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Hydraloop: How the media mogul designed a water purification system in his garage

Updated: Aug 30

Since 2017, former media mogul Arthur Valkieser has been preaching the gospel of recycling household water. With the Hydraloop, he believes he can partially solve a major problem. 'I wanted a smaller system. In addition, there had to be little maintenance involved.'


On Monday, August 15, the chairman of the Dutch water supply companies appears on current affairs program EenVandaag with a pressing message. He pleads for a fundamental revision of the Dutch water management system. One of his most important solutions is a reduction in the use of drinking water, if it's not necessary.


Arthur Valkieser (68) watches the broadcast at 6 o'clock the next morning. The chairman continues: 'As far as I'm concerned, we don't start tomorrow or today, we start yesterday.' You can be right, and you can be right, Valkieser thinks.

Arthur Valkieser, CEO and Founder of Hydraloop. Photo: Raymond Rutting / de Volkskrant


Futuristic box

Valkieser didn't start yesterday, but in 2015, when he founded his company Hydraloop. The Hydraloop, a futuristic-looking box, purifies lightly polluted water indoors. The purification does not produce drinking water, but the water can be used in lower-quality applications, such as in the washing machine, when watering the garden and for toilet flushing. In 2022, the technology behind the Hydraloop was awarded the prestigious World Intellectual Property Innovation Award.


'The average household consumes five hundred liters of water per day,' says Valkieser. 'With the Hydraloop, around 40 percent of that is saved.' A revolution, now that summers worldwide are experiencing alarming droughts. The much-praised company is based on the entrepreneurship of Valkieser and his partner and wife Sabine Stuiver (55), some makeshift technical ingenuity, but above all a hefty dose of frustration about the water management in the Netherlands and abroad.


Valkieser: 'We can deal with water in the same comfortable way as we do now, if only we start to see our waste as a resource product, instead of as an undesirable leftover.' It is a message that needs to be heard, particularly by the government, the entrepreneur believes. 'We are going to build 900 thousand new houses in the next 10 years. I would say: make a water recycling system mandatory for every newly built house.'


Abroad

The first eight units were delivered to a new housing development in Leeuwarden, where Hydraloop's headquarters is also located. Despite its Dutch roots, the company has since spread around the world, with branches in the United States, Dubai, Canada and Australia. More than 80 percent of its sales come from abroad. From extremely dry areas where water is scarce, but also from neighbouring countries where water prices are higher. And therefore fairer, according to Valkieser.


'Take Denmark,' says Valkieser. 'There, a family spends 5 euros a day on water. Having a Hydraloop can easily save a family 600 euros per year. In the Netherlands, a family spends about 90 cents a day. That rate has to go up, Valkieser believes. 'Otherwise we are exhausting nature.'


Valkieser, meanwhile, is a vocal water expert and co-wrote the European water standards, among other things. Yet he did not start at a technical university, but as a photographer. From the age of sixteen, Valkieser has been working with cameras.


While doing his military service, he ends up at the Marine Film Service, "wonderful" according to the entrepreneur. Afterwards he is accepted at the film academy. In the meantime he freelances as a television cameraman. That commercial edge does not exactly please his anti-capitalist film academy teachers of the 1970s. Valkieser has to choose: quit his television jobs or pack his bags. With some pain in his heart, he chooses the latter. He immediately sets to work as a freelance cameraman in Hilversum.


In 1982, he also founds his own film and editing company, now called United Broadcast Facilities. Among other things, the company films and edits Dutch premier league matches and the Tour de France, and designs RTL's corporate identity. In 2002, when Valkieser is 48, he has become a Hilversum media mogul with more than 400 employees. He is named Broadcaster of the Year in 2001 and joins an illustrious list that also includes Matthijs van Nieuwkerk, Eva Jinek and John de Mol. When he receives a good offer for his shares, he decides it is time to leave Hilversum behind. He goes to his second home in Provence.


Pilot's License

The young pensionado is not sitting idle. He gets his pilot's license, learns to sail, but also invests in a small company of an acquaintance, which tries to develop a home water purification system. The prototypes are tested in Valkieser's own home. 'This made me a hands-on expert in what could go wrong. For example, the water started to smell terribly.'


It turns out to be one of many, unsolvable problems. After a few years, the investors, including Valkieser, pull the plug on the company. 'In addition to the inadequate technology, there was no urgency. Water shortages were not on the radar.'


Until 2015, when Valkieser faces reports from the United Nations and the EU. In them, major droughts are predicted. Urgency? Check.


'I moved back to the Netherlands and started tinkering in the garage,' he says, grinning. But, it soon became clear, the old system was failing on all sides. 'There was no point in continuing with that.' Valkieser hires a software developer and starts from scratch.


'Of course, water purification already existed, but that involved tanks measuring two by two meters. People don't want that in their homes. So I wanted a smaller system. In addition, there had to be little maintenance involved.' The prototype must therefore not use filters. And so he experiments with all sorts of techniques on his own household's water output, such as disinfection with UV light and sedimentation of heavy waste particles.


A staff member working on the Hydraloop system. Photo: Raymond Rutting / de Volkskrant


Trick

Endless fiddling with funnels, soldering irons and air pumps takes place in the garage of Valkieser and his wife Sabine Stuiver (55). She looks on in amazement, but Valkieser's enthusiasm is contagious. The garage full of rather hideous constructions with non-fitting water tanks and all kinds of pipes is so interesting that the couple dines in the garage with some regularity. 'It was so interesting to see if the new gimmick would work, you want to be there for that,' Valkieser says.


In the spring of 2017, there is finally a working prototype that meets American standards. He has it wrapped in a futuristic jacket. The result looks more like a Tesla or Apple computer than a central heating boiler (including LED light behind the sleek logo). When the first ones are delivered to the driveway, Stuiver says, 'But this is very different from what's hanging in the garage?'


Valkieser shrugs. 'I am an entrepreneur, but also a designer. And design is just incredibly important.' Stuiver is sold. 'Sabine is an entrepreneur and knows a lot about marketing, so she naturally joined the company.' Stuiver is co-founder and director.


Since 2017, the couple has attended 27 trade shows around the world to preach the water recycling gospel. 'Sabine and I,' says Valkieser, smiling. 'Together with the Hydraloop in the airplane.' The pilot's license turned out not to be a superfluous luxury.


Company: Hydraloop


Where: Leeuwarden


Since: 2015


Number of employees: 45


Annual turnover: 1.2 million euros

This article is a literal translation from the Dutch original newspaper article 'De Onderneming: Hydraloop - Hoe de mediamagnaat een waterzuiveringssysteem in zijn garage ontwierp', published in De Volkskrant. The article is written by Liam van de Ven. All photographs are from Raymond Rutting. © 2022 DPG Media B.V. - all rights reserved