Recovering Water, Energy and Nutrients for Small Scale Farming

As you may imagine, a brewery uses vast amounts of water. You need seven liters of water to produce just one liter of beer. Beer itself is 90-95 percent water, but we also have to take into consideration all the other areas of beer production that utilize water, from brewing to flushing out the beer bottles before filling. This makes a brewery heavily dependable on the region’s water supply. However, water is not freely available and is actually a limited resource. Globally, our water supplies face severe climate challenges. Groundwater levels are descending quickly, including in water-rich countries like the Netherlands.

Circular Production Methods at Abdij Koningshoeven

At the Koningshoeven Abbey in the Netherlands, Trappist Monks - who make a living out of making the renowned ‘La Trappe’ beer - are looking into translating their austere and sustainable lifestyle into the beer production process.


A biological water treatment plant

The brothers at the Koningshoeven Abbey developed the ‘Biomakerij’ together with the regional water board - Waterschap de Dommel. It is the first Dutch biological treatment plant that purifies wastewater based on tropical plants and micro-organisms and reuses every drop. This waste water comes from the abbey and the brewery located on the site. The purified water is immediately reused to prevent the soil around the abbey from drying out. Later, the water is used as rinse water for the bottles in the brewery. In this way, all the water stays at Koningshoeven, which means that the cycle is perfectly closed.

The water treatment system also creates a sludge – the organic material caught in the water treatment process – that can be used to recapture a vast array of resources for the further production of energy and food. Hence, the Abbey is looking into the construction of an anaerobic digester at the brewery in order to further extend the recapture of resources through the creation of biogas. The sludge placed in the anaerobic digester not only creates biogas and enables the creation of electricity but the remaining material that is left in the chamber after the biogas process is complete can be utilized as fertilizer.

The social perception of circular recovery systems.

Starting November 2020, a student team from CFIA’s minor Frugal Innovation for Sustainable Global Development (FI4SGD) is undertaking an internship at Koningshoeven/La Trappe Abdij which focuses on the social perception of the use of circular (water and energy) recovery systems in the brewing process.

The same technology is already in place in the Abbey’s sister monastery in Uganda – Our Lady of Victoria Cistercian Monastery - where the water treatment system has been integrated with other sustainable practices like biological manufacturing, energy recovery technologies, food production and community functions. It is the task of the minor team to investigate how the brewery’s stakeholders, mainly its customers, perceive the use of recaptured resources from wastewater treatment in the beer production process. Additionally, it is the team’s responsibility to look into different byproducts that can be derived from sludge and the legislation that these processes are subject to in the Netherlands.

Frugal Innovation aspect and objectives

This project puts forward a research investigation into the perception of La Trappe’s stakeholders towards a reverse innovation being implemented at the Abbey. The anaerobic digester, which intends to create fertilizer and biogas out of a sludge that would otherwise be disposed of, is already in place in Uganda, at the Our Lady of Victoria monastery in Kijojo. Given its first implementation was in the developing world, where now the intention to install the same system can be observed in the Netherlands, the frugal innovation (or the digster) can be tagged as a reverse frugal innovation. 

The objective of the entire project is to close the water consumption cycle at the Abbey in order to maintain stable water levels in the region. Such objective falls in line with United Nations sustainability and development goals, which include (6*) ensuring access to water and sanitation for all and (12*) ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns. 

Project Team


  • Broeder Isaac, OLV v Koningshoeve Abdij/La Trappe
  • Istvan Koller, Waterboard De Dommel

Partner organizations

  • Waterboard De Dommel
  • La Trappe

Academic Supervisor

  • Ralph Lindeboom, Water and Sanitation Engineer (TUD)

Student Research Team

  • Dorine van der Linde
  • Maartje van Broek
  • Rafael V. Padilla Kafati