Cellular IoT: A more intelligent way to combat water pollution

By Ebbe Rømcke April 27, 2022

Cellular IoT A more intelligent way to combat water pollution-1

Wastewater overflows and sewerage spills are two of the most common types of water pollution worldwide. And both are extremely bad news.

Contamination of the freshwater supply harms not only humans but all lifeforms. And seawater contamination harms vital marine ecosystems.

Freshwater and marine ecosystems are already struggling to cope with toxic run-offs from multiple polluting sources such as unrecycled urban waste, pesticides, fertilizers, animal slurry from farming, and oil spills, to name but a few. These are all rich in nasty water pollutants such as phosphates, nitrates, aluminum, chlorine, ammonia, mercury, and lead.

These ecosystems certainly don’t need any extra pollution from wastewater and sewerage spills legally under the control of wastewater utilities worldwide.

Yet aging wastewater and sewerage networks, growing urban populations, and the increasing frequency of heavy rainfall due to global warming are doing nothing to improve the problem.

It really is becoming one of many vitally important environmental concerns that the world needs to address for the sake of public health today and future generations tomorrow. And it has understandably become an extremely hot topic and political issue for younger people.

Cellular IoT to the rescue

This is why it’s so pleasing to report that one Nordic customer, U.K. remote telemetry specialist Metasphere, has developed a solution that it claims can dramatically improve the situation.

Metasphere’s ART Sewer wastewater and sewerage spill monitoring solution combines cellular IoT (courtesy of the Nordic nRF9160 multimode NB-IoT/LTE-M SiP) and AI/machine learning (ML) to protect freshwater and marine ecosystems in a way that Metasphere says hasn’t been commercially or technologically viable until now.

ART (short for ‘Analytical Remote Telemetry’) Sewer adopts an all-in-one, turnkey approach whereby Metasphere has built the entire solution to deliver total network visibility, performance, and forecasting to wastewater utilities around the globe.

All that’s required for installation is Metasphere’s battery-powered ‘Contactless Sense Level IoT’ coffee-cup-sized devices (12 by 5 cm diameter) to be positioned in volume below utility hole covers in a wastewater network. Once a chamber has been located, the installation process takes less than five minutes, making it the fastest on the market, says the company.

In operation, each sensor uses radar technology to take a sample measurement of wastewater level using radar every 15 minutes. Data is sent to Metasphere’s data analytics servers once a day via either NB-IoT or LTE-M cellular IoT wireless technology. The device will also report by exception (alarms) if a high level is detected.

AI and machine learning create predictability

According to Metasphere CEO, Tim O’Brien, the platform uses AI and ML to combine historic, current and forecast rainfall data, as well as ground saturation levels to proactively manage wastewater flow in sewers, pumping stations, manholes and combined sewer overflows (CSOs). It even detects partial sewer blockages.

“This all combines to prevent flooding events with a speed and accuracy that wasn’t possible until now,” explains O’Brien. "This enables wastewater utilities to prevent wastewater spills due to high level rain events, blockages or collapsed or leaking pipes far more effectively. It also enables maintenance crews to be scheduled and deployed in a far more optimized and less reactionary way.”

Meeting environmental standards with cellular IoT

Ultimately, the system is designed to have a hugely positive impact on reducing wastewater pollution from spills that find their way into freshwater and seawater and thus contaminate the natural environment, says O’Brien. It will also help wastewater utilities to meet increasingly stringent environmental regulations worldwide, and to avoid or minimize the ever-increasing regulatory fines, he adds.

Disruptive IoT projects like the Metasphere solution demonstrate Nordic’s ongoing support for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation), and Goal 14 (life below water).

The U.K. as an application example

As reported in The Week magazine in August 2021, and as a purely illustrative example, the environmental state of rivers in Metasphere’s U.K. home market is not good. The article reports that at the time of writing, just 14 percent of English rivers were classed as being in “good ecological health” under the definition given by the EU’s Water Framework Directive (which the U.K. retained after leaving the EU).

The U.K. is a particularly challenging example because it has a combined wastewater network where rainwater and domestic and industrial wastewater end up in the same pipes. That can cause the network to become overwhelmed and divert excess contaminated water into waterways, fields, woodlands, and other designated spill areas.

In addition to these capacity issues, humans are creating more problems with network blockages (largely caused by sanitary wipes and fat) that can cause further spills, including into domestic property.

The plight of U.K. natural waterways is increasingly coming into focus, with campaign groups highlighting these spills' impact. Open water swimmers, for example, are experiencing environmental damage and health hazards firsthand.

Tackling this issue has been a challenge as most of the extensive wastewater network (over 500,000 km in the U.K.) is underground, and existing wastewater spill monitoring solutions are expensive and limited. And large portions of the network are unmonitored, leaving the

utilities to react to spill events, and the associated clean-up, after they happen.

Things are getting better

Metasphere hopes that through the large-scale rollout of its ART Sewer solution, this situation could be dramatically improved in the coming years.

Field trials have proven that the ART Sewer monitoring solution is extremely effective at protecting freshwater and marine ecosystems from wastewater spills. As a result, Southern Water and Severn Trent Water, two of the largest water companies in the U.K., are deploying ART Sewer.

This is an encouraging step in the right direction. Let’s hope more wastewater utilities, both in the U.K. and worldwide, follow suit in the uptake on technology-based environmental solutions to help combat climate change for a better sustained and environmentally healthier world.

For more details on how Nordic incorporates sustainability into its business strategy, refer to the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) section (page 97) of the Annual Report 2021.

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Topics: cellular IoT, Machine learning, AI, Sustainability,


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By: Ebbe Rømcke

Ebbe Rømcke is SVP Quality and sustainability at Nordic Semiconductor. He has an M.Sc. degree in Electronics Engineering from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Ebbe Rømcke is based in Oslo, Norway.

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