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Policies, Innovation And Networks for enhancing Opportunities for China Europe Water Cooperation

Policies, Innovation And Networks for enhancing Opportunities for China Europe Water Cooperation

English EN

EU-China water partnerships

European SMEs have much to offer the burgeoning Chinese water technology market, but need a little help.


© Zhao Jian Kang, Shutterstock
China has always faced water challenges. Flooding is one ancient yet ongoing problem. More recently, China’s industry has been consuming so much water that some regions now experience serious shortages. Inadequately treated wastewater is also highly polluting. Since 2011, the Chinese government has committed to solving these problems via a mixture of policies addressing allocation, efficient industrial use and quality of water. The policy shift will require colossal investment in infrastructure and environmental improvements (around EUR 500 billion over 10 years). The fact that many existing technologies are unsustainable creates demand for integrated new alternatives, some of which European SMEs can provide. The EU-funded PIANO Coordination and Support Action explored the potential for introducing innovative European water technologies to China. The project assessed and shortlisted the most promising candidates. Market access “The problem for us,” explains project leader Dr Markus Starkl, “is that it’s always difficult for foreign companies to enter the Chinese market.” In most cases, foreign operators cannot compete directly against domestic businesses. The water situation is particularly complex. A specialist Chinese market does exist for technology that generates power using water, especially that which recovers heat and electrical energy. The Chinese also need modelling and decision-support systems; however, funds for purchasing such systems are limited. Moreover, the risk of intellectual property theft increases the difficulty for foreign organisations. In spite of the challenges, European SMEs remain committed to the Chinese market, yet aware that they would be unlikely to succeed alone. “Therefore,” continues Dr Starkl, “for EU water technology businesses, productive outcomes must involve strategic partnerships with Chinese institutes. Establishing those partnerships was one of PIANO’s main purposes.” Shortlisted technologies First, the team collated and assessed candidate technologies from both Europe and China. The technologies represent five sectors: management of agricultural, municipal and industrial water, river basin management and water for energy. Researchers focused on around 100 innovations, including 59 covering 4 sectors that EU businesses can offer China. The assessment evaluated the latter group for potential application in China. The selection includes systems for environmental monitoring, and also decision-support tools that help model and/or interpret the monitoring data. The decision tools are intended for the design and operation of infrastructure and equipment. Further selected technologies include automation and communication tools that process outputs from the monitoring and decision-support applications. Since the lists were compiled via academic networks, the candidate technologies reflect products developed through research rather than those that SMEs have produced. “Nevertheless, the analysis compared water innovation performance very successfully, considering a lack of information about how the products are used or under development in China,” adds Dr Starkl. PIANO’s shortlist of technologies suitable for the specialist Chinese market suggests areas for potential joint EU-Chinese research and development. The team has proposed a related strategic research and innovation agenda. The project’s findings were presented to the China Europe Water Platform and will inform the body’s future actions. Researchers also compiled a list of recommendations for EU businesses considering the Chinese market. The team concluded that the Chinese water technology market is feasible for European businesses. With around 60 innovative technologies to offer one of the world’s largest markets, European SMEs should benefit from the Chinese partnerships that PIANO has set up.


PIANO, water, China, SMEs, collaboration, water technology, innovation, energy

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 642433

  • Start date

    1 March 2015

  • End date

    31 May 2018

Funded under:


  • Overall budget:

    € 1 107 375

  • EU contribution

    € 1 107 375

Coordinated by: