Consulate General of the Netherlands in Chicago

Leon Korving of Wetsus

The Dutch organization Wetsus won the second round of the George Barley Water Prize on October 26. In addition to advancing to the next round with nine other contestants, they also received $50,000. This is not the first victory for Wetsus in this global competition. The organization received $25,000 for winning the third phase of the first round earlier this year.

The prize, named after US environmentalist George Barley, is awarded to organizations that try to find solutions for problems related to algae.

To this end, the prize has set challenging demands for an inexpensive and compact technology that can remove phosphorus from surface water, such as lakes.

The next and third stage of this competition will run from February through April 2018. Ten teams have been selected for this stage, but only four will advance to the fourth and final stage in Florida. The winning team will be awarded $10 million.

We sat down with Leon Korving, team member of the Wetsus NaFRAd technology.

Mr. Korving, how would you introduce Wetsus to an American audience?

Wetsus is a multidisciplinary organization that connects universities and companies. We do not work with just one university, research institution, or company. Instead, Wetsus works with many. By joining forces, we can draw from a much larger talent pool, and access and utilize knowledge from a great number of parties involved in the water-technology sector.

Wetsus is also a place where researchers meet. The importance of having such a research center cannot be overstated. By bringing Ph.D. students and established researchers from across the globe together in one place, we create a unique environment that is highly conductive to excellent research and development.

The benefits of this approach are clearly visible in our NaFRAd technology, which we submitted to the George Barley Water Prize. The team consists of Prashanth Kumar, a researcher from India who specializes in the adsorption aspect; Victor Ajao, a talented young Nigerian who focuses on the flocculant; Raimonda Buliauskaite from Latvia who did the lab tests; and me.

Four people, four nationalities. It goes to show that Wetsus attracts talent from all over the world, which is key to its success.

What makes the Dutch approach to finding solutions for water cleaning different from the American approach?

The US has a number of organizations that specialize in water technology, but most are born from a particular university or tied to a certain region. Cooperation between these organizations is not the norm.

Wetsus, on the other hand, is an international organization that strives to bring together academics and companies from all over the world to facilitate research that can provide solutions to problems within the water technology sector. We can draw on research conducted at a variety of universities and companies, and introduce people to others they might not otherwise meet, allowing them to come into contact with new ideas and technologies.

How does the NaFRAd technology work, and what makes it stand out?

The NaFRAd technology is a two-step technology where particulate phosphorus is removed through flocculation and adsorption is used to remove the soluble phosphorus.

The flocculation technology comes from the Wageningen University & Research, whereas the adsorption technology has its origin at the Delft University of Technology. To come full circle, each of these technologies is made possible as a result of funding provided by companies that will ultimately commercialize the technology.

Wetsus is competing for the George Barley Water Prize, but the NaFRAd technology is the result of collaboration across multiple layers and between different institutions. This type of collaboration is what makes Wetsus unique, and sets us apart from water clusters in the US.

What does Wetsus offer potential US clients?

Take the Barley Water Prize. The goal of the competition is to find a solution for algal blooms in large bodies of water. Algal blooms are, however, not a problem contained solely to the US. Europe and other parts of the world also suffer from the same problem.

You could, with justification, call it a global issue. US clients can benefit from the solutions that flow from Wetsus, because many problems in the water technology sector are, indeed, global problems. The US is, however, underrepresented at Wetsus. If we could intensify collaboration, then that would be to the benefit of all.

Why did you decide to participate in the George Barley competition?

We first heard about the Barley Prize at a conference of the European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform, where the people from the Barley Prize were advertising their competition and encouraged organizations from all over the world to participate.

The prize challenges participants to create revolutionary technologies that can lead to real breakthroughs in the field of water technology, which is exactly what Wetsus stands for. We want to develop solutions for global water problems.

The European Union does not have similar competitions, so we decided to join the competition in the US From 36 non-American entries, only Wetsus remains.

What are the chances for Wetsus to win this worldwide competition?

It is difficult to say. Even though we won the first two rounds, there is no guarantee we will win the next one. Having said that, the third stage is held roughly 100 km (62 miles) north of Toronto in a location called “Holland Marsh.” You could say we have the home advantage!