Semilla is aiming to make use of sanitary wastewater. It attracts attention with the message that urine could even provide drinking water, mainly thanks to its presence at festivals with portable water sanitation units. But for the moment, it is focusing on rinse water for toilets or fertilizers as a form of recycling.
CEO of the network organization Peter Scheer explains just how innovative and promising his company is.
What was the reason for setting up Semilla?
At the Has University of Applied Sciences in Den Bosch we saw footage of people who, cut off from the world, were desperate to save themselves from an emergency situation. We wanted to do something about that. I worked for the European Space Agency and came up with the idea of adopting self-sufficiency techniques that are used on space missions. So that you would be able to apply these in refugee camps.
What are your main activities?
In general you can describe it as decentralized wastewater treatment. The Semilla modules form a closed wastewater system, which uses advanced aerospace technology to convert sanitary wastewater into clean water and nutrients for food production. Used water is recycled via, among other things, fine mesh filtration and UV-radiation.
We provide solutions for temporary, semi-permanent as well as permanent situations. In other words, for festivals, in emergency situations or for buildings.
What sets Semilla apart from other companies?
We’re very practical, with a focus on applicability. Semilla works in a water neutral way, without sewage systems and manages the entire chain from wastewater to recycling. Whereas others only do a part of this process.
How have the reactions been up until now?
Highly promising. People do wonder if what we do is feasible, they find it unusual. But both private individuals and government realize through this that we’re not doing the right thing now. That we need to be more economical in our use of water. Even the Water Boards are showing interest, because a local solution would relieve the burden on key wastewater treatment facilities.
What has been an obstacle so far?
As well as it goes at festivals with tests and permanent use, our solutions for emergency aid are still very difficult to apply. That has to do with how that aid is organized. It’s not easy determining who is responsible for what. Who is the contractor, who is funding it? You might have to deal with five different parties in refugee camps.
What’s in the pipeline for next year?
A great deal. For example, at festivals we are going to recycle 90% of the wastewater for flushing toilets and 10% as fertilizer. Or we might work on a project in the east of The Netherlands aimed at working in a water-neutral way without sewers..
Where will Semilla be in five years’ time?
We will be contributing to good, clean water for developing countries in line with the sixth Sustainable Development Goal, but the second one as well: hunger. We are also going to put our closed water system – closed loop – in place in remote areas, so that between 10 and 20,000 people at a time can become self-sufficient.