Reliable and secured sources of water for municipal, industrial and agricultural use, and the recovery and processing of municipal, industrial and agricultural wastewater streams, are increasingly critical issues for governments and businesses around the world. Municipal water management systems focus on the delivery of safe drinking water while ensuring adequate reservoir supplies; facilitating recovery and treatment of wastewater; and maintaining, upgrading, monitoring and protecting water storage and conveyance systems. Industries that require reliable supplies of water for manufacturing and processing include energy, food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals and industrial chemicals, pulp and paper, and electronic components manufacturing. Many industries produce wastewater streams and/or effluents containing contaminants that are hazardous to public health and/or have toxic environmental effects. The production of crops and livestock is dependent on constant supplies of water. Increased crop productivity relies on substantial input of fertilizers. Not all the applied nutrients are taken up by the crops, and run-off into natural waterways can have harmful effects on water quality and aquatic organisms. Livestock production typically results in the extensive production of effluents that pose a danger to natural waterways. Consequently, strict environmental regulations specifying maximum tolerance levels for certain compounds have been imposed in many jurisdictions. The high costs of access to high-quality water and the recovery and treatment of wastewater streams, provide opportunities for development of new devices, apparatus and systems for more efficient water recovery, treatment and recycling.

From a geographical perspective, supplies of potable and industrial-quality water are rapidly diminishing in developed parts of the world and are typically scarce in developing parts of the world. Furthermore, rapidly increasing populations in developing countries coupled with the a reduction of land devoted to farming in industrialized countries place increased demands on higher productivity from remaining farmland, and lead to the use of substandard land for food production. Alternatively, with the availability of sufficient water supplies, high volumes of year-round food can be produced through greenhouse cropping. The largest reservoirs of water on the earth are the oceans, which are unsuitable for use due to salinity. However, desalinization technologies could provide relief from current water shortages in many parts of the world.  

Typically, extreme potable water shortages follow catastrophic events such as earthquakes, tsunamis and flooding. The lack of potable water can increase the risk of life-threatening diseases, adding to the suffering caused by these catastrophes. Opportunities exist for development of technologies that are capable of rapid production of potable water from ambient water.  

Most Canadian institutions and manufacturers with intellectual property associated with water treatment and recycling, focus on securing patent protection in the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K., the U.S.). In the 2007 publication “BRICs and Beyond,” Goldman Sachs identified two groups which have been emerging as world economic powers since the late 1990s: the BRICs group comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China; and the Next 11 (N11) group comprising South Korea, Mexico, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Philippines, Nigeria, Vietnam and Bangladesh. The economic rise of the BRICs and the N11 has been fueled by large populations that provide low-cost labour for manufacturing. The shifting of global manufacturing to the BRICs and the N11 has facilitated homegrown entrepreneurship and the development of local economic prosperity. Post-secondary students from these countries acquiring university training in North America and Europe, have returned to their countries as highly skilled workers and innovators. New centres of global innovation are emerging in South Korea, China and India, driven by R&D investments increasingly financed by the local private sectors and supported by the globalization of higher education. A consequence that will have a direct impact on the North American economy is the significant increase in patent applications filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) by these countries over the last 14 years (Table 1).  

This global growth of innovation provides opportunities to expand the market for Canadian technologies, particularly those associated with water treatment and recycling. The rapidly growing urban populations of the BRICs and the N11 place increased demand on potable water supplies and wastewater treatment systems. Technologies have been developed by Canadians to address similar challenges in North America. Accordingly, patent filing, technology licensingout, and joint-venturing or partnering in the BRICs and N11 countries should be considered as part of global business development planning.

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