A vision of the future – sewers that can mend themselves
Futurologist James Bellini has told members of the Future Water Association that one day we may be installing sewers and water pipes that can mend and modify themselves.
As guest speaker at the association’s annual awards lunch, sponsored by Lanes Group plc, the British academic told his audience that, like others before us, we can barely imagine what technologies will be developed in just a few years from now. He said: “We are familiar with 3D printing, with machines creating three-dimensional objects. There is now an emerging technology of 4D printing, which introduces self-assembly or modification over time.
“Maybe we can look forward to underground water pipes that used 4D printing to repair themselves or modify their shape or connections depending on circumstance and need.”
Mr Bellini spent much of his talk at the Warwickshire Golf and Country Club, near Warwick, outlining the pressing problems of a growing water gap across the world, and what might be done to fill it, with new technologies and ways of living.
He pointed out that an international development agency, Water 2030, has calculated there will be a 40% gap between supply and demand for clean water globally by 2030.
This growing gap is being made worse by the growth of urban living, demand for consumer products, changes in eating habits, and environmental pressures that include climate change.
Mr Bellini detailed solutions to this growing water shortage, which are already impacting on our lives, but which will become more evident at a growing rate over the coming decades.
He said there will be a move towards humans consuming more insect protein and less cattle protein. Weight-for-weight, crickets take 95 times less energy and 26 times less water to farm. Belgium, he said, has already approved 10 insects for human consumption.
Smart irrigation will be introduced so we use much less water to grow more food. For example, drones will patrol the skies using advanced imaging to calculate precisely where irrigation water is needed most.
Vertical farms, as envisaged above, will be constructed in cities, where hydroponic technology will make more efficiency use of water, while energy and resources needed for transporting food will be minimised.
He added: “Some years for now, growing food on flat plains outside cities will be considered primitive. That gives us the challenge of what we want to do with the land that is freed up.”
Demand for water needed for manufacturing is expected to grow by 400% by 2050, Mr Bellini said. But by then, production processes will be made more efficient by developing ‘dark factories’, run only by robots.
In the future, water conservation will become critical. Water may no longer be used to wash clothes. Instead, this may be done by dirt repellent beads tumbled with clothes in a drum. Waterless toilets will become the norm.
Mr Bellini said: “We are entering the Age of Disruption. This presents critical challenges and possible solutions.
Because water is such a precious and vital resource, the water industry will have to be quick to embrace the changes that are rapidly taking place.”