A chemical idealist in search of a more sustainable world
The step from chemistry to sustainability is probably smaller than you might think. That is also the case for the step you take from studying at a Dutch university to studying at a university abroad. Hendrik's story will show just that.
After obtaining his Bachelor's degree in Chemical Science & Engineering, Hendrik decided to take up a Master’s programme at the Technical University of Denmark. "The transition from the Netherlands to Denmark was easier than I thought. The language is of course a bit more difficult, but everyone speaks English over here as well. You are dealing with a different culture and rules of life, but that makes it even more fascinating", Hendrik explains.
Hendrik studies Chemical & Biochemical Engineering at DTU - Technical University of Denmark - in Copenhagen. "I felt it was time for something else, a new challenge for my personal development," says Hendrik. He continues: "I wanted to move away from hardcore technical science and immerse myself in sustainability and entrepreneurship. Through my master label EIT Programme Climate Kic in Copenhagen, I will be working this summer on an EU project where 280 students of different nationalities take part in courses to acquire skills and come up with ideas to create a more sustainable world. Politicians hold public debates, but are not very familiar with natural sciences. As a chemist, I hope to be able to bridge the gap between scientific knowledge and real life solutions. That makes you an interesting player in the world of sustainability as a chemist".
Hendrik decided to study Chemical Science and Engineering at the University of Twente after finishing his secondary education in the Netherlands. For me, the decisive factor was not only the interesting programme with a good study schedule, the pleasant atmosphere or the sympathetic relationship with teachers. "The University of Twente is also a place where you can grow as a young adult and where, in addition to your programme, you have plenty of opportunities to develop yourself, such as the various associations where you can become a member, the Student Union, etc. I really recommend everyone to pick up what you're excited about, you'll learn a lot from it," Hendrik says.
At the University of Twente the programme years are divided into modules, 4 modules in 1 year. Each module ends with an assignment. Hendrik: "In module 4 - which is the last module of your first year - I carried out an assignment together with 4 other chemistry students for the company Avantium in Amsterdam. They make plastic (biofuel) bottles based on plants, these are called PEF bottles instead of PET bottles and are somewhat thinner than the well-known PET bottles (CocaCola was involved in the development of these bottles at the time). The chemical process of converting plants into plastic produces a waste product. We researched what you could do with this residual waste instead of throwing it away. This was a real task for the business community, and we had to perform this research in our first year already. That's pretty cool, isn't it? “
Henrik continues: "During my bachelor's assignment - the last part of the bachelor's programme - I also dealt with waste materials. I looked at how to extract the still valuable carboxylic acids from waste streams at chemical plants. You take this substance from water and hopefully use it as a raw material again. From a layer of concentrate carboxylic acid I have made a higher concentrate with the help of poly-electrolyte complexes. The nice thing about this is that you can do more with waste products than we think. In this way you create a circular economy, or a circular economy within an industry in which no finite reserves of raw materials are exhausted and in which residues are completely reused in the system. During my bachelor's thesis my interest in sustainability was awakened, you might say."
Now that you read Hendrik's story, you might think that he made the wrong choice for his bachelor's programme. "As a young adult, you choose an education that suits you at that moment and where your interests lie, and that's a good thing. Over time, you grow up, look at yourself and the world around you with a more mature gaze, and realise that you are looking for more challenges in a different direction. With my chemical background I can determine my role very well what I can do for a more sustainable world and the innovations that come with it. A great challenge. And the university has prepared me for this with a wonderful bachelor's programme, passionate teachers, dynamism within the university, the openness of teachers. The University of Twente is a healthy place to start as a young adult and to develop yourself into an adult with a good view of the future!"
"For me, the future may lie in Denmark, or somewhere in the rest of the world, to help work on the possibilities for sustainability, or perhaps just in the Netherlands, within the government, for example. What it is going to be in the end is still a surprise for me. But first: graduation!"