Professor Wilderer is currently a professor at the Technical University of Munich and Director of the Institute for Water Quality and Control of Waste Management. He is also Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies on Sustainability, funded by the European Academy of Sciences and Arts.
The essential value of Professor Wilderer's contribution in the water sector derives from a rare and wide-ranging versatility which does not sacrifice depth and focus. Although trained as a civil engineer, he has gained formidable in-depth knowledge in areas such as ecology, microbiology and water chemistry. This coupling of-versatility and quality is driven by a profoundly holistic vision of sustainable water and wastewater management. He holds the view that, in the long term, environmental engineering can only be successful if the interrelationships between environmental factors, ecological and microbiological systems, and human activities are understood in detail.
To achieve his vision he has for many years followed and promoted interdisciplinary and integrative approaches and successfully pursued international collaboration and linkages. What makes his achievements in this context truly remarkable is that he not only pioneered integrative approaches at macro-scale in water management, but also at micro-scale in his research on wastewater treatment. He was one of the first scientists in the early 1970s who realised the need to develop an understanding of the microbial populations and the basic mechanisms involved in biological wastewater treatment. To address this need he assembled an interdisciplinary team of engineers, microbiologists and biochemists. He repeatedly demonstrated the ability to define scientific problems sharply across disciplinary borders. Thereby he provided an interdisciplinary umbrella for research into and solution of water quality and wastewater treatment issues. This interdisciplinary ethic enabled Wilderer to readily transform the results of laboratory research to practical implementation.
Wilderer's main research achievements in wastewater treatment technology relate to: sequencing batch reactors (SBR), where his work strongly influenced the current widespread application of this technology; biofilms, a field in which he gained pre-eminence and his development of biofilm reactors is internationally appreciated; the development of the sequencing batch biofilm reactor (SBBR) technology that combines the advantage of biofilms with the flexibility of SBR; contributory work in the discovery of aerobic granular activated sludge and the development of a technology that uses aerobic granules as a carrier to introduce novel metabolic capabilities into existing bioreactors; and the combination of biofilms with membrane separation technology leading to the development of the membrane biofilm reactor.
His many seminal investigations, publications and presentations on fundamental chemistry, microbiology and ecology, and their use in interpreting and resolving environmental quality challenges in natural aquatic and engineered water resource systems continue to receive world-wide acclaim. Moreover, these contributions have provided sound scientific and engineering bases for the efforts of others and the overall advancement of environmental science and technology.
Working from the platform of his internationally recognised stature as a researcher and innovator, Wilderer exerted himself along various routes to advance the cause of sustainable and integrated water management, including the promotion of international collaboration:
He convinced his state government that water and wastewater treatment, and waste management are inextricably linked. Therefore, the appropriation of research funding should favour proposals that embrace sustainable use and reuse of resources rather than mere technical solutions to isolated problems.
He acts as Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies on Sustainability, funded by the European Academy of Sciences and Arts.
He was instrumental in helping to integrate scientists and engineers from the former East block countries into the international scientific community. He is co-ordinator of the Indo-German Bilateral Programme.
He is Editor of two leading international water journals produced by the International Water Association - Water Research and Water Science & Technology. He is also co-editor of Acta hydrochimica et hydrobiologica.
He was one of the first researchers who not only questioned the sustainability of transferring traditional and well-developed centralised sanitary concepts throughout the world, but developed basic ideas of an alternative high-tech decentralised concept, DESAR (decentralised sanitation and reuse). He is promoting the concept with vigour and sound arguments so that the approach is by now getting established in Europe and all over the world.
He initiated a major international programme on water-related environmental risk management in the Danube river basin. The project aims to develop appropriate measures to detect, avoid and counteract disastrous events concerning flooding and accidental pollution in the Danube river, its tributaries and the Black Sea.
He organised a very successful conference on the concept of Natural Resource use in the light of the World Religions, attended by experts in diverse disciplines such as engineers, theologians and scientists. Along the same line a symposium was held in early 2003 on The Sustainability Axiom in the Light of World Cultures.
Professor Wilderer demonstrates how integrative thinking can be applied in broadening water-related horizons across the full spectrum of fundamental research, technology development, technology application and integrated water resources management. There is probably no other person in the water field that has gained excellence and international respect across so many disciplinary boundaries. From this broad base he facilitated the transfer of knowledge, experience and ideas not only to the scientific community, but also to the public, industry, business and public institutions. He has striven to educate all those in contact with him on the concept of an engineer who manages resources in an integrative manner. His approach de facto redefines the role of an environmental engineer.