000 liters a day according to needs and environmental conditions.

This technique can also benefit countries with difficulties in accessing drinking water. “Of all our markets, many are in developing countries,” says Velasco, who believes that this technology is very versatile and could be seen “in a refugee camp or at a construction site.” In this way, it could help alleviate a problem that leaves more than 2 billion people without access to safely managed drinking water services.

“Systems capable of thinking”

Now, there is little point in worrying about how water is reused or new resources are generated if existing ones are not properly treated. Drought is also a consequence of the inefficiency of the water reserve and the data is alarming: as a result of inefficient management, every year 32,000 million cubic meters of drinking water are lost Worldwide, according to a World Bank study. Specifically in Europe, about 23% of the water potable It is lost due to leaking pipes. The problem is obvious and artificial intelligence is presented as an option to solve it.

The Association for Research and Innovation in the Area Mediterranean (Prima, for its acronym in English), made up of 19 countries in the area and supported by European funds from the Horizon 2020 Program, tries to combine innovation, science and efficient management of scarce resources. Marco Orlando is the Project Manager of the Water Administration Area of ​​the international organization and stands out in this newspaper “the benefits of artificial intelligence” for the management of water resources.

“They are systems capable of thinking, which allow the optimization of water infrastructure management processes,” explains this Italian, who also affects the consequent cost and energy reduction employed, and in the undoubted increase in efficiency. For example, in the field of irrigation, algorithms can be designed that control “the needs of the crops at all times to schedule times and volumes of water”, under a “smart agriculture” that relies on remote monitoring and control.

Orlando adds that, while minimizing leaks or avoiding waste is a necessity, the quality Water must also be a problem to deal with. Thus, AI can “intelligently” manage the treatment of wastewater to make it drinkable and even “monitoring systems are used to measure the quality of surface and groundwater.” “This can be achieved through satellite images”, that through parameters and indicators reveal its composition.

Predict the future to avoid damage

Another variable in this equation is the global warming and the extremely high temperatures that accompany it, which can affect the amount of water available to certain populations. In the words of the Prima member, new technological developments make it possible to “forecast changes in climate patterns” so that decisions can be “made regarding water”: “With artificial intelligence you can predict how the climate will affect the availability of water and what pressure it will put on her.

And not only in matters of extreme heat; “incidents can also be anticipated, such as floods or droughts through AI, satellites, drones, sensors…” The member of the foundation highlights that these advances provide “many advantages from the point of view of security”, since thatLocalities where the prediction is unfavorable will be able to prepare in advance the optimal response to a future shortage.

Drones to reduce losses

For the same purpose, a technology is born that could reduce to the half the volume of water waste: an aerial surveillance system aimed at find the leaks with the greatest possible speed and, in this way, minimize losses. This technique would constitute an effective and timely response to the growing shortage, according to the European Comissionwhich already qualifies this technology as “an eagle’s eye for the water”.

Map of loss detection in water transmission systems.
Map of loss detection in water transmission systems.

The project is called ‘WADI’ and, also financed with the European funds of Horizon 2020, is made up of 14 companies from various European countries. One of them is the Spanish Circe Foundation (Center for Research on Energy Resources and Consumption), whose director of Industry and Energy, Eduardo Cembrano, tells this newspaper the main impacts that the drones in water management: “We did some demonstrations to verify the validity of this technology for detecting leaks, with 60 cases, and the success rate was around 70%”.

“A fundamental pillar”

Cembrano assures that “there are more and more companies working on the use of artificial intelligence for water management, not only from drones with images, but with other models and technologies that can help these problems.” The Circe member believes that the use of AI in the management of hydraulic infrastructures will be “a fundamental pillar”.

“If you combine the fact that the problem of water management is increasing and that the use of AI is going to be easier, this is going to boom”

In the field of water treatment, the existence of a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ is notable. “A few years ago there were not many projects working on this technology, and now they are trying to democratize the application of artificial intelligence to quite a few problems that we currently have,” explains the expert, adding that “if we add that the problem of water management is growing and that the use of AI is going to be easier, This is going to boom.”

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