Author: Brenda

Scaling innovative off-grid solutions for global crises

Date: 20 October 

Time: 12:30 – 16:30 CET

Venue: Stockholm & Online 

Welcome to the sWASH&grow project’s final seminar organized by the project’s 28 partners. sWASH&grow aims to improve the conditions for innovators to meet relief organizations’ demands and enable sustainable and circular innovations in the WASH sector to reach vulnerable populations in humanitarian crises as well as areas without access to critical utilities and services. 

The project has, through testbeds in cooperation with buyers and users, tested innovative sustainable solutions and designed tools for development, scaling and export. After 2 years it’s time to sum up:  

  •  what has been achieved and how do we move forward? 

This hybrid event will gather key stakeholders from the NGO, private and public sectors to discuss innovative solutions to facilitate more circular solutions in the WASH sector, that meet global demands.  

Draft Programme: 

12:30 – 13:30 Lunch at SEI offices 

13:30 Welcome and Introduction (RISE)  

13:40 Keynote: “Sida strategy for private sector cooperation and innovation”(TBC) 

13:55 Success factors & the global market for off-grid solutions (SEI) 

14:05 Experiences from off-grid test beds

  • The SaniC – closing the loop of sanitation and agriculture – Bolivia 
  • The TreeWell – Nature-based wastewater system – South Africa and Lebanon 
  • The Biomweb IoT – monitoring system for on-site WWTP in Lebanon 
  • The (H)unit – disinfection and water purification 
  • The MDD Titan – desalination and water purification 

14:45 Q&A  

14:55 Coffee break 

15:10 The Parlametric tool for online match-making  

15:25 Opportunities within cooperation, alliances and scaling  

  • The Academy  
  • Malmö university – a testbed for collaboration & scaling   
  • Private sector accelerators for innovative delivery 
  • ElectriCity- Urban Tech Sweden – a testbed for system delivery and scaling   
  • WIN Water – a base for multi-sector partnerships  
  • SISP – Swedish Incubators and Science Parks’ support for innovator’s internationalization 

16:10 Q&A discussion 

16:30 Closing, mingle and drinks! 

Cuban delegates get a Swedish view of nature-based and decentralized solutions

Delegates from Cuba visiting Stockholm Royal Seaport (Norra Djurgården). Photo: Ana Calvo, SEI.

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As part of a collaboration developed over the past three years between sWASH&grow and the Agency for the Environment in Cuba, the SEI-led team hosted a Cuban delegation in Sweden in August 2022. They visited Swedish sites that mix climate change adaptation with a focus on circular value chains for water and the bioeconomy.

sWASH&grow’s work in Cuba explores the opportunities for testing and deploying gridless solutions in water, sanitation and energy in Cuba by:

  • assessing technology needs and matching them with existing solutions; 
  • exploring potential management and business models to finance, implement and scale gridless solutions; and 
  • making an inventory of required and existing capacities for implementation and maintenance.

Recent field visits to locations in Sweden by the Cuban delegation over the first week of August showed these principles in practice.

“The visit of the Cuban delegation was a perfect opportunity to showcase that the project’s assumptions are not just theory; but a reality in Sweden, and a reality that does not always need to be high-tech.”

Karina Barquet, Senior Research Fellow, SEI.

The director of the Cuban Environmental Agency and experts from other institutes visited the Stockholm Royal Seaport and Trosa’s human-made wetland, two examples of how ecosystem services can be integrated in landscape planning to assist with water management. These sites show how nature-based solutions help city planners manage water flows while promoting wellbeing in urban areas.

While designing the conversion of Stockholm Royal Seaport (Norra Djurgården) from an industrial area into a residential neighbourhood, city planners kept climate change adaptation in mind from the very start. Among the innovative solutions visitors observed during the guided tour were low-lying green areas that catch surface water run-off and stormwater, replacing ditches and pavement to sewers; green spaces for recreation; and “green corridors” that link grass patches and gardens among apartment buildings to help insects to thrive.

