Towards Resource Recovery in a Circular Economy

In Energy & Environment by Astrid Seegers

by Josephine Nijstad

The Holland Innovation Network co-organized the workshop “Towards Resource Recovery in a Circular Economy”, with Witteveen+Bos and Delft University of Technology, supported by PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, in April 2017. Various Singaporean and Dutch participants, from companies, government and universities, were present in the ACE Ideation Centre for an interesting morning. The purpose of the workshop was to get to know each other, share challenges and new technological developments in the field of circular economy, leading to collaboration and policy exchange between Singapore and The Netherlands.

The morning kicked-off with inspiring talks from Mr. Ng Joo Hee, Chief Executive of PUB, and H.E. Jacques Werner, the Ambassador of the Netherlands. Mr. Ng Joo Hee proudly presented the dynamic and modern approach towards the water supply in Singapore, with as cherry on the pie, NEWater, which is fully recycled water (and tastes well!). The ambassador explained the ambition of The Netherlands to be fully circular by 2050, and stressed the need for collaboration. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we should co-develop technologies, establish business cases and work together on policies and future proof strategies.

Dr. Arjen van Nieuwenhuijzen, Chief Technology at Witteveen+Bos, started with the first presentation of the day; Added Value of Resource Recovery in the context of Circular Economy. The focus of Dr. van Nieuwenhuijzen’s introduction was on the fact that future resource recovery concepts have to provide added value for sustainable development. Therefore, in a transition from a linear to circular economy, “waste should no longer be seen as waste, but as a used flow, containing valuable compounds for new processes.”

Using wastewater as a source, Prof. Mark van Loosdrecht, Delft University of Technology introduced the audience to phosphate and alginate recovery. He explained how resource recovery is not only done from a ‘sustainable’ point of view, but can actually save costs (phosphate) or can fill a gap in the market (alginate).

From wastewater to building industry, Dr Yang En-Hua, Cluster Leader at the Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute, highlighted recent advances on the use of recycled material for the development of green construction materials. His department developed a new type of cement, made from rejection brine from the desalination plant, which is as strong as normal cement, but more flexible, increasing its performance. This shows that circular materials do not need to copy virgin materials, but have their own advantages.

After the coffee break, where a lot of networking was done, Mr. André Struker, Strategic advisor at Amsterdam’s water company Waternet, introduced us to some smart business cases. He showed how by cross sector collaborations and out-of-the-box thinking, the Dutch blood bank could save money and eradicate noise pollution from the cooling equipment to the neighbourhood. This could be done by replacing the old air conditioning for cooling blood, for a cooling system using the temperature of drinking water. Another innovative technology they are working on is producing protein out of wastewater, which could potentially supply 36% of the protein demand of Amsterdam.

Singapore deals with an increasing stream of electronic waste. Waste streams are challenges, but also offer opportunities! Mr. Yew Wen Shan presented a method to recover gold from electronic waste, by using microbes instead of harmful chemicals.

Last, but not least, entrepreneur and pioneer in the circular economy, Mr. Allan Lim, shared with us the story about the companies he founded (Alpha Biofuels and Comcrop). The principle behind Alpha Biofuels is relatively easy, using waste streams (e.g. waste cooking oils, animal fat) to generate energy on location. During the implementation, however, it became evident that there is more to a business than just the right technology. To improve implementation, one should have regular communication with the users and if necessary, go back to the design table. Secondly, for every application there is a right location and scale. To find the optimum, one should experiment with different settings. Thereby, excellent logistics are key to every process!

After these six presentations, Jessica Cheam, well known eco-journalist, stepped up to moderate the discussion. The Dutch national circular economy ambitions for 2050 made quite an impression with the Singapore audience, and Jessica challenged the government of Singapore to follow. Awareness and the need for new business models is increasing. People agreed that communication is key in this transition, ranging from communication between different governments and departments, to communication between designers, users and industry. For proper implementation, one should take a holistic view on a products or service chain. Thereby, suggested was that value in itself needs to be re-evaluated. Should one look at monetary value only? What about social impact and our intrinsic responsibility towards society? Many examples given during the workshop showed that there is a business case for circular economy.

The author is a trainee Circular Economy at the Holland Innovation Network
The Holland Innovation Network at the Netherlands Embassy in Singapore focusses on innovation, technology and science collaborations between Southeast Asia and the Netherlands. By organizing seminars and workshops the team informs and inspires about topics such as circular economy, smart industry and ageing society. The Holland Innovation Network writes articles to inform Dutch government agencies, knowledge institutes and companies about developments in Southeast Asia. For more info on circular economy R&D in the Netherlands, contact Ms Susan van Boxtel, Advisor for Innovation, Technology and Science via

Did you know that:

  • …The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) estimated an extra turnover of € 7.3 billion by investing in circular businesses.
  • …this accounts for 54,000 jobs in the Netherlands, and..
  • …the Rabobank estimated that a circular economy can lead to extra growth in GDP up to 8.4 billion euros – in the most circular economic scenario.