Tokyo will host the IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition 2018 from Sunday to Friday. The event is expected to attract 6,000 people from more than 100 countries to discuss technology, public policies, international collaboration and other subjects to achieve sustainable water management practices.
The International Water Association is a large international organization that aims to secure water supplies and manage water quality around the world.
The first edition of the biennial IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition was held in Paris in 1998, followed by meetings in Berlin, Melbourne, Marrakech, Beijing, Vienna, Montreal, Busan, Lisbon and Brisbane.
It is significant that Tokyo hosts the event because Japan is home to important technologies for general water management and has experience tackling water hazards, urbanization and other water-related problems.
The event is a place for Japan to showcase its technologies and know-how to the world.
The government acknowledges the importance of Japan’s position in the field. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) released the Overseas Development Strategy of Water Industry paper on July 27, which lays out Japan’s overall strategy to contribute to water management to the world.
“Japan has been the world’s top donor in the field of water. We have made contributions toward implementing hard infrastructure via yen-based loans, as well as soft infrastructure such as providing know-how on legal structures on water and training human resources,” according to a translation of the METI paper. “Japan has taken initiative in tackling global challenges on water. It is expected that Japan will continue to play a major role by way of advanced technologies and know-how.”
Expectations are high for Japan. Demand for water will continue to increase in the world amid increasing populations, economic development and improvement of quality of life. In 2015, roughly 660 million people had no access to a water supply service and an estimated 2.4 billion people were without sanitation facilities, according to the METI paper. The world is expected to face a 40 percent shortage of usable water sources by 2030, the paper said, citing the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Japan’s contribution to secure water supply is also in line with Sustainable Development Goals that the United Nations adopted in 2015. Goal 6 is to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”
Japan provided official development assistance worth about $6.5 billion in the field of water and sanitation from 2012 to 2016, making the world’s third-largest economy the largest contributor with a 30.7 percent share, followed by Germany’s 17.9 percent, France’s 11 percent and the U.S.’s 8.9 percent, according to the Cabinet Secretariat citing data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Still, Japanese companies are squeezed out by major global companies such as Veolia Water SA and Suez SA — which provide comprehensive, water-related services — and smaller, local companies in developing countries that use their cost competitiveness to win bids.
As such, Japanese companies do not have a high market share globally and thus have plenty of room to expand. The market size of water-related fields, including water supply systems, sewage systems and desalination, was ¥67 trillion globally in the year ending in March 2017, with Japanese companies accounting for ¥287.8 billion, obtaining only a 0.4 percent as reported by the Cabinet Secretariat citing data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The METI document suggests Japanese companies have a chance to expand globally with their advanced technologies.
For example, Kubota Corp., the principal sponsor of the IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition 2018, has a technical advantage with its membrane bioreactor (MBR) system that cleans sewage water through special membranes. An MBR system does not produce drinking water, but processes sewage water into clean water; it needs to go through additional purification processes to be safe for consumption.
An alternative method of cleaning sewage water to the MBR system is via a conventional activated sludge (CAS) system that causes impurities to sink. The MBR system is more expensive, but makes water much cleaner than CAS. It also takes less space and is easier to maintain.
“Sewage water processing equipment is to be used as long as 20 or 30 years and thus maintenance is very important. We would like (our potential customers) to think of the importance and use our products,” said Shinichi Fukuhara, general manager of Kubota’s Environment Systems Business Unit.
Kubota has business chances where environmental regulations are strict and potential customers opt for high-quality sewage water cleaning systems. For example, Fukuhara shared that Europe has regulations allowing very small amounts of chlorine in water, which makes an MBR system more desirable because it does not require the use of chlorine, adding that China is also very strict on the cleanliness of processed water.
Fukuhara also said there is a high demand for reusable water solutions and systems producing clean water in the Middle East because of the low rainfall.
He expressed that Kubota is one of the biggest MBR system makers and commands about 17 or 18 percent of the global market share in terms of the amount of water processed, but also said there are no statistics showing the exact market share. There are MBR system makers in Japan, China, the U.S., France, Germany, Singapore and other countries.
Another product that gives Japan a technical edge over other countries is jokaso — tanks that house a sewage cleaning system. These can include MBR, CAS or other systems that function as small water-processing plants. They are designed to allow trucks to pick up the clean water from jokaso, resulting in less water pipes needing to be built.
“Jokaso” is a Japanese word translating closely to septic tank, but Kubota and other Japanese manufacturers use the Japanese word to sell their products to the world instead of the English term to differentiate their product from regular septic tanks.
“Japan’s jokaso quality is by far the highest and our customers understand the word jokaso,” Fukuhara said. Japan has jokaso laws regulating quality standards. Makers have to pass certain tests to gain the government’s approval to sell jokaso. “That’s only (in) Japan,” he said.
Japan’s jokaso exports are steadily increasing. The cumulative shipments were about 1,334 as of February 2014 and surged to around 12,846 as of last December, according to the Jokaso System Association. According to Fukuhara, of the 12,846 exports, 8,190 were sent to China, where demand is very strong thanks to the government’s efforts to improve sewerage systems in rural areas.
He went on to share that demand is expected to rise regarding government efforts to improve the water quality in certain buildings. For example, hospitals and airports have a relatively strong demand for jokaso because they need clean water and tend to be recipients of government subsidies for them.
Japan also excels in other areas of technology. The IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition 2018 will be a great opportunity for Japan to showcase these to the world.