Kees Roest from KWR Watercycle Institute presents at the Hudson River Foundation.

By Carter Craft
Senior Economic Officer, Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York

Water is a fundamental indicator of sustainability in cities around the world. Too much or too little of it presents challenges. Poor water quality means the city is not as healthy as it ought to be.

Looking ahead to a world that is more urban and densely populated, it becomes clear we must find new and more sustainable ways to use water.

From August 5-9, the second International Resource Recovery Conference was convened at Columbia University in New York. Representatives from many leading organizations in the Dutch water sector had featured roles.

What opportunities exist for resource recovery in the water cycle? Let’s explore.

Start with new knowledge

Invention and innovation help humanity grow while new water knowledge creates many benefits. Sometimes this new knowledge becomes a commodity, leading to the development of new commercial products and services.

This knowledge also becomes new tools that help address society’s greater challenges for health and growth, such as improved sanitation, wider accessibility, and generation of other resources, such as energy, minerals, and nutrients.

During the conference, Arslan Ahmad from the KWR Watercycle Institute demonstrated how iron sludge from drinking water treatment can help to remove arsenic. This not only reuses what in most places is a waste product, but it also eliminates the need to mine for iron to help remove arsenic.

Collaboration is key

How do you boost the knowledge economy? How do you narrow the gap between knowledge and applications in utilities and industry?

In 2011, the so-called Centres of Expertise (CoEs) were created in the Netherlands to deal with such issues. The process was administered by The National Science & Technology Platform. A few years following the initiation, this platform subjected the Centre of Expertise Water Technology (CEW) at the Watercampus in Leeuwarden to a thorough audit. The conclusion is that public-private partnerships in water can work well.

At the conference, Kees Roest of the KWR Watercycle Institute presented the “ARREAU” project. Organized under the European Innovation Partnership On Water Action Group, this initiative seeks to accelerate resource recovery from the water cycle.

More collaborations are needed to address the world’s future water challenges. Like ARREAU, there are many other collaborative efforts underway in or linked to efforts in the Netherlands.

Sustainability is going circular

Rosanne Wielemaker from Wageningen University and her poster on Nutrient hotspots in the City of Amsterdam.

One look into the water cycle, and it becomes apparent that there are many resource flows happening here. Drinking water conveyance, waste water treatment, and industrial process water are all composed of much more than just H2O. Within these flows there are excess minerals that can be recovered, thermal energy that can be exchanged, and biogas that can be harvested.

Rosanne Wielemaker from Waginengen University presented a poster during the conference on “Identifying And Mapping Urban Nutrient Hotspots and Their Implication For (Urban) Agriculture.”

Using Amsterdam as a study area, she showed how nutrient recovery opportunities vary locally according to land use and population density. Tessa van den Brand from KWR presented ways to increased methane/ biogas production from the residual sludge in wastewater treatment. Similar initiatives are happening in many places and have the opportunity to scale up tremendously.

Sometimes the recovery opportunity is in the physical material. Gert-Jan Euverink delivered a presentation focused on the use of cellulose to assist in the dewatering of sludge. Later in the Conference, the Dutch companies AquaMinerals and CirTec were recognized as best practices on recovery of components from water.

Capturing any of these flows can contribute to better sustainability of these processes, reduce costs and even generate profits. Gerben Stouten from the Technical University in Delft showed chemistry and biology working together; nutrients fed to certain types of microbes can boost biopolymer production.

Ultimately, closing these loops in the water cycles contributes to the development of a more circular economy. Fewer byproducts and externalities equals more benefits in terms of material and money. This type of dual benefit was demonstrated in the recovery of minerals and biogas by Jorge Ricardo Cunha from Wetsus Institute.

Water is a growing business

The Netherlands is home to more than 300 water-focused businesses ranging from tech startups to large engineering companies. The Netherlands Water Partnership, consisting of more than 200 members, acts as a center of information on water expertise, policy developments and market opportunities.

Members specializing in water technology also partner up in The Water Alliance, a unique partnership of public and private companies, government agencies and knowledge institutes. The Water Alliance focuses on innovative and sustainable water technology that can be used worldwide. It brings together a complete chain of innovation for water technology.

This knowledge process starts with the first idea, to research and development in specialized laboratories, testing in a water application center and various demo sites, all the way to launching customers and in many cases international applications.

Government also works as a water steward

The Dutch delegation of podium and poster presenters along with embassy and consulate staff at the second International Resource Recovery Conference.

Dutch water management benefits from a national policy that takes the “long view” when it comes to serving as a steward of water resources.

During a side event after the IRRC Conference, Henry van Veldhuizen of the Water Board Vallei-Veluwe presented an overview of Dutch water management to a wide array of New York area stakeholders in the water sphere.

World-renown expertise in this field means that water is recognized by the national government as a “top sector,” one of the areas in which Dutch companies and research centers excel in the global context.

Top sector Water consists of three clusters: water, delta and maritime technology. Inside of these clusters, programs are put in place to serve the sector as a whole.

The VP Delta program is one of these. In order to increase exposure and facilitate market introduction of Dutch water and technology sector innovations, educational and research institutes have joined forces with (local) authorities and entrepreneurs in the region of Zuid-Holland to create the Valorization Program Delta Technology & Water (VPdelta). The program is now in its second phase (2016 -2019).

Knowledge leads the way

Knowledge institutes play an important role in propelling the water sector into the future. These institutes work as bridges between business interests, universities and government.

KWR Watercycle Institute is an example of such a bridging organization. KWR generates knowledge to enable the water sector to operate water-wisely. KWR’s scientific findings and the resulting practical innovations contribute, worldwide, to a more sustainable urban water cycle.

The knowledge institute Wetsus was established as a European center of excellence for sustainable water technology. There are many other innovative organizations and programs focused on generating new knowledge. Many of these are interested in more international collaboration.

From the office of the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, we would like to congratulate Professor Kartik Chandran of Columbia University. As chair of the IRRC 2017 event, he brought together an international network of experts in the growing field of resource recovery from water. The week was both educational and inspiring. Let the best practices scale up and expand to where they are needed most!