Top Institute Water: New approach to collaboration in the Dutch water technology sector.
Dutch water companies started cooperating by setting up a national knowledge centre on water technology (Top Institute Water, coordinated by the dedicated research institute Wetsus in Leeuwarden: public RD in water technology almost doubled as a consequence of the initiative), as well as cooperated in marketing and commercial operation.
Innovation has always been a strong point of the water sector, driven by public water companies as well as by levies that industry had to pay for polluting water. In the early 2000s the sector concluded that the international competitive position was deteriorating because of the fragmented innovation approach as well as the international trend towards Built, Own, Operate (BOO) of water treatment facilities. With BOO the clients do not procure a machine or an installation, but they buy the service of purifying water at a given price. This means that investment and operating risks are transferred to the supplier of water technology. The Dutch companies were in general too small to bear these risks.
Various initiatives were also set up to transfer research results to (participating) companies. Examples of innovations are new membrane bioreactors, new sensors for water applications, as well as new techniques for water well management. These lead either to better water quality or to lower treatment costs. The sector, however, remains fragmented on the operations side and large projects under BOO are still a challenge.