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Gradiant, a Boston-based water solutions provider, has acquired Synauta to accelerate the use of digital twins in the water treatment industry. The acquisitions will combine Gradiant’s expertise in digitizing and optimizing water treatment with Synauta’s practical machine learning expertise for the water industry. 

Gradiant spun out of MIT as an end-to-end water solution provider to improve the design, operations and asset optimization for industrial water treatment. Throughout the last decade, it has raised more than $200 million, scaled to around 400 employees and has built dozens of water treatment plants worldwide. 

Throughout the last couple of years, Gradiant integrated this experience into a digital twin platform that keeps all water treatment procurement, safety and maintenance data in one place to help enterprises build more efficient water treatment systems. For example, motion and IR sensors analyze equipment data to optimize maintenance, allowing teams to schedule maintenance when required rather than on a set schedule. This increases the time between service and prolongs the life of the equipment.

Focus on industry

The company focuses on high-end water treatment for enterprise customers and desalination plants. The global water industry spends about $1.5 trillion per year and enterprise water treatment accounts for about 45% of that. This includes applications such as providing ultra-clear water on one end and then treating it for reuse or disposal on the other. The tech is used by enterprises involved in semiconductor chip manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, leather tanning and mining. Customers include Micron, Glaxo Smith Kline, Pfizer, Rio Tinto and Coca-Cola. 

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Synauta’s proprietary machine learning AI algorithms are deployed in municipal and industrial desalination facilities worldwide. Synauta’s technologies reduce operating costs by determining optimal operating conditions and maintenance programs based on real-time process data and are trusted by leading clients such as Singapore’s PUB, Veolia, Aqualia, Engie and GHD.

Prakash Govindan, COO of Gradiant, told VentureBeat said, “By acquiring Synauta with their data and water expertise, we will be able to take advantage of their years of experience and algorithms learned from work on hundreds of plants worldwide.”

Driving efficiency with digital water 

Govindan said digital water analytics and control play an essential role in helping refine ultrapure water required for next-generation computer chips. Whereas water treatment engineers used to be comfortable measuring contaminants in parts per billion, newer chip manufacturing processes measure contaminants at parts per quadrillion, which is one thousand trillion. 

Digital water characterizes various ways of quantifying water processing infrastructure to improve efficiency and bring digital transformation to the water industry. It is one of the fastest-growing segments of the global water industry. 

Emergen Research predicts digital water will grow from $7.96 billion in 2020 to $19.43 billion in 2028. This market includes various IoT sensors, data aggregation and analytics to improve water infrastructure development. Other companies in the digital water segment include Bentley Systems, Innovyze, Schneider Electrics, Atonix Digital, Plutoshift, Assetic, Copperleaf Technologies and Xenius.

Govindan said that these other players tend to focus more generally on industrial data aggregation and analytics, rather than water in particular. In contrast, Gradiant focuses front and center on water, which allows them to identify far more opportunities for optimizing the water treatment process at scale. Some Gradiant customers reduce the amount of power and chemicals for processing water by 20-25%.

In addition, Gradient’s tools plug into and automate many aspects of procurement, maintenance and safety for water treatment systems. This provides a richer context for digital twins and more refined data for training better AI and machine learning algorithms. 

Support for climate change

Down the road, Govindan expects that this technology could play a growing role in the water desalination market. This could prove important in the wake of climate change.

The cost of desalination has dropped to about a tenth of the cost over the last forty years, thanks to advances in filtering membranes and digital technology. Some systems are producing desalinated water at about thirty cents per thousand liters. As a result, desalination has gradually expanded beyond energy-rich desert countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE to Singapore, Sydney and China. 

There are even discussions about expanding its use in California and other drought-stricken states. Govindan said, “The beauty is that desalination is drought-independent, so the water will always be there. And with digital water coming into the mix, you can produce better water at a reasonable cost.”

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