Innovation talent from Twente – Meinke

Meinke van Oenen (19) from Losser is one to keep an eye on. Why? She uses algae to develop solutions to water scarcity and feedstock for biodiesel. 

This young woman from Twente is currently in New York for the Wetskills Water Challenge, an innovative programme for students and young professionals passionate about water. There, she leads a team of young experts working on the method by which algae partially desalinate water. 

Meinke could participate in this programme by ranking at the United Nations Gamechanger Challenge, where she finished in the top 5. A total of 200 student teams participated. The prize for the top 5 was participation in the Wetskills Water Challenge in New York. Meinke was available for an interview in between all her sessions.


Tell us more about your research.

“My research is about using halophilic algae to partially desalinate water. Our method gives security and differs from the reverse osmosis commonly used today. It is climate-independent; it uses hardly any energy and is therefore consistent. Only 18 studies have been done worldwide regarding the use of algae in this way. That is very little, so there is still a lot of potential.”


What can it be used for?

The price of water is connected to that of energy. The subject is fascinating because of the high energy prices. If the industry starts using our method, it will relieve the pressure on water. Reducing the water demand solves the water scarcity for residents. In addition, the algae absorb CO2 and emit oxygen during the process. According to our calculations, we can use algae to convert 3,000 tonnes of factory emissions into twice as much clean air. And number three: the waste from the algae can be used as biodiesel. This makes the entire process circular.


How did you come up with this idea? 

“I was brainstorming for a research project with Nynke Bats and Pjotr de Haan. This was back in high school, at the technasium. We wanted to do something with water, and I came up with the idea of using algae to desalinate water. We then did a very primitive test, and it was possible! I won the Junior Water Prize from Wetsus after that, which enabled me to go to Stockholm. This is where I heard about the UN Gamechanger Challenge, which has now brought me to New York.”


You are now working with a team of professionals to develop your idea. How does that work?

“So we are now working in a team, investigating how we can implement this method for the industry, part of the agricultural sector and mining. We are progressing steadily.”


What do you hope to achieve?

“That it will be implemented and that it will relieve the pressure on water. That would be fantastic.”


What’s it like in New York?

“Being here is unreal. We hardly have any free time because of how much time we put into the research. That is incredible, of course. It’s not a holiday, but I did have time to visit Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, fortunately.”


Do you have advice for other talented innovators?

“I do. Just go for it! There are so many challenges and competitions that challenge you to think differently and out of the box. Seek these out and learn from the experience.”

Read more about #duurzaam

Date: 3 May 2023 |