Similarly, Trosa, a small coastal town located in the south of the Stockholm region, uses a double treatment system for wastewater: a treatment plant and a human-made wetland. The wetland provides time for sedimentation of small particles and for bacteria to decompose the compounds wastewater contains, thus improving water quality in the river and bay. In addition, the wetland is also used as a recreational area, where town residents can enjoy green spaces close by.

Urban planners can also integrate their cities into the surrounding green spaces and agricultural lands in Sweden by taking into consideration what has been called “brown gold”. Sewage from household toilets contains nitrogen and phosphorous in high amounts, which, when treated and returned to the soil, can help grow agricultural crops.

Wastewater treatment and recycling solutions

Karl-Axel Reimer, the head of unit ecology and water protection for Södertalje municipality, presented Hölö farm to the InnovaCuba visitors. A patented treatment technique allows the farmer to make use of sewage collected from public vacuum toilets in the surrounding areas as a fertilizer.

Sewage from vacuum toilets contains less water than from normal toilets, reducing transport costs. The toilet’s vacuum could be powered by the sun, using solar cells, which was of particular interest in the context of Cuba, where electricity shortages are common. After treatment, the resulting sludge is free from pathogens and can be used on agricultural land safely.

At a smaller scale, Kiholm community in Södertäjle use so-called dry toilets in every bathroom in the allotment association (koloniförening). The toilets separate urine from faeces, which are collected in septic tanks for treatment offsite. A pipe connects the toilet’s urine collector to a container outside. Neighbours can use a water pump that mixes urine from the outside container with water, in a 4:1 ratio, to water their gardens.

A pipe connects the toilet’s urine collector to the outside container.
After mixing with water, it is used to water gardens at Kiholm. Photo: Ana Calvo, SEI.

Both solutions described above facilitate the upcycling of nutrients back into the soil while providing a wastewater treatment solution for areas disconnected from a centralized wastewater management system. A common challenge is that the transport of sewage water can be inefficient because of its high weight, compared to the low concentration of nutrients per volume.

At the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Professor Björn Vinnerås explained his vision on water sanitation and introduced an innovative solution that tries to address the inefficiency linked to transporting treated sewage to recycle its nutrients back into the soil. After using a urine-diverting toilet with an “urine trap”, urine is then processed through an alkaline treatment and dehydrated to a powder containing high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous per volume.

The powder can be used as a long-lasting, dry and easy way to transport fertilizer. In addition to having the potential to reintroduce compounds back into the agricultural system, it could also reduce the costs and dependency on artificial fertilizers in agriculture.

Fly larvae solutions 

Another project InnovaCuba visited at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) showcased larvae of the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens). The larvae rapidly increase in mass over three weeks. High in proteins and fat content, they make good food for hens and fish – and they eat organic waste.

Although the expertise required for breeding the larvae is high, this solution could both provide income from selling larvae to feed livestock and assist in returning nutrients into the agricultural system. The waste that makes the black soldier fly larvae fat could be organic waste or food that would otherwise go uneaten.

Observing how larvae of the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) consumes organic waste at SLU. Photo: Ana Calvo.

Closing the loops with nature-based solutions – whether with human-made infrastructure or animals as intermediaries – could make good sense for treating water and strengthening the bioeconomy in Cuba, as well as in Sweden. The projects visited still need to be expanded to larger scales to make a difference in climate resilience and more. After exploring how nature-based and off-grid solutions can work in practice, the InnovaCuba project could assist in untapping the potential for the future of bioeconomy in Cuba – and perhaps eventually in Sweden as well.

Written by: Karina Barquet & Anna Calvo, SEI.

Private, public and research cooperation for developing inclusive off-grid solutions

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On 5 July 2022, sWASH&grow partners: SEI, RISE and LM International organized a session at the Almedalen week in Visby, Sweden. The event titled: ‘Innovation for Resilience and Inclusive Development’, focused on building resilience in cooperation with the private sector for developing inclusive off-grid solutions. Below are key insights from the seminar.

More than 700 million people globally still lack access to electricity, according to the UN. In addition, 2.5 billion people lack access to clean cooking methods, 2 billion lack access to safely managed drinking water, and 3.5 billion lack access to safe sanitation. Meeting these needs in the near future by relying only on traditional grid-based systems is impossible and costly. Fortunately, promising solutions are taking shape.

