6 technologies for rethinking water in food production

Close to one-quarter of all water withdrawals are made by the food industry, with most going toward agricultural uses. Here are some high-tech companies dedicated to tackling the conservation issue.

One of the many topics that I've been covering far more closely in the past 18 months is water conservation initiatives by some of the biggest food and beverage companies around. 

Although this has had far less attention than energy efficiency, it's a really big deal - no water means no product, which means less food. It is in the interest of companies like PepsiCo or Unilever to really focus on how to produce food with far less water. After all, $4 trillion food industry accounts for about one-quarter of all the water withdrawn worldwide - with the most of that going to agriculture, according to widely used estimates.

Technologies that could aid in conservation associated with food are the subject of a new research report from Lux Research, "Farm to Factory: Technology in Reducing Water Risk in the Food and Beverage Industry." 

"Rising real wealth, growing at 5 percent worldwide, is accelerating consumer demand for water-intensive and processed foods at the same time climate change threatens growing and processing practices," said Brent Giles, a Lux senior analyst and the lead author of the report. "Even major supermarkets are now demanding to know whether the food they sell is sustainable."

Some big-name food companies are already taking steps to address their water consumption. One example is Nestle, which recent cut the water used at its pizza products production facility in Little Chute, Wis., by 7.4 million gallons. In the process, it also has diverted its sewer discharge by the same amount. Together, the measures are helping save the facility $50,000 in related processing fees, according to Nestle.  

Nestle used GE's GenGard water treatment system to accomplish its goal, but there are many other companies developing technologies to help businesses with projects such as this.  Here are just six identified in the Lux report (listed in alpabetical order):

AquaSpy - An Indianapolis-based maker of soil monitoring technologies. It checks for both moisture and chemicals. The company is backed by investors including Cultivian Ventures, Espirito Santo Ventures, WHEB Partners, and Emerald Technology Ventures. 

Bilexys - A startup from Brisbane, Australia, focused on wasterwater treatment - and turning recovered waste into valuable chemicals. The company was incubated by UniQuest, a leading Australian company known for helping commercialize technologies.

Capilix - A developer of industrial water monitoring systems that hails from the Netherlands, with a particular focus on the pulp and paper industries. 

Dynamax - Based in Houston, the company provides a wide range of sensors and monitoring solutions that integrate meterological information. It has been around for more than 20 years.

Zim Plant Technology - A German start-up that sells irrigation technologies. Plant water status can be monitored remotely via the Internet.

Emefcy - An Israeli company focused on the energy-water nexus. Its technology centers on waste-water recovery in a much-more energy-efficient manner than is currently available.

Here are some related stories on the topic of water conservation and food production:

GE innovations marry water, energy conservation agendas

Next wave in corporate disclosure: water usage stats

Don't be a drip: Technology for conserving water gets some props

Water Wednesday: PepsiCo, Nature Conservancy share watershed lessons