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Chemist Chris Slootweg of the University of Amsterdam receives the very first Stairway to Impact Award from Dutch funding agency NWO. Slootweg developed a process to recover phosphate from waste streams, such as sewage, and upcycle it so it becomes suitable for high-end industrial applications. The resulting spin-off company, SusPhos, had this week received the Rabo Sustainable Innovation Award 2020 in the category Circular Economy & Climate.

Waste, or valuable raw material? With the SusPhos process, phosphates can be isolated from waste streams such as sewage and upcycled for industrial purposes. Photo: Pixabay

SusPhos has only been around since 2019, but the start-up and the researchers involved have already won several awards. The company received the Gouden Kiem 2019, Amsterdam Science & Innovation Award 2019, and PhD student Steven Beijer who works for the company received the Unilever Research Prize 2019. To this list the Rabo Sustainable Innovation Award 2020 has now been added. This prize comes with an amount of 20,000 euros, to be spent on the winning initiative. The award was announced during a live broadcast of Dutch television show RTL Z. CEO Marissa de Boer received the prize on behalf of SusPhos.

Societal impact

The initiator of the SusPhos, Chris Slootweg of the UvA Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences, will himself receive the newly established Stairway to Impact Award from funding agency NWO. This new prize will from now on be rewarded yearly to researchers who have taken effective steps ake effective steps to utilise their scientific findings to tackle a societal problem. This prize comes with an amount of 50,000 euros, intended to be used for further steps towards impact and knowledge utilization.

From the NWO jury report: ‘Chris Slootweg has applied the results of his research into circular chemistry to reducing the problem of waste-stream phosphates. The chemist developed a process enabling phosphates to be recovered from waste streams and usefully re-employed. He is seeking to collaborate with market partners to this end, with an ambitious aim: to develop the process in order to address the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The jury was impressed by the way he has translated theory into practice, thereby becoming an inspiration to other researchers.’

Outreach

In addition to his work with SusPhos, Slootweg is also making a wider outreach effort to bring the importance of circular chemistry to the attention of fellow scientists and the general public. In 2019, for example, he published the "12 principles of circular chemistry" in the journal Nature Chemistry. In the same year his research was featured at the popular Dutch music and theatre festival Lowlands. Here, Slootweg and his colleagues called on the festival visitors to donate their urine for research, so they could see how alcohol and drugs influences the quality of the phosphate that can be isolated from the urine.