A recent VTT press release told how in future it would be possible to enhance the use of wastewater as a source of raw materials. This is a major change that would eventually lead to the concept of wastewater disappearing altogether.
In society and industry, wastewater is yet another material flow among others that can be processed, utilised and recycled as process water or drinking water. This is no longer utopia, but state in the art, for example, in Singapore and Namibia.
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After our press release, I received an e-mail from Rwanda Tourism University College, with a hopeful inquiry as to whether our new technologies would be suited to their local conditions. Like other developing countries, Rwanda is in a situation in which the growing population desperately needs wastewater treatment plants. For this, however, the public sector lacks the financial resources – or critical mass in competence.
In most countries, public organisations are responsible for water management. Even under a public umbrella, it is possible to create the kind of operating models that offer opportunities for various kinds of actors.
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I would like to see the future bringing us a versatile business ecosystem, accommodating a wide spectrum of service and technology providers, biomass and mineral processors, and information developers and sharers of all sizes.
Biogasification of municipal waste could be run as a family business, the village pig farmer combining waste water sludge with his piggery manure and using it to generate electricity for his village. Co-operatives centred on specific villages would organise production plants for drinking water for the village population. If there is no start-up capital to launch such projects, major companies would take care of the availability of clean water in the community as part of their sustainability programmes, thus acting as godparents and sponsors of regional business clusters.
The difficulty in realising this kind of dynamic future scenario lies in the necessity for a basic community need, in this case the availability of clean water, to be built upon a solid foundation not solely reliant on the enthusiasm of individual people or companies. On the other hand, we must also allow room for innovation – regardless whether it is related to technological development, business models or governance.
Mona Arnold, Principal Scientist