AMS Circular solutions, urban innovation and start-ups in the royal spotlight

At the invitation of His Majesty the King, Her Excellency Madam Halimah Yacob President of the Republic of Singapore, visited the Netherlands for a state visit on 21 and 22 November 2018. AMS Institute and Waternet were invited to share their innovations with the delegation. The visit was hosted at Prodock, an innovation hub for start-up companies. This state visit is an affirmation of the close ties between the Netherlands and Singapore, and an excellent opportunity to broaden and deepen bilateral cooperation, especially in the realm of commerce and innovation.

During the visit, in attendance of King Willem-Alexander, President Halimah was accompanied by her husband Mr Mohamad and Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources. Next to King Willem-AlexanderDutch officials attending the delegation were Minister Kaag, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Mayor of Amsterdam Halsema and other members of Singapore’s government and business community.

After the speeches of Mayor Halsema and Ministers of both countries, Singapore and the Netherlands signed a MoU to enhance cooperation on environmental and water management, facilitating knowledge exchange and enhancing expertise and capabilities in four areas: integrated water resource management, circular economy, climate change, and pollution prevention and control. As a frontrunner in the area of resource recovery, water and waste management, the Netherlands will work closely with Singapore in exploring circular economy concepts. A collaboration in which first steps were made with the signing of the PIB covenant ReCirc, last December.

Signing MoU Singapore-The Netherlands

After the plenary activities the delegation was invited to Prodock’s workshop area where Waternet, AMS Institute and a selection of start-ups from Prodock presented their solutions for urban challenges in the area of circular economy and resource recovery. A great opportunity to share our expertise and enthusiasm on these topics in a personal setting for this special audience.

First stop: future sanitation concept for houses
Roelof Kruize, Director Waternet kicked-off by explaining the true value of the collaboration between the watercycle company Waternet and the water organization PUB in Singapore. Both water organizations are responsible for all water activities and see new opportunities for collaboration. The agreement between Waternet and PUB on smart water solutions includes energy saving and waste reduction. The next step is the ReCirc Program in which Government, Knowledge Centers and Industry share circular solutions with Singapore partners. Waternet has high ambitions on CO2 emission reduction and resource recovery. Good examples are the Calcite factory producing calcite as a by-product from the drinking water production, which is used in the carpet industry, glass industry and for the production of bio composites.

After the introduction of Mr Kruize, André Struker, Strategy Manager at Waternet, explained more about the Waternet exhibit that shows water and heat use in the house of the future, fully designed according to circular principals. There are two types of sewers in the house: a vacuum sewer and a grey water sewer. A vacuum sewer/toilet uses less water. Next to this Waternet extracts valuable materials such as biogas and struvite from the toilet’s waste water streams.

Energy recovery will also become smarter using a shower with a heat exchanger. Energy consumption of shower water will be reduced by 50%. The thermal energy of this water, together with other thermal sources like surface water can be used to heat buildings. Also it will become possible to produce biogas by using the stream from the vacuum and the build-in kitchen food waste grinder, which was also part of the future solutions. In Amsterdam the principles of this new sanitation concept will be used in the future neighbourhood of Buiksloterham (construction in 2019) and Strandeiland – a new residential area of 8.000 houses realized in 2022.

Print your city from recycled plastic waste
Every day, a huge amount of plastic waste is generated in cities. It is even estimated that plastics represent about 25% of the total volume of domestic waste in Amsterdam. What if we could reduce this waste stream of discarded materials by recycling household plastics waste and transforming them into valuable products by using 3D-printing? This became the personal mission of Foteini Setaki, founder of AMS start-up The New Raw. Local plastic waste streams were examined and assessed to define their utilization patterns and recycling potential to be turned into a strong printing material. Foteini spoke with so much passion about the project that King Willem-Alexander could not resist to try a swing on the XXX Bench designed by The New Raw.

King Willem-Alexander on the XXX bench from AMS Startup The New Raw – Photo © Frank van Beek

3D Printing in the Circular City explained by Foteini Setaki Co-founder of The New Raw

Alleviating pressure from the congested inner-city of Amsterdam
Arjan van Timmeren, Scientific Director of AMS Institute explained the delegation how the city of Amsterdam offers the ideal environment to expand its current infrastructure with the deployment of autonomous vessels, alleviating pressure from the relatively small but busy city centre and restoring the historic purpose of the Amsterdam canals: providing access to the inner city. Roboat, a collaboration between AMS Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Gemeente Amsterdam & Waternet, is the first research project where the high-accuracy autonomous techniques challenged by the complex urban dynamics of a city like Amsterdam.

