Ilse Korsvang, Head of Group, Danish Water Technology Group

©Danish Export Association

What are the areas where Danish water companies excel?
We are working a lot on wastewater treatment seeing it as a resource, to recapture and reuse. Nothing is waste; it is energy in another form that you can transfer to something useful. In Denmark we only use 106 litres of water per person a day, which is very low and we want to reduce this further. This is part of the DNA of companies like Grundfos, in that we are always considering how to lower water and energy consumption. An important aspect is to make solutions which are not just technical solutions but are solutions that can ameliorate people’s life in general.
We are very strong on things like SkyTEM Surveys. This came out of the University of Aarhus, where they developed a system to be able to measure and monitor the groundwater supplies down to a depth of 400 metres. They can fly over an area and locate the aquifers. We’ve covered most of Denmark so we know where most of our groundwater reserves are positioned and can therefore protect them.

In Denmark we only use 106 LItres of water per person a DAY, which is very low and we want to reduce this further

Is leakage a major problem?
Even countries close to us, some of them waste 30 percent of their water; we are down to 5 to 6 percent. We are very good at leakage reduction and repairing pipes through nodic repairing–without digging up city streets, which means a lot both socially and economically. One version of this technology is to send a robot into the pipes and another is placing a stocking or a lining inside the pipe. We have very old pipes but we have solved this leakage problem. There are a lot of water-scarce places where this could be used like California and Australia.
Do you often see one technological solution then being applied to another problem?
That is very much the Danish view on things; what we call a holistic approach, to not only solve the problem but to create something bigger. Very good examples include creating areas for people and children to play, and parks for recreational use together with the actual water solutions.
Is the next step utilising biodiversity into these solutions?
There is very much a view of going back to nature and looking into things we were using previously. In Aarhus at Braband Lake they built a recreational area with lots of success. It’s being used by many people and at the same time it’s solving some of the water problems which previously existed in the city.
In which countries or regions are you seeing the most growth?
The smaller suppliers typically work closer to home, whereas the bigger suppliers are more global. Right now I see there is a lot of business being done– obviously in Germany, which is our biggest market–but also in Norway and Sweden. In the Middle East there is a lot of Danish work being done, which is often connected to Danish architecture and consulting companies.
Would you say it is more developed countries than developing that you focus on?
It’s the oil economies–which may seem strange because they have all the oil–but they really understand that they cannot live off oil forever. They have to have other approaches as well and they’ve got the money to invest in testing and making new approaches.
What I’ve seen in Arabic countries is that previously they were better at using the sun and the wind for energy and cooling than they are now. That’s one area where we can help by providing things that they need now.
In Denmark we have central heating systems which can be used for central cooling systems, too. We have suppliers who are world experts in that area. Some of them are in water and also in cooling. It is a growing area as well.
With a new Sustainable Development Goal on water–one would expect more growth for the industry and hence more competitors stepping in– how are you going to maintain your market share?
Most or many Danish companies see the largest part of their business being placed in the middle of the market. We are supplying products that are typically quite advanced, which are to be used in areas where they are ready to adapt to that level, like in the Middle East. They have people who have the knowledge to do it and there is a big market. There are also areas in southeast Asia and in China where the awareness for the need to clean wastewater and protect their water sources is much larger, and is growing as a result of the Development Goals.

An important aspect is to make solutions which are not just technical solutions but are solutions that can ameliorate people’s life in general

Which Danish cities or regions are taking a lead in water technology?
Statistically there are two, the centre of Jutland and then the Copenhagen area. There is a lot of manufacturing in the centre part of Jutland, especially within the water sector. In Copenhagen there is manufacturing as well but it is much more consultancy-based, so I see those as the two main areas. There are more and more IT companies coming in as well and they are perhaps a little bit more spread out than the manufacturers are.
Is there a mix of low-tech and high-tech solutions at Danish Water Technology Group?
It’s not all high-tech but there is still a high-tech approach to all of it. We have solutions for clean drinking water in Africa but there is still a high-tech approach to the actual products and the reason being is that we are a developed country with very high costs. Typically our products are expensive, so that is the area where we are competing.
On the other hand, one of our companies, Hexacover, builds barriers to cover all types of reservoirs. They are very simple but are made from high-quality recycled plastic and can last for many years. So it is low-tech but still high-tech. I read in the October edition of The Source that Los Angeles has bought these plastic balls to cover their reservoirs but there is a big problem with these balls because they roll all the time, so they are wet and actually the water is evaporating. This problem is solved by a solution like Hexacover.

Danish Pavilion at Wasser Berlin 2015 © Danish Export Association
Danish Pavilion at Wasser Berlin 2015 © Danish Export Association

The Danish filter company, Aquaporin, is responsible for the technology that turns astronauts’ urine into drinking water. Is putting this science into practice commercially viable?
They are working very hard on making it commercially viable and producing it on a larger scale but it takes time. In some ways you could say it is very low-tech because it is using the function of plants to clean the water, so it is very primitive but it is very high-tech to be able to replicate that and develop it so that you can have large quantities of water passing through. The fantastic thing is once you succeed in that you are not using any energy to do it.
Do private-public partnerships play a big role in this? How are you developing and creating technology?
We are quite a small country and our utilities are too but there is a lot of cooperation in public-private arrangements. The utilities were privatised some years ago and now they are able to go into public-private partnerships with companies. Aarhus do it on a three-to-five-year basis with some of their suppliers, so that the supplier takes some of the risk which may turn into a gain. The supplier now also takes a more active role in their development.

We are quite a small country and our utilities are too but there is a lot of cooperation in public- private arrangements

Where does academia fit into this and are there any ‘public-private- academia’ partnerships?
There are close connections, in some sense it is a small business, a small world, so everybody knows each other. I come from the business side and there is a lot of cooperation in development. Very often there are universities taking part in the development of new solutions for the utilities together with suppliers.

Does this model give Denmark an edge?
It is a key to success. I have more companies that come out of university, people who have developed things in a university environment and then created companies around them. That lifts the barrier very much. A company like Unisons Environment has developed the first CO2 monitoring tool in the world. It is hard also to be so much at the forefront, because the awareness about CO2 and nitrous oxide is very low. It is only academics and the utilities which are at the forefront and know that nitrous oxide is a much more dangerous greenhouse gas than CO2. When you are that much ahead it obviously takes a lot more time to get your product into the market and earn money from the product. It’s a type of missionary work to do that.

A member meeting at Billund Utility. The group was making a site visit to see the Billund Biorefinery, a project by Krüger and Billund Water © Danish Export Association
A member meeting at Billund Utility. The group was making a site visit to see the Billund Biorefinery, a project by Krüger and Billund Water © Danish Export Association