Leon Lefferts and Kulathuyier Seshan at Catalytic Processes and Materials (CPM) at Twente University have both been involved in CatchBio since the very beginning. Both researchers contributed to the preparation of the program and conduct CatchBio projects themselves.
Twente University is a front runner when it comes to biomass research, Seshan says: “We’ve been working on the subject for seven years now. We want to convert organic waste to raw materials for biofuels.” CatchBio is a stage in a longer research history, Lefferts explains: “In catalysis research, cooperation between the business world and academia is quite normal. STW funded catalysis research from the start and there were all kinds of private-public subsidy programmes.”
Waste as an energy source
When sustainable fuels started to get serious attention a few years ago, researchers and other stakeholders gathered round the table.
Lefferts: “We asked ourselves: what are the challenges in the field of catalysis for the near future? We concluded that the world needed alternative raw materials for fuel and that catalysis is an essential expertise for achieving that. I for one am convinced that any system capable of controlled conversion of bio-based raw materials into sustainable fuel is going to be big. That has changed fast: five or six years ago, people would have laughed at the suggestion to research that topic.”
Seshan: “We deliberately chose waste as raw material for biomass conversion, as it is a promising technology. I hope that in forty years we will be able to get about twenty percent of our energy from waste conversion.” And demand for this kind of research is rising, Lefferts says: “People realise that oil prices will keep increasing. Twenty years ago, you had to be an idealist to research sustainability. Today, it’s a viable business opportunity. The Netherlands is among the front runners when it comes to catalysis and chemistry. By building on that knowledge, CatchBio may enable us to gain a competitive edge in what is to be a thriving market.”
Academia and business
Twente University cooperates with other universities on various CatchBio projects,
Seshan says: “Groningen University is very good at applied research, and Utrecht University has a more fundamental approach, whereas we at Twente University bridge between those expertises. Cooperation between universities, and within universities as well, is the way to bring the right experts for the job together.”
Lefferts: “We may develop great, innovative catalysis methods, but that’s only step one. If you want to develop a catalytic method into an industrial process, you need people that are skilled at developing the technology of processes. That is why there is so much cooperation between academia and the business world, and why CatchBio supports that cooperation. It is the most logical way to develop technologies that will eventually find their way to the market.”