Water sector sets course for the circular economy

Point on the Circular Water 2050 horizon

The recently published report ‘Stip op de horizon Circulair Water 2050’ (‘Point on the Circular Water 2050 horizon’) formulates objectives and future perspectives for the water sector for the efficient recovery of raw materials and energy from (waste)water streams. Produced by KWR, STOWA, AquaMinerals and the Energy and Raw Materials Factory, the report is a product of the Circular Water 2050 project, which is part of the Water in the Circular Economy (WiCE) joint research programme. This project focused on concretising the possible circular water cycle in 2050, the so-called ‘Point on the horizon’. This clearly involves more than achieving higher raw material efficiency.

Efficient with raw materials

The ‘Point on the Circular Water 2050 horizon’ report follows up on a previous publication: Operationalisering Circulaire Economie principe voor de waterketen (‘Operationalising the Circular Economy principle for the water cycle’), in which the concept was delineated for the WiCE Efficient with raw materials research theme. It also included a description of how to make the ‘Point on the horizon’ measurable on the basis of 16 characteristics, which are shown in a Score Card.

For the present publication, five workshops were organised with representatives from the water utilities, Water Authorities, municipalities, universities and the private sector. The Score Card, a list of possible (technological) innovations and a number of ‘what-if’ scenarios were used in the workshops to test the requirements for and the feasibility of the circular water cycle.

Circular water-cycle objectives

As a result of the above process, the water sector set itself a series of circular objectives which are outlined in the report. These objectives include:

  • a fully circular/renewable and safe use of feedstock;
  • 100% reuse of components, feedstock and raw materials;
  • a climate- and environment-positive water cycle;
  • a minimal footprint;
  • an area water balance without net groundwater abstraction;
  • a significant improvement of surface water quality;
  • minimal drinking water waste.

In other words, a lot more than higher raw material efficiency alone.

Future circular water-cycle perspectives

Building on these circular objectives, the report also formulates an exhaustive series of 16 future perspectives. These range from wastewater treatment and raw material recovery mostly closer to the source, to the separate collection of grey, black and yellow water. It is expected that there will more customised systems tailored to the specific characteristics of a neighbourhood, a city and the environment. Multiple water-use and cascading will be more frequent, as will modular and climate-proof construction and design. Moreover, the use of the water system as a source of energy, and the deployment of sensors and artificial intelligence for asset and water-use optimisation are expected to become commonplace.

The Circular Water Cycle as a future vision for 2050.

Goed beeld van ‘volledig circulair in 2050’

Clear picture of ‘fully circular in 2050’

The reports offer a clear picture of what ‘fully circular in 2050’ is understood to mean in the water cycle, summed up in a visual ‘Point on the horizon’ (see illustration). In addition, the Score Card offers a practical tool to assess different designs of the physical/technical solutions for a circular water cycle. The next step involves developing a roadmap, which will clarify how the existing water cycle in a reference neighbourhood can be transformed into a fully circular water cycle in 2050. Besides no-regret measures and techniques, it will also define deadlines for making choices which require more knowledge, innovations or certainty.

‘Stip op de horizon Circulair Water 2050’ was funded by STOWA (Water Authorities) and WiCE (drinking water sector), and included in-kind contributions in the project by the collaboration partners AquaMinerals and the Energy and Raw Materials Factory.