Biotech pioneers, Bruce Rittmann and Mark van Loosdrecht, win 2018 Stockholm Water Prize.

By revolutionizing microbiological-based technologies in water and wastewater treatment, Professors Mark van Loosdrecht and Bruce Rittmann have demonstrated the possibilities to remove harmful contaminants from water, cut wastewater treatment costs, reduce energy consumption, and even recover chemicals and nutrients for recycling.

Their pioneering research and innovations have led to a new generation of energy-efficient water treatment processes that can effectively extract nutrients and other chemicals – both valuable and harmful –  from wastewater.

Mark van Loosdrecht is Professor in Environmental Biotechnology at Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands. Bruce Rittmann is Regents’ Professor of Environmental Engineering and Director of the Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University, USA.

On receiving news of the prize, Professor van Loosdrecht said: “I’m very excited and pleased! This is a recognition not just of our work but of the contributions microbiological engineering can make to the water sector”.

In its citation, the Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee recognizes Professors Rittmann and van Loosdrecht for “pioneering and leading the development of environmental biotechnology-based processes for water and wastewater treatment. They have revolutionized treatment of water for safe drinking, and refined purification of polluted water for release or reuse – all while minimizing the energy footprint”.

The professors’ research has led to new processes for wastewater treatment currently being used around the globe. “Traditionally, we have just thought of pollutants as something to get rid of, but now we’re beginning to see them as potential resources that are just in the wrong place,” says Professor Rittmann. In his research he has studied how microorganisms can transform organic pollutants to something of value to humans and the environment. “We’re in the middle of a paradigm shift, with more and more focus on how we can create resources, using microbial systems,” he says.

Professor van Loosdrecht’s work echoes this sentiment. His research has led to increasingly common wastewater treatment processes that are less costly and more energy efficient than traditional methods.

“With current technology, you can already be energy neutral and there is a lot of research on how to become energy positive. Especially in developing countries with unstable electricity supply and limited access to funding, this is very important. If we could build a wastewater plant that is self-sufficient in energy, that would make sewage plants feasible in many more places,” says Mark van Loosdrecht.

“Together, Professors Rittmann and van Loosdrecht are leading, illuminating and demonstrating the path forward in one of the most challenging human enterprises on this planet – that of providing clean and safe water for humans, industry, and ecosystems,” says SIWI’s Executive Director Torgny Holmgren.

H.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden will present the prize to Professors Rittmann and van Loosdrecht on behalf of H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, Patron of Stockholm Water Prize, at a royal award ceremony on 29 August, during World Water Week in Stockholm.

More about Professor Rittmann

Professor Rittmann has written over 650 peer-reviewed scientific papers. Together with Professor Perry McCarty (the 2007 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate), he is also the author of the textbook Environmental Biotechnology: Principles and Applications.

Professor Rittmann has chaired the Program Committee of the Leading Edge Technology Conference of the International Water Association, where he has worked together with Professor van Loosdrecht.  The membrane biofilm reactor (MBfR), a technology that Dr. Rittmann invented, uses naturally occurring microorganisms to remove contaminants such as perchlorate and tricloroethene from water, and has been commercialized.

Dr. Rittmann has received many accolades during his career.  These include being named a fellow of the International Water Association, National Academy of Inventors, and American Association for the Advancement of Science; and he is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and a Distinguished Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

More about Professor van Loosdrecht

Professor van Loosdrecht’s research has led to the quite widely used Anammox and Nereda technologies for wastewater treatment. The Anammox process is a resource efficient way to remove nitrogen from wastewater. In industries it is used after anaerobic wastewater treatment while in municipal wastewater treatment it is used in combination with sludge digestion. In both cases this results in an energy producing treatment process.

The Nereda technology is based on granulation of bacteria, which allows a simpler and cheaper municipal wastewater treatment process. A Nereda plant can be built on a smaller patch of land (>60 per cent less area need) and uses up to 50 per cent less energy than conventional methods. Recovery of high performance biopolymers from the ‘waste’ sludge will contribute to a future more circular economy.

Professor van Loosdrecht has been awarded several prizes, including the 2014 Spinoza Prize and the 2012 Lee Kuan Yew Prize. He is chief editor of the scientific journal Water Research and a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Dutch and USA National Academies of Sciences.

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