These days Joris is helping ExxonMobil to optimize its production processes
It was at Twente that Joris Betjes first became fascinated with the chemical industry and with fluid dynamics. These days he works at ExxonMobil, as a process engineer. He provides technical support for seven of the plants at the company’s Rotterdam refinery.
In 2007, following a long search for an interesting Bachelor’s programme in a technical subject, Joris arrived at the University of Twente. During the individual orientation day, the atmosphere at Chemical Engineering immediately appealed to him. “A broad-based, varied programme, featuring both materials science and process engineering. A course of study that achieves an effective balance between theory (involving topics such as thermodynamics) and practice (such as practical classes and projects).”
A home from home
On top of all that, the campus itself was a real bonus. “I’m from a small village near Alkmaar, and I was keen to live in digs. It turned out that the Twente crowd included people from all parts of the country. The facilities there have always been designed with that in mind.” Joris initially decided to live on campus, close to the university’s buildings and its various sporting and cultural facilities. “There were sixteen students in my student house and it felt like a real home from home. I was able to develop a great social network.”
In the second year, hoping to achieve a better balance between his studies and various extracurricular activities, Joris decided to move to Enschede’s city centre. He found that the environment of a smaller student house helped him to focus more effectively on Chemical Engineering. Joris still thinks that was a good choice, as this is a particularly demanding course of study. The individual subjects in fluid dynamics were really tough, but he didn’t let that get to him. “I was already developing an interest in the flow behaviour of liquids. One subject that dealt with this aspect was physical transport phenomena. The penny finally dropped, and I got a 9. I knew I wanted to pursue that further.”
Erasmus Mundus Master’s programme
After graduating, Joris decided to specialize in the fluid dynamics of complex liquids. He was admitted to the European Erasmus Mundus Master's programme. After periods spent studying in Belgium, Portugal and Slovenia, he obtained his Master’s degree in 2014. Joris was immediately offered a job at ExxonMobil in Rotterdam, where he had previously completed an internship. He started out as an environmental engineer, and is now working as a process engineer. These are two entirely different jobs, but that is not unusual at this company. “The job rotation programme here is a kind of lifelong traineeship. Rotating between jobs throughout the organization helps you develop more empathy for your colleagues, while ensuring that you don’t get stuck in a rut in a single workplace.”
Kilometres of pipelines
In the course of his work, Joris likes to make use of the knowledge and skills (analytical skills coupled with problem-solving thinking) that he acquired at the University of Twente. As a process engineer, he is the main technical support contact for seven of the more than 30 plants at the company’s Rotterdam refinery. He is constantly producing estimates and making analyses as part of the company’s ongoing effort to optimize its production process. Joris also has to transform the results of these analyses into recommendations for the operators in the various plants. “This refinery has thousands of kilometres of pipelines, much of which contains substances at high pressures and temperatures. This means that calculations are frequently required, of factors such as flow rate and pressure drops. This is all part and parcel of the basic concepts of fluid dynamics.”
Emiel’s ‘bilingualism’ comes in handy at BASF
As a membrane technologist at BASF, Emiel Kappert needs a thorough knowledge of both materials science and process engineering. These two fields formed the basis of his Bachelor’s programme in Chemical Engineering at Twente.
In the course of his work at Ludwigshafen in Germany, Emiel has found that his ‘bilingualism’ in this area comes in very handy. But he wasn’t referring to his knowledge of Dutch and German. “In Germany, mechanical engineering programmes often include a process engineering component. That can make it rather tricky, if you need a knowledge of chemical reactions. It is important that people speak the same language, particularly when they have trained in different fields of study. I’m glad I was raised ‘bilingually’, as I now have an understanding of both worlds – chemistry and process engineering.”
