2014 NWO Spinoza Prize for TU Delft environmental biotechnologist Mark van Loosdrecht
Environmental biotechnologist Mark van Loosdrecht of TU Delft is one of four scientists who received the 2014 NWO Spinoza Prize from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) on Friday 6 June. The Spinoza Prize is the highest scientific distinction in the Netherlands, and is awarded by NWO to researchers working in the Netherlands who according to international standards are at the pinnacle of science. The laureates will each receive 2.5 million euros this autumn for their scientific research.
In addition to Van Loosdrecht, the NWO Spinoza Prize was also awarded to experimental physicist Dirk Bouwmeester (Leiden University), archaeologist of the Caribbean area Corinne Hofman (Leiden University) and migratory bird ecologist Theunis Piersma (University of Groningen).
Prof. M.C.M. (Mark) van Loosdrecht (1959) is professor of Environmental Biotechnology and Water Treatment at TU Delft. He studies and modifies the properties of microorganisms and microbial communities in technical systems. He combines research and engineering in the development of technologies. His research into the behaviour of bacteria under dynamic conditions enables the development of new methods for water treatment and the creation of useful substances from waste material. Van Loosdrecht’s research group is currently focusing heavily on the production of raw materials from waste streams.
Tangible applications from fundamental research
Van Loosdrecht and his research group combine fundamental research into microbial ecology with concepts from physics, chemistry and bioengineering. This leads to scientific paradigm shifts and to tangible applications in practice. Van Loosdrecht works closely with the business community for the practical implementation of his research, while at the same time seeking contact with scientists from other disciplines.
Inventor of new technologies
Van Loosdrecht’s research into biofilms – a layer of microorganisms encompassed by self-produced slime attached to a surface – and reserve substances of microorganisms resulted in a new field of research. Van Loosdrecht is also the inventor of aerobic granular sludge technology (known commercially as Nereda technology), which is based on the control of the growth and formation of microbial communities in granular sludge. In addition, he developed the Anammox technology, through which harmful ammonium and nitrite are converted into harmless nitrogen gas and water. Both technologies enable contaminated water to be treated using less energy and fewer chemicals, while producing less CO2 emissions.
The Nereda technology is regarded as an important new Dutch innovation and has already been implemented in a number of other countries. Currently, various working plants for domestic wastewater are already up and running in the Netherlands, Portugal and South Africa, while Royal HaskoningDHV has recently signed large contracts for exporting the technology to Brazil and Great Britain. It is possible to extract the biopolymer alginate from the Nereda sludge. Successful pilot plant experiments are currently being carried out for the production of bioplastic from wastewater.
Mark van Loosdrecht studied environmental hygiene at Wageningen University and obtained a doctorate there in 1988 before leaving for TU Delft where he has been a professor since 1999. He has been a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) since 2004, and since 2007 a member of the Dutch Academy for Technology and Innovation (AcTI). He has received numerous awards both at home and abroad, from academia and industry, including the Simon Stevin Master Prize www.stw.nl/nl/content/delftse-milieutechnoloog-mark-van-loosdrecht-stw-simon-stevin-meester-2013 for technical-scientific research in the Netherlands and the prestigious Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize. In 2013, he toured universities in the United States as distinguished lecturer. He is also principal researcher at KWR Watercycle Research Institute, an honorary doctor at ETH Zurich and an honorary professor at Queensland University in Australia.
The festive presentation of the NWO Spinoza Prizes will take place in the Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague on 9 September 2014. During the ceremony, the laureates will receive their awards and present their research and plans for the coming years.
For the NWO’s original press release and high-resolution photos of the laureates, please see www.nwo.nl/spinozapremie
A playlist of various short films on which Van Loosdrecht has collaborated can be found on YouTube: youtube.com/playlist?list=PL60B7666C5823CFEE