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An innovator’s view of the AIWW opportunity


As scientific director of Dutch water research and technology centre Wetsus, innovation is a top priority for Professor Cees Buisman. This applies for his own organisation. It also applies for his input as one of the strategic partners in the Amsterdam International Water Week. ‘I believe that my speciality is innovation, so I use my network, influence and ideas to help make the Water Week pay even more attention to innovation,’ he says.

Buisman highlights some of the key current issues of concern that shape the agenda for his organisation and for the Water Week. One area is water pollution, especially nutrients and emerging compounds such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals. ‘I see more and more signs that people want to do something about this,’ he says.

Another is growing water scarcity, and Buisman points out that the rising salinity in the Persian Gulf raises concerns over dependency on reverse osmosis to boost supplies. ‘It means that in some regions there is also an end to getting water out of the sea,’ he says.

A third issue is the need to adopt a circular economy approach, with implications for wastewater treatment. ‘From a circular economy point of view, nutrients and organic matter should go back to agriculture, in order to control soil erosion and nutrient depletion,’ adds Buisman.


“I believe that my speciality is innovation, so I use my network, influence and ideas to help make the Water Week pay even more attention to innovation”

Prof. dr. ir. Cees Buisman, Scientific Director Wetsus


To achieve progress on these issues, there are challenges that need to be overcome, such as how to deal with the contaminants present in sewage sludge. ‘The big bottleneck is making this sewage sludge clean again,’ comments Buisman.

This all presents opportunities for technological innovation, and Buisman provides examples based on current areas on which Wetsus is focusing. On water scarcity, progress with electrodialysis and organic chemistry, for example, offer promise for developing desalination processes that are less expensive, do not produce brines, or remove sodium but leave other elements beneficial to agriculture. Progress with the circular economy approach includes direct removal of phosphate as calcium phosphate granules during the digestion of separated human wastewater.

Buisman says that, being a research-based organisation, Wetsus has a strong need to work with companies, both those that may wish to market the technologies Wetsus develops and those who may apply it. This focus is important from a personal perspective, too. ‘If industry has a problem, it will innovate much faster than government, so for innovators like me, working with industry is very inspiring and stimulating,’ says Buisman, adding that at the same time this contributes to solutions for other sectors.

Buisman therefore expects that the next Water Week will build on the progress made in 2015, when for example the Innovation Lab and Innovation Pavilion were introduced, and that it will have a greater focus on innovation and on industry. Since this is his area of expertise, he will be working hard to make sure this is achieved. ‘For the next Water Week, I will do my utmost to get as many innovations as possible,’ he comments.

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