Water management and digitization

Challenge: Rising water consumption and supply shortages

Water is our most important foodstuff. Global water consumption for agricultural, industrial and private use is rising steadily, even though regional measures to reduce water consumption are certainly taking effect. Nevertheless, serious supply bottlenecks are forecast - even in our highly industrialized zones. Intelligent concepts for purifying and distributing water are therefore in demand.

Water management – water resources management, safe water supply, sanitation, and wastewater treatment – is a global key challenge of the 21st century. Innovations in all sectors of water management are essential – in industrialized countries and especially for the developing world, in arid and semi-arid environments.

The Fraunhofer IGB has developed a toolbox of technical innovations for sustainable decentralized water management systems, which are embedded in holistic infrastructure concepts and combined with energy and waste management. These innovations can be adapted and combined to generate individually the most favorable solution for the specific needs of each country or region.

IGB is a partner in the Fraunhofer Morgenstadt Innovation Network

Fraunhofer IGB contributes its water management expertise to the innovation network Morgenstadt in the Morgenstadt innovation field "Integrated Water Systems".


"Morgenstadt" is a vision of a sustainable, livable and innovative city of the future and its suburban surroundings. The challenge is to merge innovative technologies together to create a fully integrated system in a sustainable city of the future.


The innovation network, in which cities, companies and Fraunhofer institutes are involved, is investigating how cities can become sustainable in numerous projects. A specially developed working model for urban analysis is used for this purpose.

Our solution approach: Water management – concepts and processes for optimized water use and reuse

Semicentralized water management

Fraunhofer IGB has developed technologies that enable cost-effective water management solutions and water infrastructure systems in urban as well as rural structures through decentralized or semicentralized treatment of of water and wastewater flows. The IGB approach is characterized by efficiency and cost-effectiveness and enables the economic generation and use of different water flows occurring in the settlement area.

Application areas

Systems solutions are available for future-oriented municipal water management in rural regions, for newly developed areas, urban districts in need of modernization and also for holiday resorts, tourist centers and hotel complexes. The system is especially effective for regions with no previous water infrastructure, lacking sewage networks and central sewage treatment plants. The concept is also ideal for areas where old types of infrastructure can no longer be adapted to cope with new challenges arising from climate changes or population increases/decreases.

Combined water-, waste-, and energy management providing self-sufficient infrastructure

In combination with sustainable waste management concepts, energy from regenerative sources and innovative building services engineering, the concept is a holistic solution for a self-sufficient water supply infrastructure which is completely independent of central water supplies and wastewater disposal networks.

Technological core: Anaerobic wastewater treatment

Anaerobic biotechnology, where organic carbon compounds are converted into biogas, i.e. a mixture of carbon dioxide and methane, is an attractive alternative to today's common aerobic wastewater purification treatment especially for decentralized or semi-decentralized water infrastructure systems. Biogas can be used as a regenerative energy carrier for running combined heat and power plants or, alternatively, can be fed into the existing natural gas network. Just like natural gas, biomethane can also be purified for use as fuel for automobiles.

Nitrogen and phosphorus compounds remain in the purified water and residual solids after anaerobic wastewater purification in enclosed bioreactors, which is not the case in the conventional, aerobic activated sludge process. Microorganisms are removed by microfiltration supplying water that is hygienic and safe to use for irrigating agricultural land, economizing on both clean water and fertilizers. Alternatively, the nutrients can be recovered from the purified water for fertilizing purposes. In this case, the water can then be discharged into the environment or reused.

Optimized water use and water reuse for resilient water infrastructures

The drought caused by climate change poses major challenges, especially for agriculture. In order to ensure that the world's population is supplied with sufficient food, solutions are therefore needed to use alternative water sources. In the BMBF-funded Hypowave project, we therefore investigated whether wastewater can be treated in such a way that it is suitable for hydroponic crop production – a water-saving form of cultivation without soil. In the follow-up project Hypowave+, the system will be implemented on a large scale for the first time. The aim of further, new resilient water management concepts is a water cycle economy in which wastewater is regarded as a resource and, for example, the nutrients it contains are used sensibly and efficiently.

