Kick-off for Sustainable Chemistry

9 September 2014

An exploding hydrogen filled balloon marked the kick-off for the Research Priority Area Sustainable Chemistry last wednesday. The ceremonial ignition by Rector Magnificus Prof. Dymph van den Boom symbolized the boost the university gives to this already well-established area of chemistry research at the Van 't Hoff Institute of Molecular Sciences.

Van den Boom welcomed the Research Priority Area Sustainable Chemistry as a new strong pillar in the UvA research portfolio, adding to the initiatives the university has already developed in the area of sustainability. Sustainable Chemistry is one of the 20 Research Priority Areas of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), representing the very best the university has to offer in terms of research and in which the UvA is a worldwide leader.

UvA rector magnificus Dymph van den Boom at the kick-off of the research priority area sustainable chemistry

Rector Magnificus Prof. Dymph van den Boom. Photo: Fenna van de Watering

The funding provided by the university to actively foster further development has already enabled the RPA Sustainable Chemistry to appoint two new tenure staff members. Both of them will add a new line of research to the Sustainable Chemistry area, leading Van den Boom to the remark that the university money was "well spent". She further appreciated the long term approach of fundamental research enabling solutions to the pressing sustainability issues. "I trust that your dedication will create opportunities", she told her primarily chemical audience.


Van den Boom was assisted by Rik Bleeker MA of the Amsterdam Economic Board. In his presentation Bleeker elaborated on the Triple Helix cooperation in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area between local government, industry and knowledge institutions. His invitation to explore further cooperation was willingly accepted by Prof. Joost Reek, coordinator of the Sustainable Research Research Priority Area.

Kick-off sustainable chemistry

Photo: Fenna van de Watering

In presentations following the ceremony both Dr Eelko Brevoord, R&D Director at the catalyst producer Albemarle and Prof. James Clark of the University of York (UK) stressed the importance of sustainable chemistry research. Brevoord emphasized the need for basic research enabling the development of technology for a growing society, balancing needs for energy and materials with available resources while minimizing environmental impact. Clark presented inspiring projects of his Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the University of York that showed the huge possibilities for new chemistry to provide solutions for sustainability issues. 'Green chemistry is not only a theory, it really has to work', emphasized Clark.

Research ambitions

In the last part of the kickoff symposium the new Sustainable Chemistry staff members Dr Moniek Tromp and Dr Ning Yan presented their research ambitions.

Moniek Tromp during Suschem kick-off

Dr Moniek Tromp. Photo: Fenna van de Watering.

For Tromp this is a profound understanding of the catalytic performance of early transition metals such as iron and nickel, as an alternative for far less abundant (and more expensive) noble metals such as rhodium and platina. She will focus on the use of X-ray absorption and emission spectroscopy, for example at the European Synchroton ESRF in Grenoble and other synchotron facilities. By developing new methods and new instruments Tromp aims at improving the spectroscopy performance, thus obtaining new and more detailed insights in the catalytic mechanisms.

Ning Yan during Suschem kick-off

Dr Ning Yan. Photo: Fenna van de Watering

The focus of Dr Ning Yan will be in improving fuels cells, in particular the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC). This promising type already has found application at a relatively large scale. It also offers possibilities for operation in a reverse manner, thus not producing electrical energy out of fuel, but producing fuel (or chemicals in general) from electricity. Such reverse SOFCs could also be used for (electrical) energy storage. Yan hopes to contribute to the further development of these fuel cells, amongst others by improving the composition and structures of the applied materials.

Inaugural lecture

Bob van der Zwaan during his inaugural lecture

Professor Bob van der Zwaan. Photo: Monique Kooijmans.

The kickoff of the Sustainable Chemistry Research Priority Area was concluded by the inaugural lecture of Bob van der Zwaan. In a concise manner he provided his audience with an overview of the challenges and opportunities in respect to energy and climate change. In his lecture Van der Zwaan argued that energy systems must be radically changed, and research into energy technology intensified. Furthermore, he stressed the necessity of a multidisciplinary approach both in applied and fundamental research.

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