Enhancing sustainability of water technology

Cees Buisman - Scientific Director Wetsus

You can characterize us as an institute that does high-risk research, together with universities and companies. I think that we distinguish ourselves from comparable institutes on two points,” says Buisman. “Firstly, we prioritize multidisciplinary knowledge development. It has been shown that when you put PhD students together in the independent Wetsus lab, professors are better able to cooperate in a multidisciplinary fashion. Secondly, the business community is actively involved in our work. They contribute financially, which means that together we can take greater risks than if we worked separately. This is important, because without risks there are no breakthroughs.

In addition, the institute works on a programme basis instead of a project basis. Companies become, as it were, members of a programme and projects are developed within that programme. All companies, large or small, pay the same and every company therefore has an equal say. “No project is started without initial support from companies. They work together in a cluster of trust instead of just listening in. Our approach is called the Wetsus model. It really is a cumulative model, somewhat like a conga line: it starts small, then slowly but surely more and more companies join. We want to specialize in subjects that are very multidisciplinary.


Although this approach initially met with scepticism, it is now widely recognized that multidisciplinary cooperation is successful. “We exercise influence through the development of new technology. We want to push the boundaries of current technology. To this end, we bring diverse parties together, such as end users, technology companies, material suppliers and scientists. As regards the substance of our work, we focus on water quality. A major challenge is how to remove the nutrients from water, so that they do not pollute the sea. A further problem is that of medicine residues in water. There are currently some medicines that you cannot remove. We are investigating how that could be made possible.

Wetsus sets great store by knowledge sharing and Buisman believes that standardization can play an important role in this. “With a standard there is no need to explain further. It is an objective benchmark. For discharges, for example, standardization is of value, because it gives you a standard for measuring the discharge. Water-related problems require innovation and innovation sometimes begins with unbridled creativity. You only have to start thinking about standards once an innovation has fully taken shape and is on the way to wider application. The aim is: ensuring that harmful substances disappear from water. Standards can add value in management processes. This is also true when introducing and upscaling innovations at the national, European and international level.

View here the projects and standardization initiatives related to water.