In this paper - based on interviews with Dutch experts - we present the creation of the Energy & Raw Materials Factory (ERMF) of the Dutch Water Authorities, also known as the Resource Factory, as one of the solutions to this global challenge of water in the circular economy. Resources like cellulose, bioplastics, phosphate, alginate-like exopolymers from aerobic granular sludge (bio-ALE), and biomass can be recovered. Bio-ALE is an alginate-like polymer of sugars and proteins and can be used in agriculture and horticulture, the paper industry, medical, and construction industries. The ERMF demands significant investments but the return on investment is high both from a financial and environmental perspective, provided that markets can be realized.
1. The ERMF enables the recovery of clean water, cellulose, bioplastics, phosphate, bio-ALE, and biogas from municipal wastewater. The value of the recovered resources including the reduction of maintenance cost in the Netherlands is estimated at €233 million per year from 2030. This is approximately €14 per person per year. Similar investments are needed to create ERMFs.
2. Assuming that all the necessary investments for ERMFs are provided and the revenues of €14 per person per year are extrapolated to a global population of 7 billion people, the total revenues will be about €100 billion per year. The ambitions articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on water and sanitation of the UN have recently been estimated at US $114 billion per year up to 2030 by the World Bank. The circular economy (introduction of ERMF at global scale) and the UN SDGs on water and sanitation provide potential win-win’s.
3. Collective activities have to be developed to create markets and to sell the recovered resources in order to prevent unwanted competition between water authorities. The realization of the ERMF demands a long-term strategy, i.e., a long lead time, significant financial resources, and continuous attention from all stakeholders.
4. Cross-institutional collaboration and communication is fundamental. We found that stable collaborative networks, alignment between research and practice, and well-established monitoring and evaluation, are important conditions that increase the long-term capacity to establish and further develop the recovery of resources from wastewater.
5. There are commercial opportunities for companies that are active in the engineering of water treatment installations. They can play an important role in creating Resource Factories, both at the national, European, and global level.
This publication with my colleagues Stef Koop, Kees Roest and Eli de Vries in Environmental Management can be found here
The development of the ERMF is based on a long-term vision and implementation process and predictions have been provided about the revenues. In the framework of this article several interviews took place with knowledgeable experts in this field. A special word of thanks is necessary for the collaboration and input from the following experts: Ir. Johan van Alphen (Tauw Consultancy), Prof. Dr. Ir. Cees Buisman (Wageningen University), Ir. Ben Geurts (Counselor Prime Minister, The Hague), Drs. Sanne de Groot (Tauw Consultancy), Drs. Enna Klaversma (Waternet and ERMF, Amsterdam), Prof. Dr. Ir. Mark van Loosdrecht (Technical University of Delft), Ir. Kees van der Lugt (Waternet Amsterdam), Ing. Chris Reijken (Waternet Amsterdam), Ir. Paul Roeleveld (Royal Haskoning DHV, Amersfoort), Ir. Ruud Schemen (Association of Water Boards of the Netherlands), Ir. Andre Struker (Waternet Amsterdam), Mr. Albert Vermue (General Director Dutch Water Authorities, The Hague), Drs. Herman Walthaus (Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, The Hague). Part of this research was funded by the POWER project. The European Commission is acknowledged for Funding POWER in H2020-Water under Grant Agreement No. 687809.