The Energy and Resources Factory – a collaborative venture by the joint Dutch water boards

The Energy and Resources Factory is a collaborative venture by the Netherlands’ 21 water boards. It is an organization that is focused on turning wastewater into a source of renewable energy and resources.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

At the organization's so-called energy and resources plants, energy and resources are reclaimed from wastewater. The idea came about by taking a different approach to waste. Instead of asking, ‘What do we do with it?’, the question became, ‘What can we use it for?’ Phosphate, cellulose, polymers, alginate, bioplastics, and CO2 are all extracted from wastewater, following which companies can use these resources in their products and processes. This is how the Netherlands’ water boards are helping to create a circular economy.

The first water boards in the Netherlands were set up as early as in the year 1200. They were the first body with a democratically chosen administration and are among the Netherlands’ oldest institutions. United in the Association of Regional Water Authorities, the Netherlands’ water boards are tasked with protecting the people against flooding and making sure they have clean and sufficient water. The Energy and Resources Factory is a joint undertaking by all of the Netherlands’ water boards.

One part of a water board’s job is to treat wastewater at sewage treatment plants before discharging it into the surface water. After treating wastewater, what remains is sludge. By letting this sludge ferment, biogas is generated, which is subsequently converted into green power. At present, the Netherlands’ water boards produce 120 million cubic meters of biogas between them, which is enough to provide a city of over 150,000 inhabitants with power for one whole year. Besides energy, wastewater also contains resources that can be used to make a wide range of products, such as bioplastic, building materials for asphalt, and artificial fertilizer.

To extract, process, and distribute this energy and these resources as efficiently as possible, the water boards have set up a collaborative venture called the Energy and Resources Factory, a concept that is unique in the world. The Energy and Resources Factory is a multifaceted organization. There are dozens of energy and resources plants that are already operational or about to go live where energy and resources are being extracted. On top of that, the Energy and Resources Factory comprises an overarching platform where knowledge and skills with respect to the recovery, processing, and distribution are brought together and shared. Waterboard employees are empowered to try out their ideas and innovative and unorthodox working methods by just doing it. In 2015, the first kilogram of bioplastic extracted from wastewater was produced using a technique that had never been used before. By joining forces in the Energy and Resources Factory, the water boards are creating greater volume and showing a unified outward identity. In partnership with fellow public bodies, knowledge institutions, companies, and society, the aim is to create a circular economy and a sustainable living environment. The target is to be able to turn all Dutch wastewater into valuable products by 2050.

Innovation Description

Innovation Development

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Year: 2015
Level of government: Regional/State government

Status:

  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways

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