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

Professors Bruce Rittmann and Mark van Loosdrecht were recently named the 2018 Stockholm Water Prize Laureates for revolutionising water and wastewater treatment.

By revolutionising microbiological-based technologies in water and wastewater treatment, van Loosdrecht and Rittmann have demonstrated the possibilities of removing 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 a Professor in Environmental Biotechnology at Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands, and Bruce Rittmann is Regents’ Professor of Environmental Engineering and Director of the Biodesign Swette Centre for Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University, Arizona, United States (U.S.).

“I’m very excited and pleased!” Professor van Loosdrecht said upon receiving the news. “This is 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 recognises Professors van Loosdrecht and Rittmann for “pioneering and leading the development of environmental biotechnology-based processes for water and wastewater treatment. They have revolutionised treatment of water for safe drinking, and refined purification of polluted water for release or reuse – all while minimising the energy footprint.”

The professors’ research has led to new processes for wastewater treatment currently being used around the world. In particular, Professor Rittmann’s research has focused on how microorganisms can transform organic pollutants to something of value to humans and the environment.

“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,” Professor Rittmann said. “We’re in the middle of a paradigm shift, with more and more focus on how we can create resources, using microbial systems.”

Professor van Loosdrecht’s work also 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,” Professor van Loosdrecht said. “Especially in developing counties 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, it would make sewage plants feasible in many more areas.”

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

“Together, Professors van Loosdrecht and Rittmann are leading, illuminating and demonstrating the path forward in one of the most challenging enterprises on this planet – that of providing clean and safe water for humans, industry, and ecosystems,” Executive Director of Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Torgny Holmgren, said.