Urban Systems Engineering

Our research focuses on development and evaluation of sustainable concepts and technologies for urban water, sanitation, materials and energy management.

Environmental Issues

The intensity and scale of urbanization worldwide pose major challenges to cities’ authorities in providing basic urban services such as water and energy supply, sanitation, and management of solid waste.  A growing demand mainly occurring in urban areas for renewable energy, clean water, materials and minerals results in an increasing worldwide recognition that new approaches and paradigm shifts - away from the current linear thinking to manage our resources - are needed. Here, depletion of resources such as fossil fuels and phosphorus demands a rethinking of our urban areas. A further motivation is that we are still unable to provide basic services to everyone. As an example, 780 million people do not have access to safe drinking water at this moment, and 2.5 billion people lack adequate sanitation services[1].

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Our Research

The vision of our research is to reduce environ-mental impact and mitigate resource depletion by closing resource cycles and achieving a circular (urban) metabolism. Our research focuses on development of concepts and integration of technologies for sustainable urban water, materials and energy cycles. We develop and evaluate new concepts for collection, transport, treatment, supply and use of energy, water and materials, which we consider as valuable resources and which qualities have to be preserved. Furthermore, we select appropriate technologies for these concepts in accordance with the local circumstances, needs and habits. Our research includes (peri-) urban areas and industrial sites, for which we aim at an optimal, sustainable and highly effective balance between supply and demand of water, energy and resources. Here, we include the effect of different urban typologies and urban agriculture on the resource cycles. 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, so as to facilitate recovery and reuse of water and other resources such as energy, nutrients and compost.

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Our Approach

Cities and their challenges are addressed in accordance with the principle of cyclic, rather than linear, thinking and analysis. The applied models include among others Ecological Footprint and Urban Harvest, so as to ensure maximum resource recovery and local reuse, while generating minimum emissions to the environment. We investigate urban areas as changing, dynamic systems with changes and possible solutions on any scale. Furthermore, concepts are developed in cooperation with stakeholders on a practically relevant scale. In our research, the non-technological, socio-economic contexts, in which we want to integrate our concepts, receive due attention. Due to the broader transdisciplinary approach of our research, cooperation with other WUR departments takes place in various research projects.



[1] UNICEF & World Health Organisation (2012). Progress on Drinking water and Sanitation; 2012 update. UNICEF & World Health Organisation, Pg 1-59