The waterboard is a Raw Materials Factory
Henry van Veldhuizen, Strategic Advisor for the Water Cycle at the Vallei and Veluwe Waterboard, is one of the drivers behind the Raw Materials Factory. “The Energy Factory had already been set up,” he recounts. “And since everybody there was thinking about energy-neutral and sustainable production, the idea of a Raw Materials Factory was born. Phosphorus, a finite resource, is especially interesting, since there is a lot of it in wastewater. In line with the cradle-to-cradle principle, we want to return the phosphorus to its cycle. I was asked to organise it.”
Working with a multi-disciplinary team of process technologists from all waterboards, Van Veldhuizen considers what approach to take: what substances can one recover and how should one do it to ensure they can be reused. Working groups were formed to focus on phosphorus, cellulose (paper fibres) and biopolymers, also known as bioplastics. “Among the uses of toilet paper cellulose, is as an alternative raw material in the chemical industry, or as an insulation material. While bioplastics can be used to make plant pots, for instance.”
Examples of projects
One way of removing phosphorus from wastewater is to allow its deposition with magnesium and nitrogen as struvite, which can then be recovered and used as a fertiliser. The waterboards are going to recover struvite from wastewater at various locations, including Amsterdam, Amersfoort, Olburgen, Cuijk, Tilburg and Hoogeveen. The total number of locations will be increased in the years to come.
One of Waternet’s wastewater treatment plants already has a large, sophisticated screen that removes cellulose fibres from wastewater. The fibres are composted and then spread as a fertiliser. “This represents major progress compared to incineration,” says Van Veldhuizen. “We’re not quite finished yet. We could remove more materials from wastewater, find better applications and get more value added from the raw materials.”
For Van Veldhuizen, this is not only good for the environment but also for the waterboards. He’s enjoying the new dynamic that has arisen in the waterboard world. “We’re going through a sea change, from water cleaners to raw material producers. Whereas before we more or less operated independently of each other, now we can’t do without each other, without collaborating. This new way of working is opening the door on a whole new and fascinating world for us!”
© 2017 KWR Watercycle Research Institute