Current launched in 2016 in partnership with the City of Chicago, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, World Business Chicago, and the region’s research universities. We exist to be a catalyst for cleaner water. To do so, we monitor and evaluate new ideas and technology in water management, build partnerships among individuals, government, nonprofits, businesses, and researchers who are willing to take rational risks to try out new solutions, and strengthen the blue economy through events and outreach that help to build a strong and coherent network of water leaders. Chicago is our home, but not our only market. We also want to export our home-grown solutions to help solve the world’s water challenges.
First, Current maintains a sophisticated understanding of the state of the art in water technology, identifying and supporting the development of promising technologies that solve persistent and emerging water challenges. We convene the capabilities of our 100-plus member Current Research Consortium to bridge advanced fundamental science and practical, outcome-based applied research. We also pursue research funding opportunities and cross-institutional partnerships to strengthen the research ecosystem, driving more financial resources and expertise to priority problems. In 2019, for example, we landed a major bilateral water research partnership: the Collaborative Water-Energy Research Center (CoWERC), a new 5-year, $21.4 million partnership between the U.S. and Israel led by Northwestern University and BGN Technologies. As CoWERC seeks to develop new technologies to solve global water challenges, Current will play a critical role in building connections with industry and entrepreneurs. Another example is Current’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and collaborative work with the Chicago Department of Health, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), and Chicagoland research institutions to develop and demonstrate city-scale COVID-19 wastewater surveillance, facilitate regional and national exchange of surveillance methods and data, and design ‘break the glass’ responses to COVID-19 and new infectious diseases.
Second, Current identifies and independently assesses new technologies and builds partnerships to help promising innovations go to scale. We do this by testing technologies and recommending the best solutions for others to try, or for us to pilot. To date, Current has successfully supported 4 water pilot projects; supported the commercialization of more 20 different water technologies and secured over $10 million in funding to support water technology development in the region. Current maintains a list of 600+ promising water technologies that we have sourced and “de-risked” – evaluated for their potential to be implemented at-cost and at-scale. We continue to receive and evaluate these new technologies and serve as a neutral recommendation engine for our major water utilities in the region.
Finally, Current strengthens the blue economy through collaboration, communication, and opportunity. We are building national and international networks of researchers, innovators, solution providers, investors, and end-users. Current has built a reputation as a strategic, effective convener through events, including the World Water Day Symposium, the Innovators Forum, and other smaller roundtables and networking events. In 2020, we dramatically increased the number of events we host, with 50 events that engaged more than 5,000 people. These included our 2020 Chicago Water Week event, which was a 5-day celebration of 30+ events involving more than 2,000 participants; a new Innovators Showcase Series featuring entrepreneurs and researchers with promising water technologies; a screening of the new documentary Brave Blue World in partnership with IWEA and MWRD; and a workshop on PFAS remediation. Many of these events are open to the public and can be viewed on our YouTube channel.
We are also heavily invested in working to keep water in focus for our state and local policy communities and making the blue economy a pillar of our state’s economic vitality. In Chicago and Illinois, we believe that the blue economy presents significant opportunities for collaboration, innovation, and growth, leading to a more resilient economy. There is a clear need to capitalize on our region’s potential to grow companies and jobs in a set of industries that offer the possibility of dramatically improving management and stewardship of one of our most precious natural resources. Current was recently featured in a piece in Crain’s Chicago Business on the need for investment in Chicago’s blue economy.