WiCE Inspiration Session: working together on water, circularity and sustainability

Circular economy requires collaboration, sharing, connections and innovation

The first WiCE inspiration session 2023 took place on Thursday, 29 June. Water in the Circular Economy is a subject close to many people’s hearts: the WiCE inspiration session brings together people involved in water, circularity and sustainability to engage in the conversation. Some 35 participants from a range of sectors – drinking water, water authorities, central government, municipalities and industry – explored water, circularity and sustainability challenges in their organisations and their fields. WiCE believes that the complex and rapidly changing society in which we live requires consultation and collaboration. The WiCE inspiration session encourages the sharing of experiences and the joint search to identify issues for investigation in the WiCE research programme.

Opening of the WiCE Inspiration Session by Henk-Jan van Alphen, the WiCE programme manager.

Henk-Jan van Alphen, the WiCE programme manager at KWR, kicked off with a brief introduction to WiCE. Water in the Circular Economy is primarily a programme for collaboration, connection, knowledge sharing and innovation. Go here to watch his talk in which he looks at the use of a shower token to explain what WiCE is and why collaboration is indispensable.


Video – 12:18
TED-talk Henk-Jan van Alphen: WiCE: onderzoeksprogramma, kennismakelaar en verbinder met de praktijk

WiCE results: bioassays and the value of concentrate

Two ongoing WiCE projects have produced results for circularity. Astrid Reus on bioassays and Luuk de Waal on concentrate. Both work as researchers at KWR.

Astrid Reus is studying the potential uses of bioassays to assess water quality in water reuse applications. Assessing the quality of water flows, and the associated risks, on the basis of chemical analysis can be very difficult. In particular, waste water, with all the anthropogenic factors, is a very complex matrix and it is impossible to test for all potential substances. Bioassays are effect measurements that provide an indication of the toxicity of the entire sample and can be used to screen sources that are suitable for reuse applications. However, it has emerged that it is still necessary to select a good standard set from the many bioassays available that can provide the best risk estimate for reuse.

Luuk de Waal discussed the ‘Opportunities for Concentrate’ study. This concentrate is the residual flow left over after the treatment of water with membrane technologies. The dissolved substances in this concentrate are present in higher concentrations. Concentrate is currently treated as a waste flow. The project is investigating what value can be extracted from concentrate. There is a focus, for example, on the water in concentrate (99% by mass) that is now discharged unused, on the salts present and their extraction (such as Ca and Mg salts), and on breaking down the organic material with supercritical gasification involving the formation of a high calorific gas. On the basis of the initial results, it is concluded that these applications are promising, and the project is investigating in more detail whether valorisation is possible.

Exchange of experiences: reusing rainwater

Evelyn De Meyer, the innovation project manager at De Watergroep, inspired people with the story of the domestic reuse of rainwater in Flanders. Since 2004, installing a rainwater collection system in new buildings or during renovation work is mandatory there. The primary aim was to prevent problems with excess water. But it is also resulting increasingly in applications with rainwater in and around the home. As a result, drinking water demand is falling to a current average of 89 litres per person per day. She also dwelled on the consequences of moving ahead further with this development and the difference in the acceptance of risk in various countries.

Speed dating: working out quickly how you can help each other

The speed dating during the WiCE inspiration session was a playful format designed to engage with each other about water, circularity, and sustainability challenges and solutions. And how you can help each other in this respect.

Exploring problems together during the speed dating session.

Working together on ideas for the WiCE programme

The WiCE inspiration session was deliberately designed to look together at the questions and ideas out there, and to articulate the questions. What is urgent and what needs to be tackled in the years ahead? WiCE programme manager Joep van den Broeke of KWR described the details of the plan for the WiCE programme over the next six years. This served as a basis for a working session in which participants used a project canvas to develop joint project ideas that could be promising for the research programme. The project ideas included:

  • Focus on circular pipe materials
  • Embedding the Best Available Technology Reference documents (BREFs) in local processes to extend opportunities to make savings
  • How dependent or independent do we want to be in the water chain – studying resource and energy dependencies and whether they are acceptable, and how to reduce them.
  • From business case to value case – how can we factor more than cost into investment decisions?
  • What does a zero-pollution scenario look like for drinking water supplies in 2050?
  • How can impediments to the reuse of water and resources between parties be eliminated? At present, progress towards this objective is severely hampered by the need to obtain ‘end-of-waste’ status.
  • How can the operations of drinking water companies be tailored to the availability of green energy?

These ideas will be further explored and used during the design of new WiCE projects for programming in 2024.

Working session with the project canvas for defining project ideas.

The need to work together on meeting the challenges of the coming decades was emphasised during the day and participants got together on a number of shared knowledge questions. In addition, the contacts with colleagues from other companies were very much appreciated. The first WiCE inspiration session was a success and the next inspiration session is planned for early 2024.