With the appointment of Prof. Dr. Paul Jeffrey as visiting professor at the Knowledge Management group, KWR has strengthened its international scientific profile for the research undertaken by this group. Paul is Professor of Water Management and Head of Cranfield Water Science Institute, which is part of Cranfield University in the UK.
Starting from February of this year, Paul Jeffrey will be visiting KWR for four days every three months. Within the Resilience Management & Governance Team he is one of the coordinators for shaping the ‘Value in the Chain’ theme in the collective Water in the Circular Economy research programme, which is currently under development. He is supporting the expansion of the team’s research by jointly formulating research proposals, writing scientific articles and applying knowledge and expertise in practical situations both in the Netherlands and abroad. On the international stage, Paul acts for KWR as a proactive ambassador and link with the international academic world in the field of water management.
‘Working with young, bright people who dare to think outside the box, yes!’
What appeals to you about the position of visiting professor at KWR?
‘I’ve known KWR for more than 10 years now, and in a European context I’ve been working with a number of KWR researchers for quite some time. For me, the institute has many similarities with my place of work. Both the Cranfield Water Science Institute and KWR have a strong focus on working with the water companies and their supply chain. At Cranfield, 80 percent of our income is derived from the business sector. We don’t receive much support from the government. Cranfield and KWR also share the same areas of research: water treatment and water management. In addition, I also recognise KWR’s strong dedication to innovation and collaboration. In addressing water-related issues we are both looking for links between different scientific disciplines and between stakeholders, and we both have a culture in which we are seeking solutions that benefit everyone. That’s why I feel at home here.’
What are you going to do to strengthen the Knowledge Management group?
‘I have been asked to join the group’s Resilience Management & Governance Team and to focus on social science issues in the field of the Circular Economy. In addition, I will also contribute to their work on horizon scanning and strategic management in relation to innovation. Both areas are at the heart of my work at Cranfield. For drinking water – an important focus area for KWR – developing circular economy strategies for resource recovery and reuse is very challenging. The reason for this is that, compared with wastewater, there are fewer recoverable resources in drinking water sources . You have to be smarter and more innovative in order to develop techniques and tools that allow you to recover value from drinking water treatment processes. It’s not an easy task which makes the challenge intellectually rewarding and worthwhile.’
What has to be done to make drinking water production part of the circular economy?
‘Efficient recovery of materials and other resources such as energy from drinking water treatment processes is mainly a scale and critical mass issue. The concentration of reusable elements such as nutrients and energy in wastewater flows is high enough to make investment feasible for individual treatment plants. For drinking water plants this is not necessarily the case and we need to think about multiple plants as the economic scale of operation. Infrastructure and logistics then become the important factors and there will be opportunities for new small businesses to emerge that are able to exploit the synergies between recovered material sources and points of reuse / re-processing..’
What is the relationship between social sciences and the circular economy?
‘From the point of view of the social sciences, the circular economy has various blind spots. For example, we have to gain a better understanding of customer behaviour and we have to scrutinise business models. Are new business models required for the circular economy to flourish for example? We also have to analyse the risks and the responsibilities of individual players. It’s therefore about understanding how to bring the right people together who have the skills and knowledge to set the activities in motion and catalyse the engine of the circular economy. These are all well understood social-science challenges. In many ways the technologies needed for the circular economy already exist and the challenge is to provide better understandings of behaviour and governance to ensure that those technologies can be used to best effect.’
What activities have you developed elsewhere in relation to the circular economy?
‘In the United Kingdom I’m involved in several projects that are looking at the extent to which waste water treatment plants can play a role in the circular economy. On behalf of a number of water companies we have conducted studies into the recovery of energy, nutrients and heat from waste water. Water companies want to make waste water treatment energy neutral. As I’ve said before, it’s easier to recover raw materials from waste water than it is from drinking water. In the past people would say that waste water is heavily polluted but these days we say it contains a lot of raw materials. It’s simply a question of a different approach. At Cranfield, we are also the first institute in the world to offer an MSc course in the circular economy. We are an educational institute and that’s the expertise I am also introducing to KWR.’
What are you most looking forward to in working at KWR?
‘I’m looking forward to working with young, bright people who dare to think outside the box. KWR employs academics of a high intellectual calibre and I’ve always been very impressed by that. KWR has an outstanding reputation and their ability to turn academic insight into support for practitioners is stimulating. It changes our view of challenges and the solutions we can develop for addressing those challenges. The focus on solving real world problems to improve water services for citizens whilst protecting the environment is a major attraction for anyone who looks for satisfaction in the quality of their work. KWR researchers are some of the smartest thinkers to be found in Europe. The opportunity of working with those people to shape the water sector in Europe over the next 20 to 40 years is an opportunity that I couldn’t miss!’