Digitization – Sensor-based process control 

Sensors, modeling and artificial intelligence help to monitor water qualities or optimize technical systems. The main focus of the IGB is on establishing efficient data and communication infrastructures to enable the communication of sensor-based system components as the basis of smart process control.

Climate resilience through blue-green infrastructure

Due to climate change, the frequency of heavy rain events with sometimes devastating floods has increased in recent decades, as have droughts. Blue-green infrastructures, i.e. ponds or green roofs, help to store rain from heavy rain events so that they do not flood the sewage system. Fraunhofer IGB is investigating the question of how blue-green technologies can be controlled in an equally robust and efficient manner.

We study your situation and circumstances for new projects, including on-site stakeholder dialogues, and develop the best possible solution with all parties involved.

Further information


Wastewater as a resource

The circular economy is considered a key strategy for conserving resources and achieving climate targets. The ingredients in wastewater can be used, too – if it is treated appropriately. Wastewater treated with innovative high-load digestion provides nutrient-rich water/nutrients, biogas and carbon-rich digestate.



Water 4.0 – The digitization of the water industry

Sensors,  modeling and AI offer incredible application potential for monitoring of water flows and qualities or in the optimization of technical plants and processes for water treatment. Here, we focus on establishing efficient data and communication infrastructures to enable effective communication of sensor-based system components and smart process control.


Adapting to climate change

Climate resilient cities through blue-green infrastructures

Ponds, cisterns, green roofs and planted urban areas help to store rain from heavy rain events so that they do not flood the sewage system. Fraunhofer IGB analyzes urban water infrastructures, proposes measures and addresses the question of how blue-green technologies can be managed in an equally robust and efficient manner.


Nexus of water and food security

Fraunhofer IGB is working on a water-efficient agricultural production system. Unlike traditional soil-based agriculture, hydroponic systems to not rely on soil to grow plants. In hydroponics, plants are cultivated in closed, water-based systems, which prevent water from seeping into the ground and reduce water loss through evaporation. Plants in hydroponic systems obtain the necessary nutrients from a nutrient solution.

Cooperation with South Africa

© Fraunhofer
Treated wastewater will become more important as an alternative water resource for water management in the future.

Fraunhofer Innovation Platform for the Water-Energy-Food Nexus at Stellenbosch University

The "Fraunhofer Innovation Platform for the Water-Energy-Food Nexus at Stellenbosch University (FIP-WEF@SU)" is a cooperative project between Stellenbosch University and Fraunhofer IGB, in which the Fraunhofer Institutes IST, ISE and IOSB are also involved. In addition, the Fraunhofer SysWater Alliance is on board as an associated partner.

The aim of the innovation platform is to bring together know-how and technologies in the field of water treatment and water utilization and to develop solutions for South Africa and the sub-Saharan countries through joint research and development.

Cooperation with India

Mounting for nature inspired wastewater treatment at the Government Higher Secondary School in Kochi
Mounting for nature inspired wastewater treatment at the Government Higher Secondary School in Kochi

Since 2017, Fraunhofer IGB has been cooperating with India in the field of water management. We have succeeded in establishing many good relationships with Indian partners. Together we have produced promising results which lay the foundation for our continued engagement in India.

With its large population and strong economic growth, India is an important partner in many global challenges and cooperation in research and development is a key to sustainable development of the country – with potentials also for German partners.

The joint projects range from measures enabling strategic water management to optimize water supply and sanitation, through piloting successful Water Innovation Hubs in Coimbatore and Solapur, to actions for sustainable neighborhoods featuring PV systems, green infrastructure and nature-inspired wastewater treatment in Kochi.


Spotlight article

Also read our spotlight article on integrated solutions for sustainable interaction between the areas of water, energy, food and raw materials for municipalities, agriculture and industry.


The nexus of water – energy – food security – raw materials