KTN Innovation Exchange challenge – Identifying lead supply pipes with minimal disruption

This Innovation Exchange challenge is looking at how to identify pipe material (especially lead) in domestic customers’ water supply pipes, without excavation or disruption to the flow or quality of the drinking water. The winning organisation(s) will be given an opportunity to present their solutions direct to Severn Trent, with potential commercial collaboration.

Opportunity Details


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Proposed solutions should specifically be able to detect lead pipes and should be non-destructive. The Challenge is delivered by KTN on behalf of Severn Trent Water. The winning organisation(s) in this competition will be given an opportunity to present their solutions direct to Severn Trent with the potential to partner with Severn Trent to develop and scale the technology together in a collaborative commercial opportunity.

Challenge Details


Many houses built before 1970 are supplied by lead supply pipes. The presence of lead in water is a public health concern.  The accumulation of lead in the body can cause harm to health and impact child development. The use of chemicals to treat water before it is put into distribution can reduce the amount of lead that is dissolved so that the concentration at the tap is below the current maximum allowed 10 micrograms per litre. However the World Health Organisation (WHO) research suggests that there is no safe level of lead in drinking water. For this reason it is necessary to find an affordable solution to removing customers’ lead pipes.

It is thought that as many as 50% of properties in parts of the Severn Trent region may be supplied by lead pipes, however it is not known which those properties are. The process of identifying lead pipes is currently labour intensive, disruptive to customers, time consuming and expensive.

Severn Trent is looking for a means to rapidly and cost-effectively identify the location of lead supply pipes without disrupting the flow, taste, appearance or odour of customers’ water. The technique should not require the water supply to be shut off or any breach of the pipework and must not require excavation to access the surface of the pipe.  Any materials coming into contact with drinking water in supply pipes for any period must be compliant with Regulation 31 of The Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 2016 (as amended).

Severn Trent would like to hear from technology providers capable of offering a solution that addresses this issue.  In addition, it would be desirable if the solution(s) proposed permitted the identification of other pipe materials, e.g., copper or galvanised iron. Results from the proposed solutions (i.e., identification of properties with a lead pipe) must be easily incorporated into an existing database of properties.

Any solution provider must work collaboratively with Severn Trent to undertake trials of the technology and work together to achieve regulatory approval of the final solution should it be necessary.

Proposals are welcome for:

  • Existing market-ready technologies
  • Established solutions from other industry sectors which can be adapted for this application
  • Development proposals based on existing competences
  • Academic projects that have attained Technology Readiness Level – TRL – 5 (validated in a relevant environment) and can realistically be expected to attain TRL 7 (prototype demonstration in an operational environment) within 1 year

Potential solutions may come from:

  • Medical devices
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Food and drink manufacture
  • Water quality sensor manufacturers
  • Laboratory equipment manufacturers
  • Non-destructive testing

…or from organisations with relevant expertise operating in any industry sector.

We welcome proposals that include the following:

  • Quantification/ estimation of lead concentration at the customer tap
  • Simple and easy-to-use interface. Solution should require minimal training and prior knowledge to use it appropriately.


Successful applicants will be given an opportunity to pitch to Severn Trent Water. The package may also include:

  • Support from the KTN and wider Innovations Networks within KTN including but not limited to:
    • Sensors
    • Photonics
    • Chemistry
  • Support in the development of a prototype or pilot.
  • A place in KTN or Innovate UK events to showcase the technology
  • A potential business collaboration


Functional Requirements 

  • Solution should be able to determine the presence/ or positively confirm the absence of lead pipes in the customer supply pipe.
  • Ideally should also be able to detect copper and galvanised iron.
  • Should be able to produce a result in real time on site. Should have a recording function and should easily export data to existing Severn Trent database of properties

Technical Characteristics

Must be able to detect lead at levels below 10 micrograms per litre and ideally as low as 5 micrograms per litre in light of pending legislation.

  • Must be lightweight and easily portable
  • Should be usable by a skilled but not specialist technician
  • Should be configurable to communicate with the Severn Trent asset register
  • Ideally the solution should not require entry to the property
  • The result should include an indication of the confidence level

Operating conditions

Must be able to operate outdoors in ambient conditions

Deployment Timescale

  • Launch of the Competition: 18th January 2021
  • Deadline for applications: 26th February 2021
  • Selection and notification of finalists: Early March 2021
  • A presentation day (Video Conference) week beginning 15th March 2021.
  • Solutions should be prepared for:
    • Feasibility assessments, where needed, to be completed within 3 months of competition win
    • Fully deployable for prototype testing at site within 6 months of feasibility selection win.
  • Full commercial deployment will start after the project prototype has been demonstrated and must be completed and in full operation prior to June 2022.

Cost requirement and market opportunity

  • Severn Trent currently spends over £2M per year on phosphate chemicals to reduce the amount of lead leaching from pipes into drinking water – a significant saving if all lead pipes are removed.
  • The company also incurs cost inspecting and testing the water at properties to determine the location of lead pipes
  • Forthcoming legislation will likely reduce the maximum allowable concentration of lead, making it harder to achieve compliance using existing methods.
  • This legislation and the need to protect the health of customers will drive all water companies to accelerate the identification and removal of lead piping. As such the opportunity is much more significant, with Severn Trent represents approximately 10% of the UK market and <0. 1% of the worldwide market
  • The opportunity is for the chosen organisation(s) to present, to a panel including representatives of Severn Trent, their proposed solution to this Innovation Exchange challenge
  • Following this presentation, one or more organisations may be chosen to develop the solution with Severn Trent and demonstrate it as part of a planned large-scale trial of different approaches to supply-pipe replacement.

Eligibility and assessment criteria

Entrants to this competition must be:

  • Established businesses, startups, SMEs or individual entrepreneurs
  • UK based or have the intention to set up a UK base
  • Academic institutions may be considered but should be able to demonstrate a commercialisation model

The challenge owner is willing to consider collaborations between solution providers and may suggest such an approach based on a review of submissions.

Applications will be assessed on:

  • Relevance to the topic
  • Innovative nature of the subject
  • Coherence of the proposed business model
  • Feasibility/ economic viability
  • Development potential
  • Maturity of project/solution
  • Ability to launch project quickly/Ease of implementation
  • Price/quality ratio

IP and Potential Commercial Route

  • Existing background IP associated with a potential solution will remain with Solution Provider(s). Where any new IP generation is envisaged, it will be subject to the mutual IP agreement of the Solution Provider(s) and Innovation Challenger.
  • Any commercial deployment of transferred solution or newly developed solution, through licensing, joint venture, partnership or direct investment, will be subject to the commercial agreement between the Solution Provider(s) and Innovation Challenger.
  • Where necessary, a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) may be signed to uphold confidentiality in the engagement between the Solution Provider(s) and Innovation Challenger.
  • Innovate UK and KTN do not take any share of IP ownership or enter into commercial venture through the Innovation Exchange programme.

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