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IBM Wants to Make a Big Splash in Water Management

IBM is launching a new line of services and research, called Strategic Water Information Management solutions, as part of the firm's Smarter Planet initiative and the company's growing efforts to work with utilities, government agencies and businesses in managing water consumption.

The company also announced a breakthrough in water purification and desalination by IBM researchers, who developed a nanomembrane that filters toxic salts from contaminated groundwater.

News of the solutions package and the development in water purification come within a week of IBM's announcement of its new consulting service to help government agencies reduce energy and water use, waste and other environmental impacts. The news also comes in time for the Fifth World Water Forum, which begins today in Istanbul.

IBM says its Public Sector Energy and Environment Diagnostic can help government organizations understand their performance on environmental issues and identify improvements to increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The SWIM solutions platform enables advanced water management using sophisticated technology, including smart sensors, modeling, analytics and visualization tools that provide automated, continuous sensing and monitoring of physical water infrastructure and environments. The idea is to deliver better data at the right time and right place that in turn enables better management of water supplies and facilities, as well as more effective efforts to fight pollution. Or as IBM puts it, the platform provides "the foundation for more robust, reliable and scalable strategic water management capabilities."

The water management services market could be worth as much as $20 billion in the five years, according to IBM.

The company examines the challenges and opportunities of better understanding and managing water as a resource in "Water: A Global Innovation Outlook Report" (pdf).

IBM also details its work toward "Smarter Water Management" on a web page of that title which includes videos about IBM researchers' creation of new desalination membrane technology and the company's use of advanced sensors and real-time analytics in its "Smart Bay" project in Galway, Ireland.

Researchers at IBM's Almaden Research Center in Calif., featured in the video posted Friday, developed an energy efficient water filtration membrane that creates a "water superhighway" for removal of harmful salts and toxins. The membrane filters out arsenic and boron salts from contaminated ground water, making it safe for human consumption. Researchers are continuing to work on the technology.

Water management is a key focus area of IBM's Big Green Innovations division. The others include alternative energy and development of an intelligent utility network, carbon management and computational modeling.

The company's efforts include the creation IBM Centers of Excellence for Water Management in Amsterdam in February 2008 and in Dublin last June.

IBM's moves are further evidence of the growing realization that water is a critical business issue as charted in this year's State of Green Business Report and further explored in the panel discussion "Is Water the New Carbon" (video) at the State of Green Business Forum.

[For other articles water management, see "Saving Every Last Drop" by Sarah Fister Gale, who reports on how some companies in water-scarce regions are dramatically cutting their water use, and "Water Basics: You Can't Manage What You Don't Measure" by Andrew Collier and Andrew Glantz, analysts for GreenOrder.]

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