Wetsus, European Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Water Technology

How to combine scientific excellence with commercial relevance? How to initiate university-industry interaction in a region without a university?

Pieter de Jong

Background and Objectives
Wetsus, European centre of excellence for sustainable water technology, facilitates breakthrough innovations for water treatment technology. Wetsus is a facilitating intermediary for trend-setting know-how development and uses a unique innovation model. Wetsus’ main activity is the coordination of a world leading research program. The inspiring and multidisciplinary collaboration between companies and research institutes in Wetsus results in innovations that contribute significantly to the solution of the global water problems.

Wetsus is organized around its aim to stimulate collaboration between the various public and private organizations that together constitute the water sector: i.e. between public companies, private companies and universities; between scientific chairs; and between regional, national and European policy makers. This cooperation creates the synergy and momentum required to achieve major objectives. As per January 1, 2018, 104 companies annually invest some € 3.3 million in the demand driven € 14.5 million/year research program, with a long term commitment.

Wetsus is a not-for-profit foundation located in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. Wetsus combines a campus approach with an international know-how network strategy. At WaterCampus Leeuwarden, multidisciplinary know-how and talent are concentrated and facilities are shared. In the current Wetsus international know-how network, about 125 partners from all over the world, but with an emphasis on the EU, join forces on solving the global water problems. Companies, assembled in a research theme, together determine the research program, which is executed in the Wetsus laboratory by the 22 involved research institutes. All research projects are performed under the responsibility of the participating universities. As per January 2018, 50 scientific chairs from all over Europe are involved.

Within several (inter)national scientific programs in Wetsus, research institutes and industry jointly implement market-driven, application-oriented, multidisciplinary, (pre)competitive scientific research in the field of sustainable water technology. This is typically done in four-year-long research projects carried out by PhD students and their supervisors. The research goal of Wetsus is to develop innovative and sustainable water technologies. The combination of biological and chemical conversion technology with separation technology and new materials has high potential to develop important innovations in water technology especially because researchers work in close collaboration in one laboratory.

A dedicated Intellectual Property Rights policy is in place, to enable optimal cooperation, innovation and the commercialization thereof. This way, Wetsus combines scientific excellence with commercial relevance, which ultimately results in successful innovations.

In addition to Wetsus’ research role, Wetsus also fulfills two other main functions. A talent and education program is operated, in order to develop the human capital required to fulfill the innovation ambitions of the international water sector. Besides, many activities in the field of stimulating spin-offs and entrepreneurship are performed to stimulate the translation of laboratory inventions into actual innovations applied in society.

Breakthrough technological developments in the field of water treatment technology are required, not only to enable the export ambitions of the water sector, but also to help solve global societal threats and challenges. Challenges that are addressed are not just in the field of water quality and availability, but also in fields like sustainable energy, food security and circular economy.