Vasconcelos Fernandes appointed Professor International Education of Ecotechnologies for a Circular Economy

March 25, 2024

The Executive Board of Wageningen University & Research has appointed Dr. ir. Tânia Vasconcelos Fernandes as Special Professor of Ecotechnologies for a Circular Economy in the Chair Group Environmental Technology. She is the head of the Pollution Prevention and Resource Recovery Research group of the Water Supply, Sanitation and Environmental Engineering Department at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education.

In her new position, she will continue advancing the field of biological waste(water) by developing and improving ecotechnologies. Vasconcelos Fernandes is a supporter of transdisciplinary research to create a long-term holistic approach to societal challenges and contribute to the sustainable and circular economy of the future.

Started at sixteen

The newly appointed professor started studying Environmental Technology and Natural Resources Management when she was only 16 years old, in a special programme at high school. Ever since then, she wanted to be part of converting waste into resources. That belief made her choose Environmental Engineering at the University in Lisbon, and eventually brought her to Wageningen for her thesis at the Environmental Technology sub-department.

Wastewater treatment and resource recovery

There she worked on the first Decentralised Sanitation and Reuse project with Dr. Katarzyna Kujawa-Roeleveld and Prof. Dr. Grietje Zeeman. In this period she realised that she was not alone in her ambition of combining wastewater treatment with resource recovery. After her PhD in the same group, she started working at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW). There she integrated technology with ecology, to achieve the ambition of closing the water and nutrient cycles in the cradle-to-cradle building.

Microalgae-bacteria diversity

With the support of NIOO’s director, Louise Vet, she created the research unit Microalgae Eco-technological Solutions in 2017, where she and her group passionately explored the potential of microalgae-bacteria diversity for engineered ecosystems. For 13 years she unveiled the potential of microbial communities’ diversity and interactions for designing ecotechnologies that have targeted functions. Think of carbon and nutrient recovery, and organic micropollutants removal.

Photogranular technology

Together with Dr. Lukas Trebuch and colleagues from the chair group Bioprocess Engineering, Prof. Rene Wijffels and Dr. Marcel Janssen, she created the photogranular technology. This remarkable ecotechnology is an ode to the circular economy, as it removes wastewater pollutants and recovers carbon, macronutrients and microelements with minimal aeration and inexpensive harvesting. This technology is in its infancy and is gaining much interest from the scientific community.

Looking forward

Vasconcelos Fernandes is looks forward to continuing her work on developing ecotechnologies for the removal of nutrients, organic micropollutants and human pathogens, to prevent surface water contamination while recovering water for reuse and upcycling the valuable elements present in wastewater. Also, she’ll be working on scaling-up ecotechnologies with public/private partners, especially in the Global South, where sustainable, affordable and robust wastewater treatment technologies are greatly needed.