Leaders from industry and academia met recently at Princeton University to discuss three big questions surrounding the broad theme of “water”: infrastructure, the water/energy nexus, and industrial water.

The 2014 Water Innovation and Research Summit was co-hosted by Peter Jaffe, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton, David Langiulli, director of corporate and foundation relations at Princeton, Rengarajan Ramesh, managing director of Wasserstein & Co, and Scott Bryan, the chief operating officer of Imagine H2O, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to spur the development of transformational technologies that solve water-related challenges.

Jaffe, associate director for research at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment and a member of Imagine H2O’s Scientific Advisory Council, said his main goal at the summit was to learn what water industry leaders see as needs and opportunities.

“We are looking to form long-term partnerships to apply research to real-world solutions while also training students to match industry needs,” Jaffe said.

Pablo Debenedetti, Princeton’s Dean for Research and Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science, said the dialog that occurred during the water summit was just the beginning of an ongoing conversation. “We are excited about the multiple possibilities for synergies between industry and academia under the broad umbrella of water,” he said.

Panelists included Perry McCarty, Silas H. Palmer Professor Emeritus of Environmental Engineering and Science at Stanford University, and Thomas Stanley, chief technology officer of GE Water and Process Technologies. (A photo album of the event can be viewed here.)

While the discussions during the invitation-only event, which took place May 15, were off-the-record, the following key ideas emerged:

• Water is both a global and local issue.

• Aging infrastructure in water delivery systems is a serious problem that results in large losses of water due to leaks.

• Real-time sensors, online instrumentation and integrated intelligence in the water industry can transform water usage and fast track the adoption and acceptance of beneficial reuse. Emerging sensing technologies yield lots of data, and currently there are few methods for analyzing and converting such information into useful applications for industry.

• Smart regulation is imperative. The current regulatory framework for water is uncoordinated and disjointed which often impedes innovation, discourages investment, and slows decision-making. Public policies were developed long ago in a water-rich environment. Policies and regulations need to be revisited to address the emerging economic, environmental and societal issues related to sustainable water supply.

‚Ä¢ The oil industry is really a water industry – it takes 7 barrels of water (and sometimes more) to produce a single barrel of oil. There are several forms of energy and there is only one “water”. Every form of energy production requires significant amount of water and very little emphasis is put on sustaining water supply.

• There is a significant need for innovation in the area of cleaning and recycling water used in fracking.

• The potential to harvest energy and other useful products from wastewater has not been fully realized. New technologies are required to advance this field. Waste should be considered as a resource and not as a problem. Waste can be transformed to economic value in an economical manner. Fundamental scientific innovations can help accomplish this goal.

• Water is vastly underpriced in the marketplace. Behavior changes regarding the use of water will not occur without the proper economic incentives.

Summit discussions were followed by a reception that included poster sessions by Princeton University faculty, post-doctoral follows, and students working on research in water. Water research at Princeton has a wide reach, from fundamental theory to technologies ripe for commercialization. Princeton labs exploring water-related research include:

Atmospheric Chemistry Group (Professor Mark Zondlo)

Atmospheric Modeling and Policy (Professor Denise L. Mauzerall)

Complex Fluids Group (Professor Howard Stone)

Debenedetti Group (Professor Pablo Debenedetti)

Environmental Biogeochemistry Research Group (Professor Peter Jaffe)

Environmental Fluid Mechanics Research Group (Professor Elie Bou-Zeid)

Hydrometeorology Research Group (Professor James Smith)

Land Surface Hydrology Research Group (Professor Eric Wood)

Princeton EcoHydrology Lab Group (Professor Kelly Caylor)

Rubenstein Group (Professor Dan Rubenstein)

Subsurface Hydrology Research Group (Professor Michael Celia)

Image above by David Heinz ’12, from Princeton’s 2010 Art of Science competition.