The increasing demand for humanitarian assistance and the impacts of climate change, globally – whether in Nyköping or in Nairobi – further underscore the growing need for fast solutions, off-grid. And in an era of ageing infrastructure, these solutions are likely to fill the demand for massive and rapid investments in the coming decade. One example is in the energy sector, where changes are increasingly favouring “building more” and smaller units rather than “building larger”.

Until now, water and other sectors have not been as amenable to these solutions – though they should be. An increasingly unpredictable climate will lead to more extreme floods and droughts, power lines affected by storms and fires, combined with last-century infrastructure and increased demand – all of which demand resilient solutions.

Infrastructure diversification, including the role of the private sector in system decentralization, will be increasingly relevant in both humanitarian contexts as well as globally, as discussed at the seminar on “Innovation for Resilience and Inclusive Development”. Panelists discussed how the Swedish private sector supports public and research initiatives in water and sanitation, among other development arenas, in innovative ways and with global implications.

Working Together

Getting solutions in place will require innovation from the private sector, in collaboration with public sector, development organizations, and academia. So far, the pace of change is too slow. While more people than ever use offsite sanitation solutions today, the World Health Organization foresees the need for a fourfold increase in adopting solutions for water and sanitation globally, and ninefold for so-called fragile settings.

This figure shows the declining investments from Small and Medium Enterprises due to primarily high risks in the development markets. The risks are connected to gaps to institutional instability in these markets – such as payment security, and corruption. Factors that the development aid actors are very aware of and are there to develop.

Generally, the expectation has been that private companies will close the investment gap needed for achieving the global goals, almost exclusively in low- and middle-income countries. Major aid and humanitarian organizations now expect private companies to be inclusive.

For innovation to be considered inclusive, the following must take place, according to Josephine Sundqvist, Secretary-General at the global foundation LM International (Läkarmissionen), who spoke at the panel discussion in June:

  1. Give more influence to local initiatives to develop their solutions.Those facing humanitarian crises and poverty know best what type of products they need. They have more innovative power than we think.
  2. Build innovation ecosystems that involve different types of actors.Innovation should not just be driven by large-scale investors and companies but should include local actors such as religious leaders, innovators, tech companies, etc. An actor’s relevance to an innovation or solution is what should matter most.
  3. Being adaptive and contextual. The same innovations may not work in all countries. One must consider social norms and more.
  4. Consider scale. Thinking small-scale fit and at the same time how to scale up from the beginning builds capacity to transfer geographically or demographically an innovation.
  5. Focus on demand-driven innovation. Solutions should respond to a need; and needs differ from context to context.

How Sweden’s private sector works with development and humanitarian operations

Ecobarge, working in Zanzibar and South Sudan, is one of sWASH&grow‘s pilot projects and an example of collaboration between private, public and humanitarian and development actors. The company was founded by Mårten Björk, an innovator and entrepreneur within the supplier network of companies “ElectriCity” and their commercial arm for international project developments, “Urban Tech Sweden”. He described at the panel in June how the organizations develop innovative sustainable and circular solutions for communities and cities, including off-grid solutions.

The Ecobarge concept in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Photo: Ecobarge.

The Ecobarge concept started by building on an idea of a floating barge that supplied a local community with fresh desalinated water and cold rooms for fish. The “Urban Tech Sweden” network realized they had an entrepreneur within the network with this solution that could be developed in Zanzibar. The idea did not need significant government capital investment; the local community could pay for the services, enabling private investment.

“Ecobarge provides fully operational and sustainable off-grid mobile solutions for communities globally,” Björk said during the panel discussion. The product is “a modular, scalable and floating platform integrating sustainable technologies for meeting the needs defined by its users. We operate plants and deliver electricity, energy storage, grid frequency balancing, portable water, fish cooling and processing.”

Ecobarge is mobile, thus mitigating risk if we need to move them in case of a climate or geopolitical risk. This also reduces the risk for investors. To facilitate these kinds of projects, the private sector needs to create “build-own-operate” business models that transfer assets to the end users.

