Investors are increasingly looking at the water treatment sector to tap expected growing demand for new water technologies, especially from the extractive industries.
These industries use huge amounts of water for their operations and need technologies related to, for example, the cleaning up of contaminated water and the disposal of hazardous waste.
“Water is not their product, it’s their problem,” said Wayne Evans, UK-based vice-president of industrial technology at Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies. He added that a “lion’s share” of the technical subsidiary of French Veolia Water’s business is in the oil, mining and gas industries.
Demand from these sectors, combined with concerns about water scarcity in many areas of the world, are driving water up the corporate agenda, attendees of a water innovation conference by the London Environmental Investment Forum (LEIF) heard on Friday.
Over the past five years, 18 companies that develop water treatment technologies for the extractive industries have raised more than $400 million in equity and debt, says a study by LEIF.
Venture capital funds including Energy Ventures, XPV Capital, Enertech Capital and Meidlinger Partners have taken early positions in the sector, the study says.
Henry Clarke, associate director of energy and environment and principal finance at Standard Chartered Bank, says investors are interested in companies that have already achieved commercial interest and “proven attraction” from other companies. “We have seen a few companies [in the water treatment sector] close to that level,” he said.
Lee Clements, an investment manager at Impax Asset Management in London, an environmental investment specialist, said that water technology for extractive industries has been one of the biggest growth areas within its water strategy.
Ideal investments in the area are “linked to a strong market and not strongly relying on subsidies”, he said, which has been the case with, for example, solar and wind technologies.
With shale gas extraction increasing in North America and spreading to Europe and Asia, there is a “huge opportunity" in tapping into water treatment for fracking, says Sean Salloux, London-based managing director of investment firm Worldwide Water Technologies, which specifically focuses on water treatment for unconventional energy and industrial processes.
China, Poland and Argentina could provide the biggest opportunities outside North America, he added, if technologies tested in the US were to be transferred to these shale-rich countries.
The global mining water treatment market was valued at $7.7 billion in 2011 and is predicted to surge to $13.6 billion by 2014, according to research by Global Water Intelligence (GWI) released last year.
Water treatment in the oil sector, of so-called produced water, was worth $5.03 billion in 2010 and is expected to reach $9.9 billion by 2025, said GWI.
By. Elza Holmstedt Pell