Press release | 21.07.2020 | pp

Drop by Drop - Water 4.0

Engineers at TU Berlin are developing a digital twin for a pumping station to gain a better understanding and improve the management of wastewater infrastructures in megacities at times of climate change

Access to clean fresh water is something many of us today take for granted. The increasing strain on natural resources occurring as a result of urbanization and climate change, however, means that the intelligent management and safe handling of water and wastewater require the highest engineering and technical expertise. To make the relevant infrastructures more efficient and easier to manage, particularly in major cities, researchers at TU Berlin are creating innovative, intelligent concepts and strategies and conducting realistic environment research. Currently, they are working together with Siemens AG and the Berliner Wasserbetriebe to develop a digital twin for a pumping station. This will help make it possible in the future to virtually detect problems in wastewater systems as well as proactively operate and maintain these systems in functioning order using intelligent technology.

“The digital twin represents a real milestone on the way to achieving water 4.0,” explains Professor Dr.-Ing. Paul Uwe Thamsen, head of the Chair of Fluid Dynamics at the Institute of Fluid Dynamics and Technical Acoustics at TU Berlin. The giant pumping station test bed stands ready in the experimental hall on the campus at TU Berlin for researchers working in a range of projects to explore the various digital options for operation and maintenance, data analyses and networking.

Heat, aridity and heavy rain place a strain on the sewage system

“The population of Berlin alone has increased by 300,000 in the last twenty years,” says Thamsen. “Long periods of heat and aridity are increasing, as is heavy rainfall. This places a considerable strain on our wastewater system.” This can result in bad odors emerging from the wastewater network as well as corroding components, while heavy rainfall overburdens the sewage system, resulting in the combined sewers overflowing and releasing polluted wastewater.

As TU Berlin research partner, Siemens AG has invested some 500,000 euros to equip the pumping station test bed with the latest technology to enable a digital twin to be added step by step. This will ultimately make all information relating to the test bed available in a single digital environment: planning documents, technical data, setting parameters, operational and maintenance data as well error diagnoses with independent error correction responses.

Efficient and economic management of water

The digital twin offers an additional aspect of particular interest to Berliner Wasserbetriebe, the second research partner. “The intelligent linking of existing water and wastewater retention equipment and the proactive operational procedures of wastewater pumping stations will enable the system to deal more effectively with rainfall events and result in energy savings when compared with regular operational procedures,” explains Thamsen. “This can save the need to construct new plants, which often requires millions of euros of investment. The digitalization of the system thus supports an efficient and economic water management.”

A major problem in urban wastewater systems is caused by meter-long, stinking, greasy, thick lumps of material, which regularly knot together beneath the ground in the wastewater system of the heaving metropolis and ultimately lead to blockages in the massive wastewater pumps. Berliner Wasserbetriebe staff have to wrench these by hand from the pumping stations to prevent the streets of Berlin turning into an open sewer. These blockages are mainly caused by moist baby and hygiene wipes thrown thoughtlessly into toilets. “The digital twin enables us to detect potential blockages before they occur and run the pumps backwards to clean them,” says Thamsen. “All in all, digitalization helps us to better understand and get the best out of our infrastructures.”

The new test bed of the “quasi real” pumping station and the digital twin provide TU Berlin with the facilities it needs to develop numerous innovative solutions for intelligent pumping stations. These solutions can be applied to any sewage network structures in different cities.

Where big pumps are tested: An insight into the lab


Organization name Chair of Fluiddynamics – Fluidmechanics in Machines and Systems