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The architecture of water

Cooperation between Sabesp and FAPESP is going to lead to investments in technology to improve the quality of sanitation services

EDUARDO CESAROn 12 May FAPESP and the Company of Basic Sanitation of the State of São Paulo (Sabesp) signed a cooperation agreement to sponsor investigation projects that involve researchers from the company, universities and São Paulo research institutes. An investment of up to R$ 50 million is planned over the next five years, half coming from the Foundation and the other half from Sabesp.

The projects are likely to link themes such as the increase in efficiency in water treatment processes, monitoring water quality, a reduction in the amount of silt produced and its recycling, a decrease in electricity consumption in the operation of sanitation systems, the fight against water loss from pipes and economic studies on the development of the sanitation sector. The call for proposals will be disclosed via a public bid notice.

Sabesp annually invests R$ 3.5 million in research and development. As a result of the partnership the company will increase this amount to R$ 5 million, which will be added to the R$ 5 million funded by the Foundation. “Investing in research and innovation are essential for the future of Sabesp”, says Gesner Oliveira, the company’s president. “Today the market is competitive, there are stricter environmental demand standards, we’re regulated by an outside agency and we have to face up to the challenge of making our services universal. We need the capacity to incorporate new technology”, he states. With shareholders’ equity of R$ 4 billion and 17,000 employees Sabesp is the country’s principal sanitation company. The State of São Paulo owns 50.3% of the company’s capital and the rest is owned by private initiative.

According to Oliveira, the company needed to reposition itself in a market in which there was previously no competition. On the contrary, today Sabesp needs to renegotiate contracts with city administrations that can dispense with its services and opt for other arrangements, like the creation of municipal corporations. “We recently renewed 160 concession contracts”, he says. With expansion of its investments in research the company is looking to hit targets such as reducing water loss in the pipes to 13% by 2019 (currently the loss is around 28%); the recycling of silt and the sale of new products, like methane gas coming from garbage and recycled sewer water for industry. ‘The links we already have with universities and research centers will be strengthened with the investment and screening by FAPESP when it comes to selecting projects”, says Oliveira.

For the scientific director of FAPESP, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, the agreement signals an important strategy by the public company in the State of São Paulo for extending and consolidating its research and development activities. “This is one of the biggest cooperative research agreements ever established by the Foundation and we expect a very participative response from the research community to the public bid notice that will be announced”, he stated.

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