• Research Cluster III: Biotechnological and physico-chemical processes for sustainable use and reuse of water, energy, materials and minerals

    In future environmental policies, pollution prevention will remain important. It is important to develop process-integrated technologies, that combine low material and energy inputs with optimal recycling of materials. In addition to traditional environmental engineering, there is a growing attention to the development of eco-technology, the use of biological principles in man-made production processes.

    This research field focuses on the contribution of technology to a sustainable society. Traditional applications relate to waste, wastewater and off-gases treatment and to the reuse and recycling of energy and materials. Upcoming topics are the sustainable use of biomass by means of bio-conversion. Novel, integrated technologies often show a high scientific complexity. Participants in this SENSE Research Cluster strive for scientific excellence, combined with clear societal communication.

    Featuring subjects, mechanisms and methods that are being developed and applied in this SENSE Research Cluster are, for example:

    • the use of biological cycles in industrial processes
    • novel generations of waste water treatment systems
    • technologies for the sustainable use of biomass
    • the urban harvesting concept as a basis for sustainable production of energy, food and materials

    We welcome experts in this field to participate in this research cluster to exchange knowledge and stimulate new innovative developments (if you are not a member of the SENSE Research School but involved with this subject, then you are still welcome to enroll and participate in this research cluster).

    To read more about the SENSE research clusters in general, click HERE.

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    Coordinators and experts


    • Vacant

    SENSE key experts:

    • Prof. Huub Rijnaarts (WU-ETE)
    • Prof. Cees Buisman (WU-ETE)
    • Prof. Grietje Zeeman (WU-ETE)
    • Prof. Willem de Vos (WU-MIB)
    • Prof. Fons Stams (WU-MIB)
    • Prof. Piet Lens (UNESCO-IHE)
    • Prof. M. Kennedy (UNESCO-IHE)
    • Prof. D. Brdjanovic (UNECO-IHE)
    • Prof. J. (Jules) van Lier (UNESCO-IHE)

    Contact information:

    For more information about this research cluster, please contact Dr. Monique Gulickx (

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      To illustrate the urgency and relevance of new developments in this field, below we present some of the emerging research questions that are currently challenging both science and society in the research domain of SENSE Research Cluster III:
      1. How can we use the biological sulphur cycle in waste water and gas treatment to remove sulphates, SO2 and H2S?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Sulphur is a main element that leads in wastewater treatment to all kind of problems like corrosion as well odour problems due to toxic H2S. Also SO2 in exhaust gases is unwanted as it causes acid rain. The processes occurring in the biological sulphur cycle can be engineered to come to solutions with a positive environmental result.
      2. How can we use biocrystalisation for recovery of heavy metals and minerals from wastewater, like Cupper, Zinc, Nickel and Selenium?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Minerals are more and more diluted in the ecosystem due to wasting minerals and metals after use in the environment. Biocrystallisation processes aim at the concentration of these elements to come to a sustainable use leading to reduction of the heavy metal load on the one hand and in principle leading to a lower need for mining activities.
      3. The development of new biological processes to produce bio-electricity or bio-fuels from waste water or residual biomass.
        Scientific and societal relevance: Since 2000 papers are published in which bacteria are involved in the transfer of electrons to electrodes. This was the starting point for an increasing research effort in systems in which bacteria are going to play a major role in production of electricity. From this research many people expect a paradigm change in the field of waste water treatment. In this so mentioned Third generation wastewater systems the waste in waste water will be transferred into electrical power, CO2  and water.
      4. The development of new multi disciplinary technologies to be able to reuse wastewater containing many different components, for uses with different specifications. How can advanced technologies like oxidation and electrochemistry be combined with biotechnology?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Wastewater treatment in industrial applications is shifting from an end of pipe to an integrated technology. Also extreme reuse of water will need the development of new generation wastewater systems that can operate at extreme environmental conditions like high salt concentration and high (60-90oC) temperatures. Combinations of advanced technologies like oxidation and electrochemistry with all kinds of biotechnological processes are most promising.
      5. How can we use bioavailability in soil predictions to decide which remediation options we can take and which risk we can accept for spreading of contaminants?
        Scientific and societal relevance: In more than 600.000 sites in NL the soil is contaminated and more than 100.000.000 m3 sediment is contaminated with organic compounds and heavy metals. Studies on the availability of these compounds show that not all compounds will be taken up in the food chain as they are tightly bound to the soil and sediment particles. These studies are expected to reduce costs for remediation dramatically when they are accepted by the public. In 2009 a strong discussion in the media was initiated after the use of former sand extraction pits (‘zandwinputten’) as storage for slightly contaminated sediment. New technologies are necessary to be able to reuse former contaminated soil and sediment according to Cradle to Cradle principles.
      6. How can urban harvesting be used as a method to make cities more sustainable?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Due to high urbanization rates mega cities are growing at extreme rate, especially in developing countries. However, also in highly industrialized countries there is a need to improve the sustainability in cities. Urban harvesting may be of help in agricultural perspective, as products only need a short transport line. Also in the energy perspective the cities may be sources for harvesting heat in summer time by several technologies. Also building material can be recycled in these mega cities.
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        Here you will be able to find interesting articles, links to books that are worth reading, presentations that caught your attention, etc. To suggest items that should be placed here, please follow the instructions mentioned below or send an email to the (technical) coordinators.

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          Add a document to the Library

          Do you have any interesting articles, reports or other documents that you want to share within this research cluster? You can add the by clicking on Upload Documents below. Please note that your document will not be visible in the library immediately, because it first has to be approved by the coordinator. You can also contact him if you would like your suggested document to be brought under our attention in a different way or if you would like the document to appear differently in the library (there are some options available for that).

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            Discussion forum

            In this forum topics related to cluster I can be discussed, varying from scientific issues to organizational matters. The forum is very easy to use.

            To enter the forum, click on Forum RC III below. You will go to the overview page of the forum, where you can see all existing discussions. If you click on a discussion title, you will enter the discussion. You can read all posts and you can also respond to them, by clicking Reply.

            To add a new discussion topic, you can click on Add a new discussion topic on top of the overview page. Please make sure that your new discussion is really new and does not overlap with existing discussions, otherwise the forum will get messy.

            The forum is maintained by the technical coordinator of the research cluster, who will remove any inappropriate contributions to the discussions.

            Please note the following!

            Everyone who enrolls in this course, is automatically subscribed to this forum and will receive e-mail notifications of every post on the forum. If you do not wish to be subscribed to the forum, you can click Unsubscribe from this forum in the top right corner of the forum overview page.

            If you do not want to receive too many notifications, you can adapt the forum settings for your account. To do so, follow these steps:
            a. Click on your username, which is always visible in blue in the bottom left corner of the page. You will go to your personal profile.
            b. Click Edit profile.
            c. Click Show advanced.
            d. In the field E-mail digest type you can now choose one of the three options: standard - notification of every post; daily an e-mail of all posts in full text; daily one e-mail with the titles of all posts. If there are no posts at all, you won’t get a summary e-mail either.
            e. You can also adapt other settings if you like.
            f. Scroll down and choose Update profile to activate your new settings.

            If you want to give feedback on the functioning of the forum or group page in general, then you are most welcome to leave a post in the discussion Technical feedback. The SENSE team will keep an eye on this discussion and will try to process your feedback as good as possible.

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            Section 6