Sense of belonging
It was precisely the breadth of the programme that prompted Emiel to study Chemical Engineering. Indeed, it places great emphasis on subjects such as mathematics. In 2008, at an individual orientation day, he became convinced that Twente was the place for him. “It was a fantastic experience. The student who was showing me round introduced me to his friends. I immediately felt right at home, even though I didn’t really know anybody there. I think that is what sets Twente apart from other universities. It gives people a very strong sense of belonging. Everyone really enjoys each other’s company.”
The Alembic study association
His membership of the Alembic study association made that period particularly interesting. Emiel, who chaired the association for two years, would advise everyone to become a member. “It’s a good way to cement the bond between students”, he says. “It’s not only fun but it also helps to shape your ideas about a future career. Study trips to industrial sites in Europe and elsewhere give you the chance to acquaint yourself with the chemical industry and with people from different cultures. You get to know a lot of people, even outside your own university. While hanging around at a coffee machine here at BASF, I bumped into an old acquaintance from the study association at Eindhoven. Back then, we kept in touch on a regular basis. When it comes right down to it, the world of chemistry is quite a small place.”
Membranes in chemistry
After completing his Bachelor’s programme, Emiel wanted to specialize in materials science, so he signed up for the Master’s in Materials Science at Twente. He went on to obtain a PhD at the University of Twente, for research into the thermal treatment of membranes. In 2014, while still working on his PhD, he was offered the job at BASF. As part of his PhD programme, Emiel went to a Winter School in the snow. In addition to critical discussions with colleagues working in the same area, there were ample opportunities for skiing and for informal contacts. One of his colleagues suggested that he might want to take a look at BASF.
In his work as a membrane technologist, Emiel frequently draws on his knowledge of process engineering. “Chemical Engineering has given me such a broad-based knowledge of the field that I have quite a wide range of job options. My training was not only broad based, it also explored the field in considerable depth. My current focus is separation processes in the chemical industry, which involve work with hazardous substances. In terms of the challenges involved, the membranes used in these processes are quite different from those used for separating water. In addition, my extensive knowledge of the field of chemistry often comes in very handy. Ideas for applications in process engineering are always floating round at the back of my mind.”
Samuel discovered a passion for teaching
During his Chemical Engineering programme, Samuel Mok earned some extra money by working as a student assistant in practical classes. During these classes, he discovered that he really loved teaching. These days, Samuel works as a Chemistry lecturer at the Saxion University of Applied Sciences.
Individual and flexible
When he first left Hoorn to become a student at Twente, he planned to study Technical Computer Science. “I had been to the Open Day at Delft, but the sheer scale of the place was just overpowering. The University of Twente left me with quite a different impression – it was individual, innovative and flexible. What sold me was the atmosphere of the place, the facilities, and the people you bump into here. These were the deciding factors.”
Samuel has never regretted going to Twente. However, the programme in Technical Computer Science didn’t work out quite so well. “The course was just too abstract for me. It didn’t seem to have any applications in the real world – something I consider to be really important. Chemical Engineering, on the other hand, had plenty of real world applications. That’s all about solving technical problems, something that delivers immediate improvements. What, for example, is the best way to deal with a pump that is not working at peak efficiency?”
In the course of his degree programme, Samuel applied for a job as a student assistant. The work involved supervising first-year practical classes. A nice way to earn a little extra cash, he thought. But it turned out to be much more than that. “I really enjoyed helping others and seeing them grow. I knew how they felt too. As a first-year student, I had really liked being taught by other students. I could relate to them more easily than to the assistant professors or full professors. It was a lot easier to talk to them.”
This introduction to teaching whetted his appetite. Samuel decided to take a Master’s in Science Education & Communication – a combination of Chemical Engineering and a short teacher training course. In the meantime, he was busily applying for teaching jobs. In 2013, he was appointed as a Chemistry lecturer by Saxion University of Applied Sciences in Enschede. These days, he works with other members of staff in a team that includes people from a range of different backgrounds.
“Some have worked in industry, while others previously had career in pure science. Each has their own area of expertise. Some are more into the subject matter, but my main passion is the teaching itself. Aside from my teaching duties, I am involved in the national working group on the digitization of education and in the Taal (Language) working group.”