Working and engaging with the local community from the start to define their own hurdles and needs is key. “From that, we can build everything. Through feasibility studies, we show that they are financially sustainable. Local communities are the best experts at their own needs”, Björk said.

Matthew Saus, a managing partner of the Manta Resort in Zanzibar added that they collaborate with Zanzibar’s recently inaugurated Ministry of Blue Economy, on what they call “the blue economy corridor”. The blue economy is important to local communities and rural coastal communities because it looks at the actual economies on the ground and focuses on profitability and sustainability of these local business and economies, including tourism and fishing. Ecobarge provides essential infrastructure that is off-grid.

The Swedish East African Chamber of Commerce (SWEACC), which facilitates matchmaking of key stakeholders for project development in East Africa, fostered contacts between the Embassy of Tanzania, entrepreneurs in Tanzania, investors in Sweden and the entrepreneurs and suppliers within Urban Tech Sweden for the Ecobarge feasibility study for Zanzibar in Tanzania, according to panelist Jan Furuvald, chairman of SWEACC.

“Choosing the right partners to work with is important,” said panelist Patrik Stålgren of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). Stålgren, head of the Unit for Strategic Partnerships, Private Sector, Innovation and New Methods, added, “We apply a systems-based approach where we work on governance, finance, sharing risk to work long-term – helping different actors to share their risk exposure. We build institutions that foster a more favourable environment for investors. We aim to listen and learn more about the real needs of the private sector to engage, innovate and solve relevant problems towards achieving the SDGs.”

On the global scale, according to Ulrika Modeer, the Assistant Secretary-General of the UN Development Program (UNDP), at the panel discussion, “we support the building of institutions needed to drive sustainable investments. We also work in many conflict-ridden countries, and we need to see how to drive investments to these countries,” whether for Covid-19 response, humanitarian and development fallout from the recent invasion of Ukraine, or other ongoing issues such as climate change. “There are a lot of great ideas out there, we just need to find an ecosystem that supports them in the best way,” she said.

Watch the event recording below.

Recording of the “Innovation for resilience and inclusive development” seminar hosted by SEI, RISE and LM International on 5 July 2022 at Sweden’s political week, Almedalen. Video: Sverige i världen / YouTube.

Written by: Karina Barquet, Olle Olsson & Brenda Ochola (SEI).

Millennium Desalination Device

IngesonWater has developed a water desalination machine – “MDD Titan” – from a prototype to a first demo-product tested and validated in Hässleholm, Sweden. Thanks to sWASH&grow, the products can now be scaled for pilot clients and later to more emerging markets in need of off-grid sanitation systems. 

The report below is written in English, with a technical section in Swedish.

TreeWell nature-based solution for wastewater

Carex of Sweden has through the sWASH&grow project developed products for sanitation based on the testbeds in Lebanon, South Africa and Sweden. It is specifically the off-grid features of the products that have been in focus. The products can now be scaled for more emerging markets needing an off-grid sanitation system. 

Carex of Sweden has developed a Nature based Solution for waste water called “TreeWell” which has been tested and validated in Sweden, Lebanon and South Africa as part of sWASH&grow. 

The purpose and objective of Carex involvement in the project is to develop the TreeWell further based on the testbeds in Sweden, Lebanon and South Africa. 

Carex of Sweden also had the product “Green Water Station” as part of its products, which was tested in Rwanda and Uganda. 

Learn more in the report below, written in both English and Swedish.

Pure Bio Synergy product development 

Pure Bio Synergy (PBS) performs product development and test beds in Sweden. The technology enables a very effective off-grid disinfection and water purification that is suitable in all climates.

This report details Pure Bio Synergy’s contribution with a purification and disinfection unit that serves as a stand-alone product or can be part of a bigger system. That is, an essential component that greatly enhances the overall function and performance of the system and/or reduces energy and water consumption, maintenance and other costs. Operational reliability, simplicity of commissioning and use have also been taken into consideration when developing the product.

Learn more in the report summary below.

