#INTERVIEW with Robert Jan Smeets

Interview with Robert Jan Smeets

Global Market Segment Coordinator Industry – Water Technology, Royal HaskoningDHV

What in your opinion are the biggest technical challenges facing water and wastewater services providers in Europe today?

By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. Rapid urbanisation creates pressure on resources like water and Jannsa need for excellent wastewater treatment. How can we ensure that everyone has access to sufficient clean water to drink, for food production and for hygiene? And what about water-related hazards and the impact of climate change? Our mission in relation to the water challenge is to secure the value and safety of water. Our solutions draw on the principles of the circular economy to provide for the requirements of people, ecosystems and economic activity. In a way technology is not the issue; we have technology available to solve almost all water or wastewater problems. The challenge is to find and implement technology or a combination of technologies, in a way that both improve sustainability and profitability. We are passionate about “closing the water cycle” and doing this together with our clients and partners.

How is Royal HaskoningDHV working with utilities and/or industrial clients to help solve these specific challenges?

We work with our customers on different levels: from developing a water stewardship program to operational support of water treatment plants and everything in-between. We reduce water intensity, aim for water reuse and recovery of nutrients from effluent streams. At the same time we help develop the business case for the solution. Our motto and our strategic vision are best illustrated by our pay off “Enhancing Society Together”: thinking and acting together with our partners and clients to the benefit of society. Think about engineering solutions with high sustainability, low footprints, energy sufficiency and robustness in operation

How important will innovative technologies and products be in meeting water demand over the coming 10-20 years? 

Very important although from a technology point of view we would say that there is a solution for almost every water challenge. A successful innovation should therefore not only solve the problem, but should do this in a profitable way, should create value for the client.  One of our biggest ambitions is the application of circular economy to sanitary engineering and contributing to that. So help to contribute to the millennium goals of the UN with respect to the sanitation goals that are set. The fact that we can recover resources from what we call today waste and use them in a way that they can be reused in the water cycle so that we can close the cycle or that we can use these material for other use, is something promising. There is a lot of talk about this, there are lot of scientific experiments, some pilot plants and the water authorities in the Netherlands do a great job there.

What are the limitations to this?  What else is needed to help meet demand?

It definitely helps when customers are willing to take that step and test or even co-develop new technologies. We have been very fortunate in the Netherlands to have developed and tested new technology such as wastewater treatment technology Nereda® and sludge treatment innovation Ephyra® with the Dutch water authorities. We all know that the water sector is conservative. And rightly so. If you have the responsibility for the drinking water or for treating wastewater, then you have the responsibility for the wellbeing of our planet. So by nature the water sector has to be conservative. They have to be really convinced of the proper working of a new innovation before accepting it. What we normally do with an innovation, is to find a launching costumer, who is willing to try and test it.  Luckily I can say that we have those clients available both in the private (industrial) and public sector in the Netherlands, but also outside the Netherlands.

How can engineering consultancies play a leading role in water technology development, piloting and adoption?

I suppose Royal HaskoningDHV has a special position in that we are an advisor to our clients, but at the same time develop technology ourselves.  We have a lot of very smart people working in the water domain and seeing a lot of challenges with our customers. They are constantly challenged to design the best solution and therefor they have a good overview of what is available and what works. Our added value does not just lie in consultancy and design but also in implementation and operational support. That means that we develop solutions and business cases together with our clients and often design and manage pilot projects. Which sort of mechanism leads to the best innovations? We have chosen co-creation as model for innovation: working together with partners and clients. We develop a new technology and in the meantime realise references. (Main conditions for successful cooperation: a shared vision, knowing each other’s roles, interests and responsibilities, sharing risks and benefits, and be fully transparent. No hidden agendas).

Our Nereda® wastewater treatment technology, which is now a success, is a good example of co-creation. Delft University of Technology had the initial discovery and then we started to become involved, developing that, scaling it from laboratory to demo and then to full scale together with the Dutch water authorities. A co-creation of scientific work, of clients and of ourselves and that is very much what we want to develop as a mechanism to innovations. Royal HaskoningDHV has developed unique partnering arrangements with academic and research institutions for innovations in the water field. Together with these partners we continuously conduct research into better, more sustainable and innovative solutions for water related issues. Solutions such as Nereda®, Aquasuite®, Crystalactor® and Ephyra®, cover water production, transport and treatment and stormwater and wastewater collection, transport and treatment, including sludge management.)

What innovative business models is Royal HaskoningDHV championing to accelerate the adoption of innovative water and wastewater solutions by municipalities and water utilities?

Although most of our clients still prefer traditional business models, we do use other models to facilitate implementation of new technologies. In some cases our fees depend directly on the performance of the new technology. For the Nereda® technology we focus on the core technology and added value that we can deliver and have partnerships with a number of global players who do the delivery of the projects. Furthermore we use “revolving funds”, for instance for the commercialisation of humic acid recovery but also for Nereda®. This way we use part of the proceeds from commercial projects to fund further development of the technology as well as new innovations.

What kinds of technologies and solutions are you most interested in? What will you be looking for at the upcoming World Water-Tech Investment Summit?

As you may have noticed the circular economy theme lies at the heart of our strategy and thinking. So I am keen to learn about new technologies for water reuse, recovery of nutrients and energy, energy efficiency but also technologies for further treatment of effluent.

Robert Jan Smeets will be hosting a roundtable at the World Water-Tech Investment Summit, London, February 22-24, 2016