Year Review 2021

The water sector as a reliable supplier of commodities recovered from the water cycle

How practice-based research opens up the road to new commodity chains

Water is probably the most circular resource on earth. So it’s hardly surprising that the water sector has taken the lead in organising its processes and commodity consumption as circularly as possible. To pool their strengths and achieve their ambitions, the water companies use the services of AquaMinerals, an organisation they established collectively. AquaMinerals and KWR collaborate on establishing sustainable and circular commodity chains.

AquaMinerals (formerly known as the Reststoffenunie) was founded in 1995 by the drinking water companies. Its main task is to use residual substances released during the production of drinking water in a safe and responsible way. Whereas, in 1995, the primary focus was on purchasing waste processing, the vast majority of residual flows in 2021 find their way into functional applications. So the sustainability and financial returns from those flows are also improving all the time. Since 2018, water authorities have also been joining the collective. AquaMinerals now has eleven drinking water companies and five water authorities as shareholders.

Circular use

AquaMinerals tries to use the substances in high-grade commodity chains in ways that are as sustainable and circular as possible. Sustainability is stated as the carbon footprint in the chain. AquaMinerals actively uses this criterion as a guideline. Over the past five years, we have been looking even more closely at whether the substances can also be used in circular ways. We have a preferred cascade here: (1) use in the same application as the one releasing the substance, (2) use in the water cycle, (3) use in the biological or technical cycle and finally (4) linear.

Calcite pellets.

Calcite and iron pellets

Clearly, AquaMinerals cannot establish these chains on its own. It works closely with the suppliers of the substances, the water companies. And of course, it also operates with market parties that can work up these substances and want to use them in their production processes. In many cases, this requires practical research; KWR is a very important partner for AquaMinerals in this respect.

This alliance, which often also includes market parties and water companies, has led to eye-catching new applications. Examples include (1) using calcite from the softening process after grinding, sanitising, and screening to specification to be used as an inoculum in that same softening process or (2) making iron pellets from iron sludge for removing arsenic or phosphate from surface water.

Liquid aquafer.

Powerful collective

We can only be successful in the circular economy if there is collaboration in the chain. AquaMinerals therefore connects participants, clients and service providers. Where we see opportunities, we initiate joint projects and business cases, and organise chains. We are a powerful collective that shares knowledge, innovates and looks after the future.

Olaf van der Kolk, Director AquaMinerals, .