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The best environmental studies university - Wageningen University (ETE group)

Wageningen is one of the top-ranked universities in the world. According to influential university rankings, the university ranks world’s best in the field of Agriculture & Forestry. In the Keuzegids Universities 2019 the university ranked as the best university in the Netherlands for the fifteenth time in a row, according to her own students.

According to the National Taiwan Ranking, Wageningen is the number 1 university in the field of Environment & Ecology. On QS World University Rankings for Environmental studies, Wageningen University ranked as the 8th best university in the world.

Environmental Technology (ETE) group of Wageningen University is conducting environmental technology researches. Their research program can be characterized as follows:

1. Biorecovery

The biorecovery group focuses on optimal recovery of minerals and metals from wastewaters and gases and on recovery of renewable energy from waste and wastewater. Attention is being paid to the process bio-crystallisation and of bio-electrochemistry.

- Environmental problems

Societies are highly dependent on access to mineral and energy resources. At this moment the world depends on fossil reserves of both minerals and energy. For the transition to a more sustainable world it is necessary to change from fossil sources to renewable sources. For minerals, recovery from many residual streams of industry and cities can be a new source. Energy can be recovered from residual streams from cities and agriculture. Finally, new energy conversion technologies based on the sun (biomass, direct sun conversion, fresh water flows) can be developed.

- WUR Solutions:

The biorecovery group seeks to solve these environmental problems by using biobased technologies to recover energy and inorganic compounds from residual streams. Innovative research is on-going in the following areas:

1) Production of electrical energy, fuels and sustainable heat from residual biomass. This type of biomass is left over after extraction of valuable (food) ingredients from agricultural products. The use of residual biomass enhances the economic and social potential of our processes. We use natural biotechnology i.e. we employ the processes as they occur in nature.

2) Application of the biological sulphur-cycle in water and gas treatment.

3) Biocrystallisation: biological recovery and removal of metals and minerals from industrial wastewater and/or groundwater.

4) Biological modification of (waste) materials to reduce the environmental impact or improve the efficiency of industrial processing.

5) By developing new technologies to recover energy and minerals from waste, also new methods can be found to clean up the waste streams from existing processes for energy and mineral extraction from fossil sources. These new technologies enable removal of sulphur, metals and nitrogen, or preventing their emissions from water and gas streams. These technologies will have a positive influence on many environmental problems, like acid rain, climate change, and cadmium pollution of soils.

- WUR approach

1) Central in our approach is the development and operation of bioreactors that enable the selection of the right organism for the desired conversion. The research is based on lab-scale systems where the selection of natural micro- organisms takes place and can be studied and steered. Next to this practical research models are needed to describe and further develop these processes .

2) The research has a multidisciplinary character, including microbiology, analytical and colloid chemistry, geology, biophysics, process technology, electrochemistry, and automation.

3) Development of innovative processes for the recovery of inorganic minerals, organic fules/chemicals and the production of renewable energy.

4) Development of more sustainable industrial production processes, in co- operation with end-users and technology providers.

2. Reusable Water

Technology focus is on bio-removal of micro pollutants and pathogens and the qualities of resources for re-use. Our novel electrochemical desalinization techniques focus on reduced energy utilisation, in order to sustainably remove salt from water cycles, and to transform brackish water in delta’s into a sustainable fresh water resource.

Water treatment technologies have the objective to safely discharge municipal and industrial wastewater to surface water, and to reduce the risks associated with polluted surface and groundwater. Directly related challenges are fresh water scarcity, a lack of nutrients (e.g. the phosphorus crisis), climate change, degradation and erosion of soils and the necessity for a more bio-based economy to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.

This explains why wastewater is more and more considered as a valuable resource for reusable water, energy, chemicals, nutrients and complex organic matter. To make this possible, domestic and industrial water loops will be further closed, become interconnected, and new treatment technologies and concepts (together with the USE group) need to be developed that combine treatment and recovery of these resources.

3. Urban Systems Engineering

Cities currently hold half of the world’s population and it is estimated that three out of every five people will live in an urban environment by 2030. The world’s future sustainable development must therefore be largely accomplished by new approaches in urban sanitation, resource management and eco-innovative design of urban and associated agro and industrial systems.

- Environmental Issues

The intensity and scale of global urbanization pose major challenges to sustain basic urban services such as food, water and energy supply and sanitation in cities. For example, 780 million people do not have access to safe drinking water at this moment, and 2.5 billion people lack adequate sanitation services1. The depletion of resources and the growing demand for renewable energy, clean water, materials and minerals results in an increasing worldwide recognition that new approaches and paradigm shifts are needed, away from the current linear thinking to manage our resources.

- WUR Research

Our vision is to reduce environmental impact and mitigate resource depletion by closing resource cycles to achieve a circular (urban) metabolism. We focuses on creating new concepts and smart integration of technologies and practices for sustainable urban water, nutrients, materials and energy cycles. These new concepts cover the entire chain of collection, transport, treatment, supply and use of energy, water, nutrients and materials, aiming to preserve these essential resources. We select appropriate technologies for these concepts which are compatible with the local social and economic context and urban typologies. The focus is on (peri-) urban areas and industrial sites, for which we aim at an effective balance between supply and demand of water, energy, nutrients and material resources. We a) apply and further extend own concepts and approaches such as Urban Harvest, and b) provide frameworks and tools to evaluate and quantify technological concepts such as New Sanitation which is based on separation of wastewater and material streams at source, in order to facilitate recovery and reuse of water and other resources such as energy and nutrients.

- Biorecovery

The Urban Systems Engineering (USE) division of the Biorecovery group addresses the recovery of essential resources from domestic, agricultural and industrial residues. As a result of the growing world population there is increased need for food and thus for fertilizers and soil amendments to facilitate crop growth. Furthermore, soils get depleted so resources in organic residues need to be recovered for the restoration of soil quality and ecosystem. The aim is to assess the potential for recovery of organic matter, nutrients and energy for implementation in circular agrofood and other (urban) systems. To this end we develop insights in supply and demand of these different resources and match these within different temporal and spatial scales. We work in the Netherlands but also within the European and African context.

- Water Reuse

The USE division of Reusable Water group addresses the analysis, engineering and planning of urban and industrial water systems. We aim to assist the transition to a circular and localized water system. We develop models that trace water quality and quantity dynamics in cities and industrial areas. Using the modelling outcome, we simulate and assess the feasibility of systemic implementation of novel water technologies and infrastructures including, source-diverting sanitation in densely-populated urban area, saline wastewater treatment or reuse for coastal industrial zones and nature-based solutions for securing surface water quality in and around cities.

The mission and vision of ETE group

They develop and evaluate innovative environmental technologies and concepts based on processes from nature, to recover and reuse essential components and maintain and recreate a viable environment.

WUR’s education inspires students to develop their talents. We impact society by innovation through top science and focus on applicability.

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