Where do you see yourself in 2050? That is what 2017 alumnus Luuk de Waal questioned himself after finishing his bachelor’s degree in chemistry. And his answer was to solve the ‘next big challenge’ of the future in developed countries – work in water technology. And with his last name equal to a Dutch river, he almost must have been destined to be in the water sector.
Many of our alumni are looking to better the future, but Luuk is challenging the world. “There is a thing, or two left to do if we want to live in a circular society by 2050,” says the down-to-earth Luuk de Waal. “In 2050, the world must have completed the energy transition, and since I’d like to call myself an optimistic futurologist and won’t be retired by then, I thought let’s engage in this next major challenge the world faces.”
And he does so from KWR Water Research Institute. “Bridging science to practice is the motto of KWR, which perfectly fits my personal aims.” Since he started working, Luuk has been keen to work on solutions for tomorrow’s problems.
“I was inspired by professor Kitty Nijmeijer, who explained the importance of membranes in a Dutch television talk show. Having finished my bachelor’s in chemistry, I was looking at what to do next. Rather than going sub-micron scale in chemistry topics, I looked for future-relevant topics that are more easily explained during an anniversary party. My colleagues at Logisticon – the water treatment company I had had a side job at for many years – jokingly pushed me towards water as well. But after a 30-minute phone call with professor Nijmeijer, I knew for sure I wanted to study Water Technology at the Wetsus Academy.”
The Wetsus Academy had a broad assortment of courses and required no extra courses to follow for Dutch students in relevant fields. That’s what made it easy to get into the study.
But studying is so much more than learning knowledge and skills for a profession. “If there is one thing I remember fondly during my study time, it is the time I spent with fellow students. The small group we had. When you come to Leeuwarden, chances are you know no one, simply because everyone is new there. I am thankful for everyone’s support. It wasn’t easy, but I got through.”
And KWR saw the potential of the young alumnus immediately. Continuing from his internship at drinking water company Oasen collaborating with KWR he started as a general researcher at KWR. Luuk was ready to face the challenges of the real world. “I was to spend half my time at the research department of water infrastructure and half the time at drinking water. Which was great fun. During my time at infrastructure, I contributed to constructing a small-scale drinking water distribution network of the Netherlands. Like Madurodam!
Currently, as a scientific researcher, my work focuses on innovative water treatment, resource recovery, and residual valorization – from new innovative ideas to stakeholder management, execution, and reporting. I even got to tell last European Water Technology Week congress visitors about what I think would be a logical management route for concentrated residual streams produced by membrane desalination technologies and how to get there based on current practice. It is amazing to see it resonated very well with the audience.” So, that is a big compliment for Luuk’s progress!
And what’s up next? Luuk: “Well, going from ideas and conceptual thinking towards implementation and integration of the Circular Water 2050 goal set by the water sector requires robust demonstration projects and peer-reviewed understanding of underlying mechanisms, so I’ll keep on going.” Keep it up!