How to design a drinking water factory that meets today’s requirements?

The Netherlands is facing a major challenge. Climate change is high on the social agenda. The process industry, but also the water sector, must increasingly invest in sustainability. Solutions can be sought in a transition from linear to circular action. To realize this transition, well-trained technologists are needed. The number of vacancies for technologists in the drinking water sector has been increasing in recent years. To make a contribution, Hogeschool Utrecht has initiated a minor in water technology with the aim of getting young people interested in the subject of water.

by Onno Kramer (Waternet, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences), Tim van Dijk (Brabant-vand), Fenna Philipse (Waternet), Leon Kors (Waternet), Michiel van der Stelt (Utrecht University of Applied Sciences)

At the Water Technology course [1] at the University of Applied Sciences Utrecht [2] (HU) students design their own drinking water factory. It sounds like a fun challenge, but how exactly does it work? To begin with, students are divided into small groups. Each group consists of participants with different (technical) fields of study. Each group is assigned a location somewhere in the world with a specific water source. Making clean and reliable drinking water from these sources is a challenge. Many of these sources are contaminated with pathogens, microplastics, drug residues, heavy metals and pesticides. In addition, PFAS [3] (also called forever chemicals) are becoming more common.

All in all, a huge headache file one would say. For how to remove all these unwanted substances from the water? After all, drinking water must meet all kinds of water quality requirements [4]. Also the security of supply (always tap water), cost price (1 øre for a bucket [5]), security (crisis management) and public image (influence on social media) play an important role.

In addition, students are challenged to minimize the impact on the environment with the construction of this fictitious water treatment; thinking about building a non-fossil energy supply, fewer chemicals, energy efficient processes, low CO2emissions, circular use of residual currents, etc. Treatment processes must undergo a change from linear (from raw material to product with a lot of waste) to more circular design (cradle to cradle) [6]).

All in all, many criteria for students to consider. In this way, students are challenged to use a multidisciplinary approach to design a factory that tackles local problems in a modern way. And to make the whole even more complex, they must also take into account local factors such as culture, social, purchasing power, stakeholders, etc.

The content of the water technology course
The course starts with the importance of water in our lives and the principle of the water cycle (from wastewater, surface and groundwater to drinking water). It illustrates how water purification in Holland historically took place in the mid-19th century. Both conventional and modern purification techniques (both drinking water and wastewater) are discussed in detail. With these building blocks, it is already possible to make a first design of the groups.

The cost standard [7] by the engineering firm RHDHV is used to determine financial aspects such as investment and operating costs. But sustainability (business case) and a stakeholder analysis (serious game) are also discussed because the design can be seen in a different way. An excursion to an existing drinking water company gives students a practical experience of the scope of operation.

To test the end product, a lecture on toxicology is given. Public health remains the first priority in the design of a drinking water factory. To get a feel for water chemistry, both theoretically and practically effervescent water is compared to tap water. And … what would come out of this? What is the difference between tap water and the bottle? In the rich west, a water purification system can cope with pollution, but does it also apply to many other places in the world? Guest lecturers from the academic field share their experiences with the students. Finally, the groups proudly present their designs to professionals from the field.

Figure 1. An example of a drinking water factory in Libya by students

In order to help the students in the best possible way with the design of the drinking water factory, the knowledge of a large group of professionals is used. These experts come to HU to share their many years of practical experience in the field with the stud: Utrecht University, Queen Mary University of London, KWR and TU Delft, and finally Omnisys and World Waternet.

Figure 2. Students perform experiments in HU’s chemical technology laboratory to measure the differences between tap water and bottled water, with or without soda. The measurement results are compared with the predicted water chemical results [8]

The minor in Water Technology brings together education, research and professional practice in an interdisciplinary way. Professionals and young people learn from and with each other by studying the challenges of the future in the drinking water sector on a global level. Students are touched by the stories from practice. And the professionals are challenged to connect with a new generation of technologists. A generation that wants to shape concrete sustainable solutions in the water sector by working together.

1. Kramer, OJI, van de Wetering, TSCM, Huysman, K., Joris, K., 2020. Contact group Drinking Water Technologists; share the success with more than 25 years of knowledge. H2O Magazine for Water Supply and Water Management, pp. 1-8.
2. HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, Institute for Life Science and Chemistry,
3. PFAS: Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances,
4. WHO (World Health Organization – Water Sanitation and Health) guidelines for drinking water quality, for quality / drinking water quality
5. Groen, JA, 1979, “One cent per bucket – Amsterdam’s drinking water through the ages”, Municipal water mains, Amsterdam, ISBN 90 6274 008 1
6. Website: Cradle to cradle,
7. The cost standard, RHDHV (www.kosten
8. Moel, de, PJ, 2021, AC4E – Aquatic Chemistry for Engineers, AC4E_a50, Water Chemistry in Excel (PhreeqXcel) for drinking water, wastewater / wastewater, industrial water,

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