Ethical aspects of upscaling an innovative water treatment technology

…or: The risk involved in the transition from lab-scale model to full-size open plant in bioprocess technology

A critical step in developing new or improved biotechnological plants is the transition from lab-scal model to full-size plant. The inherent uncertainties and incompleteness of knowledge in this discipline may lead to unexpected results, implying risks and hazards. This project aims to make an inventory of these risks and hazards, their ethical aspects, and considerations that researchers actually use to justify their decisions, with a view to formulate criteria to assess the quality of research decisions about the transition and upscaling in the light of the acceptability of the risks and hazards implied by such decisions.

It is an example of so-called ethical parallel research; The project was complementary to the work on an innovative water treatment technology, the NEREDA, done by engineering and consultancy firm DHV. One of the outcomes of this research was that during the innovation process more attention should be paid to possible harmful secondary emisions of the new technology. This has also led to new technical research proposals. Another insight was that (moral) responsibilities may become very unclear in an innovation network; it requires conscious tuning.

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The project was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), NWO program: "Ethiek, Onderzoek en Beleid".

Related Scientific publications (selection)


  • Zwart, Sjoerd D., Ibo van de Poel, Harald van Mil, and Michiel Brumsen. 2006. A Network Approach for Distinguishing Ethical Issues in Research and Development. Science and Engineering Ethics 12 (4):663-684. available online


  • van de Poel, I.R., S.D. Zwart, M. Brumsen, and H.G.J. van Mil. 2005. Risks of Aerobic Granular Sludge Technology. Ethical and Methodological Aspects. In Aerobic Granular Sludge, edited by S. Bathe, M. K. de Kreuk, B. S. Mc Swain and N. Schwarzenbeck. London: IWA Publishing. available online

Related Professional/Popular publications


  • van Mil, Harald, Ibo van de Poel, and Sjoerd Zwart. 2006. Ethiek in de Afvalwaterzuivering. H2O: Tijdschrift voor Watervoorziening en Waterbeheer, 39 (4):22-24. available online