Mark van Loosdrecht awarded NWO Spinoza Prize

TU Delft environmental biotechnology professor Mark van Loosdrecht has been awarded the prestigious NWO Spinoza Prize for his outstanding contribution to scientific research.

First conferred in 1995 by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), the Spinoza Prize is the highest distinction for science in the Netherlands. According to the NWO, recipients of the award are selected by an international committee on the basis of “internationally recognized quality, the ability to attract and inspire young researchers, and knowledge utilization and transfer.” Van Loosdrecht is among the 73 Spinoza laureates to have received this top honor.

“I consider this award a strong recognition of the achievements of the whole environmental biotechnology team over the past 25 years,” Van Loosdrecht says. By combining microbial ecology research with various physics, chemistry and bioengineering concepts, Van Loosdrecht and his team have ventured into an entirely new research area. NWO has commended their groundbreaking research on bacterial behavior, which has led to the development of new water purification methods and the conversion of waste into valuable materials.Van Loosdrecht is also credited with the invention of the Nereda process – an aerobic granular sludge technology that purifies wastewater by controlling the growth and formation of microorganisms.

In order to make this technology commercially viable, Van Loosdrecht and his team have partnered with a number of organizations, including Dutch engineering firm Royal HaskoningDVH, the Foundation for Applied Water Research (STOWA) and five district water boards in the Netherlands. “We developed several technologies (BCFS, Sharon, Anammox, Nereda and several newer ones),” Van Loosdrecht says. “From a research perspective, collaboration with the application field is needed to increase creativity and to look at problems from a different perspective. For the application of this research, it is a conditio sine qua non to work with the application field.”

Winners of this year’s Spinoza Award will each receive €2.5 million to further their scientific research. For Van Loosdrecht, this extra financing enables him to pursue research projects where funding may be difficult to obtain. “We want to gain a better understanding of microbial diversity and ecological principles in terms of the behavior of bacteria under dynamic conditions as well as understanding what is currently termed “extracellular polymeric substance’,” Van Loosdrecht says. “Based on the research insights of these projects, we hope to develop new processes that contribute to a sustainable, cyclic economy-based society.”

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