With ambitions to achieve a circular economy in the Netherlands by 2050 there have been major advances in the recovery of raw materials from wastewater but what use is a recovered raw material that no one wants to use? To close the circle we need to start at its end.

Checking the demand is there

How do you fancy packaging food in cardboard manufactured from cellulose recovered from used toilet paper? Not too tempting? Couple this inherent unease from consumers and industry with the need to comply with rigorous regulations and it becomes easy to understand why just having the ability to do something sometimes doesn’t automatically create demand for industry to do it.

Contrast this to Phosphorous recovery which has seen more success and continues to increase. As the quality of Phosphorous from natural mines starts to decline, recovering this valuable raw material from wastewater is increasingly seen as a viable alternative. It has taken time but demand for the material is such from industry that years of research and development have been invested to ensure regulations are met and markets understand the value to be obtained.

Taking our time

Patience is something we at Royal HaskoningDHV are used to exercising! We, along with our partners at Delft University, were working on our ground-breaking Nereda® technology for over 15 years before we achieved the explosion of interest we’ve seen in the last few.

Working backwards | Royal HaskoningDHV | Artist impression of the factory in Zutphen, the Netherlands

Image: Artist impression of the factory in Zutphen, the Netherlands

It’s patience which is serving us well as we continue to develop the supply chain of which the planned Zutphen factory forms a central element. We know that we can recover a potentially valuable new raw material using our Nereda® technology but this is just the first step. Whilst new technology delivers exciting possibilities we cannot get carried away in developing those ideas for their own sake without having a clear idea of whether there is a demand or even a use for the end product.

Partnerships throughout the supply chain

By forming strong partnerships with clients and stakeholders throughout the supply chain we are ensuring that we have partners to help us develop the technology but also partners at the end of the chain, the users and their customers. By starting with these end-users and working together to develop the full potential, possibilities and the demand for the new raw material we can then work backwards to put in place the entire supply chain.

So whilst a new technology might make a splash in the media and delight the scientists involved, for long term success we must ensure we are working with the business community – and they in turn their customers – to create a product which is going to be both economically and socially acceptable.

Paul will be speaking on Creating value with the extraction of alginate-like extracellular polymers from Nereda® sludge on November 1st at the Amsterdam International Water Week conference. Click here to register.