Innovation for resilience and inclusive development

Almedalen and the cathedral of Visby in background.

Date: Tuesday, 5 July, 2022

Time: 12:00 – 12:45 CEST

Venue: Donnersgatan 6, Visby, Gotland, Sweden & online

Reliance on centralized systems for the provision of critical services increases society’s vulnerability to natural hazards, demographic changes, but also conflict. In urban areas, aging infrastructure coupled with lack of infrastructure redundancy leads to shortages in service provision. In areas with conflict, centralized systems often fall under attack, causing a wave of cascading effects on systems and societies, as recently witnessed in Ukraine. In rural and developing areas, centralized infrastructure will never be attainable due to high capital and maintenance costs. Regardless of the context, there is a clear need to diversify systems and attain a certain degree of infrastructure independence.

In this event we delve into how the private sector in Sweden can work closer with development and humanitarian operations to accelerate progress towards achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) while fostering Swedish innovation. The event will showcase experiences from a selection of the 28 partners from Africa, Middle East, Latin America and Europe of the quadruple helix Vinnova sponsored project “sWASH&grow”. 


  • Ulrika Modeer, Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP 
  • Josephine Sundqvist, Secretary-General, LM International (Läkarmissionen) 
  • Patrik Stålgren, Head of Unit for Strategic Partnerships, Private sector, Innovation and New methods at Sida 
  • Mårten Björk, innovator and entrepreneur within the network “Urban Tech Sweden” 
  • Jan Furuvald, chairman, SWEACC – Swedish East African Chamber of Commerce 

Presentation: Karina Barquet and Olle Olsson, SEI 

Moderator: Sten Stenbeck, RISE 

Organizers: SEI – Stockholm Environment institute, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden and LM International (Läkarmissionen) 

This will be a hybrid event. Join us on-site or online below.

About Almedalen

Almedalen Week is an annual meeting place in Sweden where a range of actors from the public, private and non-profit sector, together with political representatives and media, meet to debate and discuss various societal issues.

Read the full program on the Almedalen website.

Ecobarge – Producing and storing sustainable water and energy

Date: Thursday, 19 May at 1400 – 1500

Venue: Convendum, Biblioteksgatan 29, Stockholm; and online.

Urban Tech Sweden presents ECOBARGE –  a floating platform – modular, scalable and mobile with integrated sustainable technologies. For cities, islands or during crisis.

ECOBARGE invites: 

  • Tech people with innovations who seek orders and testbeds for scaling 
  • Investors who want to explore sustainable, safe investments
  • Communities with a need of solutions for local development and financing

The event is free of charge. You will network with stakeholders from existing projects.

Matchmaking activity – for extended export (water and energy) 

Image: The Manta Resort

On 6th October 2021, Urban Tech Sweden (UTS) with its member ElectriCITY Innovation, held a Matchmaking-event where innovations were presented for two projects: Eco-tourism at Manta, Zanzibar and Deep Energy Retrofit in New York.

The event focused on how to produce off-grid water and energy in the sWASH & grow project. Companies presented innovations on: how to store energy, how to clean and wash without detergent, skip chlorine in pools and how to integrate urban farming with buildings energy and ventilation systems. 

The matchmaking event included the following innovations:

Innovations for Eco-tourism at Manta

  • Drupps – Water production from the atmosphere 
  • Stella Futura – Affordable Green Energy 
  • Naturpooler – Pools with biological treatment 
  • Swatab – Cleaning and washing without detergent 
  • Wostman – Low-flushing toilets that saves up to 95% water 
  • Deep Energy Retrofit in New York – Looking for Grid and Building related solutions

Innovations for Deep Energy Retrofit in New York 

  • Soltech – Integrated aesthetic solar cell-solutions for roofs and façades 
  • Ecoclime – Circular thermal energy systems and smart property automation
  • SaltX – Clean and sustainable energy storage in nano coated salts
  • 3eflow – A new way of using water
  • SweGreen – Integrating urban farming with buildings energy and ventilation systems
  • A new tool for a Business-model and financing

Read more about the innovations and event outcomes in the report below.