Urban infrastructure transitions

In many industrialized countries the sanitary infrastructure dates back 75 years. However, old sanitary infrastructure suffers from under capacity due to population growth. Therefore, it needs to be replaced by a new sanitary system that is not only treating waste, but can also recover valuable components for reuse.

In this research theme we aim to understand and predict waste(water) dynamics in cities to facilitate the transition to a circular urban sanitary infrastructure.

Solutions that fit urban environment

This transition requires better engineering and a more decentralized design to fit in an already-crowded and busy urban setting. This allows to process waste quicker than in current systems and avoids the formation of dangerous gases like hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and methane (CH4) in transport lines that are too long.

At ETE, scientists are engineering decentralized solutions for waste treatment systems and design how to fit them into an urban environment. There are specific requirements for such in-city systems. For example, the technology has to be scaled down, so it fits into a limited space, the release of dangerous gases and pathogens has to be avoided, the design has to blend in with the environment, and it needs an efficient transport network that allows to trace the origin of the resource for ensuring sufficient quality for reuse.

Research areas

The most important research areas and projects contributing to the infrastructure transitions are:

  • Designing a sewer system suitable for an urban environment, including a bio-electrochemical system, avoiding the formation of H2S and CH4, while conserving the potential to recover energy.
  • Bio-oxidation of wood waste and source-separated urine to generate heat and compost for agriculture.
  • Greenfood 5.0. Use track and trace life cycle data from an organic food certification system to design the circular use of food by-products at regional or national scale. For example, in China, canned peach production results in peach peel waste. This can be used to brew beer.
  • DecentWater. The decentralized implementation of sanitation infrastructure in cities. In water-rich case cities like Amsterdam in The Netherlands and Suzhou in China, decentralized sanitation has been tested and scientists aim at assessing possibilities to upscale the technology in these two cities.