Market dynamics as a driver towards the evolution of research needs: the case of up-flow anaerobic sludge blanket seeding granules
Market dynamics offer positive (incentive) or negative (disincentive) feedback loops that shape the research needs for, or certain aspects of, a particular technology. Our case study results illustrate how market dynamics have influenced the evolution of research needs in the wastewater treatment sector, with specific emphasis on research on the seeding granules used to start up-flow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) reactors. Because of insufficient data on the actual market demand for seeding granules for UASB plants, surrogate data, on the number of UASB plants installed internationally from 1970 to 2007, were used to predict the potential future demand for seeding granules. Secondly, we also determined whether or not such a demand would provide sufficient economic justification for the installation of one or more plants for manufacturing seeding granules in South Africa. The direct relationship between the demand for seeding granules and increased numbers of UASB plants was based on the premise that the start-up of each plant required a seeding inoculum before effluent could be treated. Three methods were used to obtain the data used in this study, namely: a literature survey, a questionnaire survey, and interviews with people having expert knowledge of wastewater treatment technologies. Our findings suggest that the UASB technology has largely been marginalised in the wastewater treatment market because of the introduction of competing technologies, and due to high initial capital costs. As a result, South African market demand for the seeding granules is likely to be very small or non-existent, because the number of new UASB plants installed per year is likely to decrease in future. Secondly, our research suggests that market dynamics, political contexts and technologies will continue to change, exerting an increasing downward influence on the UASB technology over time.
Keywords: market dynamics, UASB, EGSB, seeding granules, market demand, inoculum