Drinking water companies in the Netherlands and Belgium have taken the initiative in establishing the multi-annual ‘Water in the Circular Economy’ (WiCE) research programme, which runs from 2018 until at least 2023. The watercycle-wide research programme will contribute to meeting societal challenges like those of the ‘Circular Economy in the Netherlands by 2050 Programme’, the Water Framework Directive and the energy transition. The programme’s official kick-off took place on 25 January at KWR. The focus is now on moving the programme forward and seeking more intensive collaborations with other sectors.
Over 50 participants, including many drinking water company representatives and interested parties from KWR, the waterboards and the business community, were led through the programme by Maarten Claassen (Waternet). During the substantive part of the programme, the spotlight was placed on all water-related aspects of the circular economy, and it was concluded that the programme has made a strong start. The focus is now on moving the programme forward and seeking more intensive collaborations with other sectors, with the aim of enhancing the impact and contribution of the circular economy even more. A hall full of WiCE ambassadors certainly represents a good beginning in this effort.
Riksta Zwart, Director of Waterbedrijf Groningen and chair of the WiCE Core Group, explained the initiative and stressed the need to begin thinking and acting in terms of circularity. The news constantly reminds us that our supplies of water, raw materials and energy are under pressure. Resources like phosphates will become scarce over the next few decades, and drought will mean that Cape Town, South Africa, might completely run out of water as early as this April.
Hans Ruijgers, head of communications at KWR, presented The Circonomist, the international news website dedicated to water, energy and food in the circular economy. The site will be online in mid-February.
Programme Manager Marcel Paalman (KWR) made a presentation on the different WiCE research themes:
- Resource Efficiency
- Freshwater Resource Management
- Quality in the Watercycle
- Water and Energy
- Climate Adaptation
- Value in the Watercycle
Paalman proposed that the attendees were also ambassadors in the process of further advancing water in the circular economy, and of establishing connections with other actors and stakeholder who are, or wish to be, active in the field of the circular economy and closing of resource loops. WiCE has made a good start, as Maarten Claassen summed up at the end of the broad substantive programme. But all those present were fully aware of their interest in further intensifying collaborations with other stakeholders in and associated with the watercycle, and thus strengthening the contribution of WiCE to the circular economy. Riksta Zwart concluded by advocating the need to be open and to learn from each other and other sectors and, most of all, not to forget that it is precisely the collaborative nature of WiCE’s work that makes it not only useful but also extremely enjoyable.
The afternoon was dedicated to substantive presentations on different (WiCE) research projects. Professor Willy Verstraete, who was named KWR Honorary Fellow shortly before the meeting, emphasised the need for continuous technical innovation in the search for solutions to global water and energy challenges. Ruud Peeters of the Energy and Raw Materials Factory, and Aalke Lida de Jong of AquaMinerals discussed the extraction of raw materials from wastewater, and the circular application of the extracted products. Bart Bardoel of ZLTO spoke of how a win-win situation was created in the Boer Bier Water project thanks to the collaboration with the Bavaria brewery. Boer Bier Water involves the use of Bavaria’s residual water in neighbouring agriculture, thus reducing the pressure on groundwater resources. Ruud Bartholomeus (KWR) stressed that a circular approach to water streams increases the regional self-provision of freshwater for agriculture, nature, drinking water and industry over the long term. Gertjan Zwolsman of Dunea talked about the company’s search for new potential sources for drinking water production, in view of the growing problems with water quality in the Meuse and Lek rivers caused by climate change. Dunea is looking at all options, including other surface water sources (fresh and saline) and the reuse of WWTP effluent.
Risks, knowledge boost and energy
Annemarie van Wezel (KWR) and Hilde Passier (Deltares) addressed, respectively, the contamination risks of products extracted from water streams, and the need for a knowledge boost in the short term to meet the requirements of the Water Framework Directive. After the break, Vincent de Laat of Brabant Water outlined the potential of the water system in the Netherlands as an important storage and transport medium for thermal energy. In his presentation, entitled ‘Solar power to the people’, Ad van Wijk (TU Delft/KWR) highlighted the potential of the hydrogen economy.
Henk-Jan van Alphen (KWR) discussed the governance aspects of water in the circular economy. Governance issues are perhaps even more decisive to the success of the circular economy than technical ones. The determination of ‘value’ requires the participation of different stakeholders, and involves various forms of value apart from the economic. The challenge is the translation into business cases. Rob Ververs of Waternet talked about the AGV/Waternet initiative aimed at the circular development of Amsterdam’s Buiksloterham district.
Discussion and smartphone quiz
During the course of the programme, the attendees could react to the presentations and ask questions, which resulted in a meaningful interaction and discussion. Smartphones were also required to take part in the quiz to determine the ‘WiCEst person in the Benelux’. KWR researcher Henk-Jan van Alphen narrowly won the contest and was presented with the reuse trophy. The cup, from the Nieuwegein pigeon association, which was once awarded in 1985, was thus given a second life.