More than six million euros for research into the reuse of wastewater

The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has made more than four million euros available for the AquaConnect programme. Businesses, authorities and societal organizations are contributing another two million. Scientists Dave Huitema and Roy Brouwer of VU Amsterdam’s Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) are participating in AquaConnect; their input comprises knowledge of water management and water economics.

03/18/2021 | 12:49 PM

AquaConnect is backed by a comprehensive consortium of educational and knowledge institutions, companies, authorities and various other parties. The consortium is working to promote the reuse of wastewater and brackish groundwater using new water treatment technologies. The research programme focuses on sustainable solutions that can enable the Netherlands and delta areas elsewhere in the world to become self-reliant in terms of their own fresh water supplies. This would mean that future fresh water shortages resulting from severe drought could be prevented.

The programme leader is Professor Huub Rijnaarts, head of Environmental Technology at Wageningen University & Research. He explains the research theme as follows: “In times of drought, a water shortage is disastrous. Our solution to this shortage is to make sufficient good quality water using technologies based on filtration and electrodialysis. By combining these two processes we can produce good quality water that is customized for different users.” They seek to use digital as well as chemical technologies. The researchers are working on advanced computer models to connect water providers to users via ‘smart water grids’, underground water storage being one aspect of this.

Smart water connections
The idea behind AquaConnect is to look for suitable ways to use purified wastewater and brackish groundwater. “This water is currently being discharged, unused, into the water system but, under the right circumstances and conditions, it could be reused”, says Huitema. The participants in the consortium are designing a system to determine what quality of water matches what form of usage and are developing a smart technology to connect them. The government can subsequently use this method as a starting point in drawing up legislation and in policymaking.

The target is first to show how self-reliance can be achieved, using new technology, in four regions: Zuid-Holland, the greater Amsterdam area, Zeelandic Flanders and the higher sandy areas. In each of these regions, a PhD student and a postdoc from VU Amsterdam will carry out research into the social perceptions of water quality, the economic importance of adequate water stocks for the regional economy and the possibility of designing laws and regulations such that responsible reuse of water is enabled. They will collaborate with colleagues at Deltares, HZ University of Applied Sciences and Utrecht University. Huitema will manage the work package that contributes this socio-scientific knowledge to the project and Brouwer will provide his expertise in respect of economic valuation.

New economic opportunities to the tune of 22 million euros
Besides funds for AquaConnect, NWO has awarded a sum amounting to millions for five other innovative research programmes. A total of 22 million euros is involved. These funds have been made available from the NWO’s Perspective programme, a programme that focuses on creating economic opportunities based on key technologies for the future of the Netherlands.