Water Independency - Korneel Rabaey

By 2050, about every single house and building is water independent. This implies rainwater is collected and converted to drinking water. The water is used for human consumption, in the kitchen, or is combined with purified greywater (originating from the kitchen, washing and the shower) to be used as toilet flushing water and other domestic functions.

Metals and nutrients are extracted from the water and via smart collection they are returned ot a circular economy. This leads to a high level of local robustness in the water system and adds value via beter local water balancing and infiltration. A new dynamics emerged on water. It can be personalized. Supported by smart technology and apps water usage is optimized and quality personalized. The latter refers to adapting the mineral composition, not only for taste but also adapting to the needs of the family or employees. We add bacteria to the water in order to steer our gut and skin microbiome. App developers unleashed their creativity to this new market, leading to a plethora of new applications and functions we would have never considered 30 years ago.

The consequence of having globally millions of small systems operating is similar as the one caused by photovoltaic panels: prices plummeted, technology became accessible to all. Interestingly, a considerable proportion of this technology first emerged in developing countries driven by need and by the absence of potable water and sewer grids. It is evident that the system is driven by reneable energy avoiding the use of chemicals, mainly salts, which would lead to residues or create emissions elsewhere.

The role of the government in the water sector has also changed, from being producers of drinking water they are now monitoring utilities via IoT applications. The research at our faculty has delivered a strong contribution via the development of the basic concepts and via introducing the new technologies enabling water personalization, particularly in a context of health.

Korneel Rabaey