Environmental modelling for cleaner water: Interview with Maarten Van Loo

Refining data from wastewater treatment plant sensors to ensure a clean dataset is crucial for effective environmental modelling and decision-making, emphasises Maarten Van Loo from Team DARROW.

Maarten Van Loo is a researcher and data scientist in the cleantech research organization VITO in Belgium. He completed his PhD at KU Leuven researching human-environment interactions. He also holds a master’s degree in physical geography and artificial intelligence from KU Leuven.

What is your part in the DARROW project?

Sewer water enters at the Tilburg wastewater treatment plant. There, the plant operators do different types  of chemical or hydrological operations to clean up the water, before feeding it back into the river system. They have a lot of sensors at that site to measure things like water quality, the state of the water, and the amount of sediments in the water. The operators are heavily relying on the sensors. We at VITO are looking at the data that’s coming from the sensors and are cleaning up these data. For example, if there are missing values in the data, we will try to fill in those data gaps so that the people of the wastewater treatment plant have a nice clean dataset to make their decisions on.

What is the biggest challenge in the DARROW project?

The Tilburg wastewater treatment plant is big: There are a lot of sensors, there’s a lot of things going on, and everyone within Team DARROW needs to get aligned on how this big machine is working. For this, we need to keep communicating and ensure that we understand each other and also the processes happening at the wastewater treatment plant. For sure, it’s a big challenge to master this beast of a treatment plant.

What are you personally most excited about?

As a researcher, you often come up with theories and algorithms. The DARROW project is a nice opportunity to really help a concrete case and to have your algorithms running in real time and in real life for once.

Curious to learn more about environmental modelling and its application in wastewater treatment?