BACK TO INDUSTRY INSIDER

In our series "Insider Views," Next Wave asks leading scientists to give a bird's-eye view on their particular field of research and to explain current trends that may determine not only the future research efforts but also the employment situation of young academics in this field. In the first part of this article, Alle Bruggink comments on recent trends and future perspectives of catalysis research. In this second part of his article, Bruggink describes catalysis research and research initiatives in the Netherlands.

Insider Views: Catalysis Research in the Netherlands

In February 2002, the umbrella organization for catalysis research schools NIOK, its industrial advisory council, VIRAN, together with the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research ( NWO*) and the Ministry of Economic Affairs created the Dutch platform ACTS to encourage collaborative, pre-competitive research in areas where catalysis plays a major role. The research schools in process technology (OSPT) and biotechnology (ABON) are individual partners in ACTS as well. ACTS stands for Advanced Catalytic Technologies for Sustainability. This mechanism for promoting collaboration between industry and academia is unique to the Netherlands and is gaining increased attention across Europe as model for assisting future technological innovation. ACTS, organizationally part of NWO, runs several programs in catalysis which are jointly financed by industry, universities, and government. The first two programs have just been launched:

IBOS, integration of biosynthesis and organic synthesis, covers specific themes which include cascade reactions and multicomponent catalytic systems, development of bio-redox reactions, and biosynthesis of nonnatural products. The program has a budget of ?13.6 million over a period of 7 years. In a first round, ?6.5 million has been granted to nine projects, for which over 30 researchers will be needed.

Sustainable hydrogen, which has a budget of ?18.2 million over 6 years, will look at specific themes such as improved storage systems, management, and integration of hydrogen in energy systems separation technologies, as well as production options from fossil and renewable resources. Societal issues concerning the use of hydrogen in our energy infrastructure are also part of the program, as well as hydrogen-activated energy saving devices and sensors. ?6 million has been allocated to 10 projects in the first round. More than 25 scientists are needed.

For both programs the positions for new researchers have just been opened and interviews are being held. A number of additional programs are close to launch. In fact, ASPECT, the program aimed at catalytic breakthroughs for bulk chemicals and making the bridge to biocatalysis and biosynthesis for these type of products, will be launched in September 2003. The budget is ?12.5 million over 7 years.

At the European level, ACTS has taken the lead in organizing a Network of Excellence on catalysis, ACENET , using the Dutch experiences as a "catalyst" for other countries. An initiative from Professor Jan van Hest of the Nijmegen University has evolved into a program, Processes on a Chip ( POAC), which will also be managed by ACTS. The launch of this initiative is in August of this year with a budget of ?8 million over 5 years.

Finally, ACTS, together with DCO (the Dutch foundation for development of sustainable chemistry), has initiated a large national program within the government platform of ICES-KIS (BSIK). Backed by a consortium of well over 30 industries, technology institutes, and universities, a program called i-CES, Integration of Chemistry and Energy for Sustainability, has been drawn up. This very substantial proposal has four interacting themes:

Biofeed will look at biomass as feedstock for sustainable energy and chemical base materials. B-Basic aims to develop bio-based and bio-inspired catalysis and conversion methods resulting in higher added value products. Green Process Technology will serve the process-technology needs of the former two programs in a sustainable way. Zenit will use the development of solar cell systems as an example of sustainable products and applications derived from the former three themes.

The i-CES proposal requires a budget of ?180 million for a period of 4 years. Commitment by industries and universities means that 50% of this budget has already been found, whilst the subsidy request for the second 50% will be decided upon in the course of this year. If the proposal is funded it will have great impact on the need for new researchers, both from the Netherlands and abroad, while the anticipated results will bring the scenarios given in Part 1 of this article a few big steps closer. For more information see www.acts-nwo.nl.

For new students, bachelors, masters, and PhDs alike, these programs and proposals offer great challenges. They will be the people really shaping a more sustainable future for our society. They will show that science and technology, both fundamental and applied, are really needed to make visible steps towards a better world.

* NWO supports Science's Next Wave Netherlands.

Alle Bruggink is employed by DSM Corporate Technology with responsibility for Technology & Sustainability. He is chair of NWO-ACTS and part-time professor in industrial chemistry at the University of Nijmegen. In the 30 years of his professional career he has worked in the fine chemical and life sciences industries in the areas of research, company strategy, international market development, technology transfer, and university-industry co-operations.