Mastering the membrane: Inside Wafilin Systems’ decades-long mission to transition our food and water systems
By 2050, its estimated our earth will have 10 billion mouths to feed, while facing increasing resource instability and environmental pressures. To meet the challenge, we urgently need to transition to global food system to a smarter, healthier and more sustainable model. Wafilin Systems are applying membrane technology to that goal; collaborating with innovative agrifood companies to make more nutritious products with less impact on the planet. They explain how their location in the TopDutch region helps them in leading the global food and water transitions.
Wafilin Systems are playing their part in the food and water transitions with smart and sustainable membrane filtration systems. Innovative companies in the food, beverage and dairy sectors are always looking for ways to make their products healthier, higher quality and more sustainable, and are increasingly looking to membrane technologies to achieve their goals.
“We enable our customers to make their processes more sustainable, and recover valuable components and ingredients from their resources,” explains R&D Director Jos van Dalfsen. Wafilin’s membrane filtration systems can help brands follow consumer health trends; for example by recovering proteins from alternative plant-based sources, or by dealcoholizing or purifying their favorite tipple.
Traditional food and beverage products can also be optimized with membrane technology. Wafilin design, deliver and engineer membrane systems that reduce water waste and energy usage, making processes more economically and environmentally sustainable. “Within Wafilin we have the expertise and the know-how to select and test the best membrane for the application the customer requires. The manufacturing, we outsource, but we are in charge of delivering the full-scale system to our customers,” continues Van Dalfsen.
Born and raised on the WaterCampus
The Wafilin name has been known as a leader in the Dutch membrane industry since the technology’s earliest stages in the ‘70s through to today, as the sector plays a vital role in our circular economy. It was in 2004, however, when the company in its current form was founded on the WaterCampus in the TopDutch city of Leeuwarden.
They picked an ideal spot to supercharge a sustainable SME. WaterCampus offers a complete chain of innovation in water technology: from science, to applied research and business, all from one attractive business location. Let’s start with the science; the campus hosts several research institutes as well as shared offices for businesses. “We were born and raised at the WaterCampus here in Leeuwarden, and through the WaterCampus we have a very close connection with the university,” said Van Dalfsen.
Wafilin CEO, Henk Schonewille, illustrates the advantages with an example: “[Our offices on the WaterCampus were] located opposite the Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences, where the Water Application Centre is based,” he said. “We needed a test site for developing new filter systems, and we got one across the road. We also have short lines of communication with the professors, who are always prepared to be a sparring partner and who have a wealth of knowledge”.
A region on a mission
Beyond the Campus, Wafilin are proud of the tight-knit and like-minded business community across the TopDutch region. “We have a close connection with the government and the environment we work in,” explains R&D Director Jos van Dalfsen. “And we have access to our manufacturers in the province of Friesland, which we use as an important supplier for manufacturing our systems”.
In the TopDutch watertech and agrifood ecosystems, Wafilin have found partners with similar mindsets and ambitions for sustainable growth. “We worked together with [Groningen-headquartered potato cooperative] Avebe, for example”, said CEO Henk Schonewille. The two TopDutch firms partnered on a mission to develop a sustainable alternative for to extract protein from start potatoes. “Twenty percent of a potato consists of water that is extracted. However, that water still has two percent of protein that used to end up in the wastewater. With a new purification system, Avebe is able to filter this protein from its wastewater and now it is used for feed.”
Nearly all the companies we need can be found in the Northern Netherlands. Reliable companies that are guaranteed to do the job properly.Henk Schonewille, CEO Wafilin Systems
In 2022, they also entered into a joint venture with the German manufacturer Berghof Membranes, a company with which they first entered into partnership when they were both neighbors on the WaterCampus. Henk Schonewille believes it is important to work with local partners. “Even when we have projects abroad, we try to take our local partners with us. Nearly all the companies we need to provide our services can be found in the Northern Netherlands. Reliable companies that are guaranteed to do the job properly”.
“The TopDutch region is a very open community in my perspective. It helps you to become visible in an area that is quite big, but in that sense, quite small,” concludes Van Dalfsen.
Growing global, staying local
After 20 years as a partner and a tenant of the WaterCampus, at the end of 2023 Wafilin Systems needed a new space to fit their growing team and ambitions. There was no chance they’d be leaving the TopDutch region though! The company opened their own premises in Leeuwarden citing ‘its network and cooperation with knowledge institutions and partners, and because of the business climate in the city’.
“With our state-of-the-art offices, an in-house membrane application center and warehouse, we are able to organize our work processes more efficiently and to serve our clients more efficiently and with even greater speed,” remarked CEO Henk Schonewille. “By investing in our own dedicated office space, we have created an ideal work environment which will provide an inspiring workplace, contribute towards the personal growth of the team and in turn the continued growth our company,” added Jos van Dalfsen.
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