Roboat researches five areas of application/business cases: (1) household waste collection in the inner-city, (2) autonomous transport of people in the city of Amsterdam, (3) distribution of food/goods within the city centre, (4) self-assembling water-infrastructures (such as temporary bridges) and (5) options for automated sensing of water quality and other urban and environmental variables. The latter in close collaboration with Waternet. The results of the project can be applied worldwide in other water-rich cities (70% of populated urban areas / 80% of GDP). Madam President Halimah Yacob and His Majesty the King were invited to experience what the future canals could look like with Roboat through an augmented reality (AR) experience at the pop-up Roboat exhibition.

Innovations improving the environment and use of the Amsterdam canals
After Arjan van Timmeren’s talks on how autonomous boats can contribute to the urban infrastructure, Alex van der Helm, Innovation Manager at Waternet, joins the stage to explain how also Waternet works on autonomous solutions for the Amsterdam canals: with the Nautonomous, a prototype of an electrically powered autonomous vessel. The Nautonomous is designed as a multipurpose boat that can, for instance, be used for the removal of floating debris in the busy Amsterdam canals. In future the Nautonomous could also be used to detect objects on the bottom of the waterways or to collect water quality data. In developing the Nautonomous Waternet closely collaborates with Delft University of Technology, the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and the Roboat project of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute).

Next stop: the Emily sonar boat. Did you know that Waternet removes more than 700 boats and 12,000 to 15,000 bicycles from the bottom of the Amsterdam canals, along with shopping carts, car tyres and much more? With the Emily, a small remote-controlled drone with underwater sonar, Waternet gets insight into possible blockages below the water surface and can more efficiently remove objects from the canals.

Safety of the Amsterdam canals is an important topic for Waternet. The ‘Digital Canal’ provides a dashboard to monitor ships, nuisance and dangerous situations on the water. Using sensors and smart cameras, the system collects information about the traffic on the water. A model shows where it is busy. Boats using the waterways are informed with real-time information and can take appropriate measures based on the information provided.

Bio-based composites used for technically demanding products
An important goal of the visit was to meet a selection of start-ups that are currently working in the Prodock innovation hub. One of the selected startups was Van.Eko, who build fully electric scooters that are made using a bio-based composite frame (Hemp-fibres combined with a semi bio-based polyester resin). The Be.e, as the scooter is called, is a world first, demonstrating that bio-based composites can be used in technically demanding products that need to perform under duress and can do so under environmentally challenging conditions (UV, rain, frost, snow). The first ten Be.e’s are already on the roads for over a year now. As the material is a composite it is less prone to environmental degradation such as corrosion, but the most important advantage is that the material acts as a carbon sink and is environmentally much more sustainable than conventional composite using glass or carbon fibres. Although bio-based composites have many advantages, Mayor Halsema stated that the Be.e simply looked gorgeous to her.

Research on converting waste water streams into composites
In a circular society waste streams are efficiently recycled and upcycled. According to Peter Mooij, Research Fellow at AMS Institute this also holds true for waste streams from a wastewater treatment plant. Two main waste streams from a wastewater treatment plant are cellulose fibres (that come from the toilet paper we use),and a class of biopolymers known as alginate-like exopolysaccharides (ALE), that can be used as a glue.

AMS Research Fellow Peter Mooij on converting waste water streams into composites

Unfortunately it still is common practice in the Netherlands to digest or incinerate these streams. However, these streams can also be used to produce a high-value lightweight bio-composite material. Cellulose and ALE can be combined to yield a lightweight bio-composite material that can be applied in the transport or building sector. Peter’s presentation resulted in a lively interaction with King Willem-Alexander, as the topic of water management and water solutions is close at heart of our king. The project to produce this high-quality, lightweight bio-composite is called WASCOM and is a collaboration between Delft University of Technology, ChainCraft, NPSP, Waternet and AMS Institute.

It was a true privilege to present all innovations to this special audience, and we look forward to future collaborations with Singapore, and other cities worldwide, on the topic of urban innovation, circular economy and integrated water and waste management.

© Photos: Eric Martin Photography