Competence center for resource recovery
Rethinking the water treatment process
An enthusiastic man becomes chairperson of the programme advisory council of the “competence center for resource recovery”. Willy Verstraete, Professor Emeritus at Ghent, explains his vision.
The reuse of residuals is a field in which KWR has built up a great deal of expertise. The close collaboration with Reststoffenunie, water companies and waterboards has played an important role. In 2012, the idea arose of sharing this expertise globally via a “competence center for resource recovery”. This open innovation centre has been set up in a collaboration with the International Water Association (IWA). Ghent University Professor Emeritus Willy Verstraete is named chairperson of the centre’s programme advisory council. His goal is to build a bridge between KWR’s activities and other global players within the IWA’s Resource Recovery from Water Cluster.
Verstraete has a clear vision of what is needed. “First and foremost, we have to identify where the opportunities lie for the replacement of basic raw materials by residuals. Plastic, which traditionally is made from oil, can also be produced from fibres and fatty acids extracted from wastewater. In addition, it is important that the path be opened for new developments by creating a positive legal framework. The legislator has to make reuse possible and supervise product quality and export, for example. And, thirdly, we have to build a supply chain system which makes on-time and on-demand delivery possible.”
That adds up to a huge job. But, for Verstraete, that’s not all. “There are still taboos concerning the reuse of residuals, especially those from sewage water. In many countries people still see faecal material as infectious. They see everything that has to do with faeces as dirty. And rightly so: wastewater can cause disease. But technically, it is possible today to obtain clean residuals from it.” The control of (hygienic) risks is an important precondition for resource recovery. But besides this “we have to get rid of the taboos through good information and communication,” says Verstraete.
He is specially satisfied with the initiative to set up the centre. “KWR is one of the first big players not to resort to empty words and window dressing, but to seriously boost this opportunity to promote sustainable production. Working together, IWA and KWR can extend the initiative’s reach – that is, not only serve the water sector, but also the chemical, construction, agricultural and food sectors. We want to build an interdisciplinary platform in which reused materials no longer have a second-rate but a cool image.” The emphasis which he places on these words is an indicator of how serious he is.
Rethink He concludes by summing up the task that now confronts us: “In April 2014, it will have been 100 years since Arden and Lockett first aerated sewage water and succeeded in clarifying the polluted water. They discovered that sediment consisted of ‘activated sludge’: micro-organisms, fidgety, wriggly thingies that eat up the waste. That was the beginning of water treatment as we now know it. It is time not only to commemorate that event, but also to REthink the entire water treatment process.”
© 2017 KWR Watercycle Research Institute
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Manager Water Systems and Technology