Companies thriving in water

| Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011

Companies in Western Pennsylvania that focus on water treatment and use, delivery and transportation are growing by as much as 10 percent a year, and there is potential for much more, a new study says.

The region would benefit by forging a consortium that encourages innovation in the business of water and collaboration among established companies such as Calgon Carbon Corp. and Siemens Water Technologies, newer players such as Epiphany Solar Water Systems of New Castle and universities that develop technology, plus financing sources and policy leaders.

"We have companies willing to come together and collaborate," said Jerry Paytas, an economic development expert and vice president with Fourth Economy Consulting, South Side, which authored the study. "They need something to gather around."

The region has more than 3,000 companies involved in a major way with water, according to the "H2Opportunity" report to be released today at an event at Alcoa Inc.'s North Shore offices. Those companies employ 34,000 people and account for more than $5 billion in spending each year.

Pittsburgh was North America's host city for World Environment Day last year, and the study -- the first analysis of the business of water in the region -- was commissioned by corporations and foundations that formed a partnership through the event.

Although its rivers play a big role in the city's identify, Pittsburgh's water-related businesses usually are looked at in terms of their industries -- such as power generation or water purification, Paytas said.

But with a coordinated effort, companies in different areas might partner on a new wastewater treatment method or work with Carnegie Mellon University to recruit more companies to the water-rich region.

"Water is a renewable resource in a way that few other things are," said Jeanne M. VanBriesen, director of CMU's Center for Water Quality in Urban Environmental Systems.

Water treatment represents about 50 percent of Calgon Carbon's business, through technology such as activated carbon treatment that is used at Pennsylvania American Water Co. and other local systems' plants.

The company has about 300 local employees and has been adding technical staff, particularly at its Robinson headquarters and research center and at a manufacturing center for ultraviolet treatment systems in Findlay, said Bob O'Brien, executive vice president.

"That is a big, growing market for us," said O'Brien. Ultraviolet treatment eliminates organisms such as cryptosporidium that typical water treatment processes have trouble killing, he said, adding tougher regulations are pushing water utilities to modernize equipment.

Organisms and chemicals in drinking water aren't the only concern. Calgon Carbon acquired a Cleveland-based company last year that developed an ultraviolet treatment for ballast water -- the water that a ship takes on, and that can transport invasive species from port to port.

Zebra mussels that now cause environmental hazards in the Great Lakes are believed to have arrived by ship. "That's becoming recognized as a global issue," O'Brien said, with the International Maritime Organization taking steps to create a standard for shippers.

Ballast water systems are made at the Findlay plant. The company's two Neville Island plants product activated carbon systems, and recycle the granular carbon that they use.

"Water is going to become a critical commodity, with population growth," O'Brien said. "It's an area that is going to continue to require new technology that's low-cost and energy efficient," and companies and regions involved will benefit through sales and job growth.

The H2Opportunity study points out some businesses that are projected to grow rapidly. Desalination of saltwater could generate $16.6 billion in sales in five years, up from $8.3 billion now. Wastewater treatment could grow to $71 billion, from $58 billion.

Milwaukee is the only other region that has worked to build a competitive advantage around water, and Pittsburgh leaders will study that city's progress, said Court Gould, director of Sustainable Pittsburgh.

Carnegie Mellon University scientists, meanwhile, will come up with pilot projects for companies to get the Western Pennsylvania effort started. One possibility: Create water monitoring and management methods that allow environmentally sound drilling of Marcellus shale gas wells.

Additional Information:

Water is big business

Numbers of companies that sell water-related services or technology, and have a headquarters or significant presence in Western Pennsylvania:

• Components, 416 companies, 5,400 employees, $1.02 billion in sales in 2009.

• Services, 2,456 companies, 25,756 employees, $509 million in sales.

• Supply and treatment, 173 companies, 2,875 employees, $3.44 billion in sales.

• Transportation, 20 companies, 662 employees, $32 million in sales.

Some major companies and their products:

• Aquatech -- water purification, focus on desalination.

• Calgon Carbon -- activated carbon treatment and ultraviolet light disinfection.

• Eaton -- pumps, motors and valves for wastewater treatment.

• Lanxess -- ion exchange, membrane technology, other treatment systems.

• Siemens Water Technologies -- emergency water supply, wastewater reuse systems.

• Veolia North American Water -- water and wastewater services.

Source: 'Pittsburgh's H2Opportunity: an Assessment of Southwestern Pennsylvania's Water Sector.'

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