Avoid poor solutions
To what extent was his Chemical Engineering degree programme of any practical use to the teacher in Samuel? “During my course of study, I was free to select my own subjects. That enabled me to find out exactly what it was that I wanted. For instance, I learned how to solve technical problems systematically – something I am now teaching to my own students. The trick is to examine problems in depth, using a structured approach, before going any further. If you don’t do that, you’ll inevitably run into a brick wall. Students tend to work towards a given solution as fast as they can. But a poor solution is no solution at all.”
Lesson about bitterballen (fried mini-meatballs) comes in handy for safety advisor Rick
From time to time, Rick Elbersen – a project coordinator at Tauw (a consultancy and engineering firm) – casts his mind back to that lesson about bitterballen. “At Twente, I learned to think in problem-solving mode.”
As a Tauw employee, Rick advises companies in the chemical industry (such as Akzo, DSM and Shell) on external safety. His customers are legally obliged to identify the risks associated with their activities (involving hazardous substances). Tauw is often called in to calculate these risks for those who are immediately concerned. “I’ve found that companies appreciate the fact that I have a background in chemistry. I have an extensive knowledge of materials science and of technical processes. As a result, they feel more at ease talking to me than they would be with a management consultant.”
Standing on my own two feet
In 2005, Rick opted for Chemical Engineering because chemistry had been his favourite subject at secondary school. Eindhoven, close to his parental home at Deurne, was the obvious place to study for a degree. However, distance was one of the factors that prompted his move to Enschede. “I was keen to stand on my own two feet, and to work on my future. Another factor was the campus. The Open Day included a lot of sporting activities, and something about that felt completely right.”
He had no well thought-out career plan. Rick’s idea was to dive into Chemical Engineering and see where it took him. He thoroughly enjoyed the programme itself. “Some of the courses I took were totally unexpected. Energy and entropy, for example, in which you learn how to predict chemical reactions. And physical transport phenomena, a really useful subject that I have found to be very helpful, even in my current job.”
Efficient solar cells
After obtaining his Bachelor’s degree, he opted for a Master’s in Chemical Engineering, with a focus on materials science. Having completed his studies, Rick looked around for a new challenge and opted to pursue a career in science. The next step was PhD research into solar cells. The aim was to achieve efficiency improvements by modifying the structure of the cells’ surface. His research showed this was indeed feasible, but that the solution was too expensive to be viable - at least for the time being. “I didn’t want to wait. It was all a little too fundamental for my taste. I wanted to solve the problems we’re facing here and now.”
So he switched to the world of business. Rick has been working at Tauw since 2016. As a project coordinator, he tackles issues using a problem-solving approach. Here, he often reaps the benefits of the practical assignments he worked on as a student. “Once, I remember, we had to calculate how long it would take for a bitterbal taken straight from the freezer to reach a core temperature of 60°C in a pan of fat at 190°C. There were plenty of other memorable assignments that also were a lot of fun. That programme taught me to first analyse a problem completely and collect the information you need to perform a calculation. This is all part and parcel of analytical thinking. For me, approaching problems in this way has become second nature.”
Michiel sees conceptual design as a fundamental aspect of his research work
Michiel Raaijmakers works at AkzoNobel, researching ways of improving chemical-engineering processes. “I’m glad mine was such a broad-based degree programme. It means I can quickly switch roles with fellow specialists.”
Cooperating with others in project-based subjects
In 2005, Michiel opted for the University of Twente, even though Eindhoven was closer to home. “A pleasant atmosphere and a great campus were the deciding factors as far as I was concerned. What I wanted, above all, was a change of scene so that I could meet new people and make new friends.”
Chemistry was his favourite subject at secondary school. So, once he had obtained his pre-university education (VWO) certificate, Chemical Engineering was the logical choice. He found the process engineering aspects of the degree programme particularly interesting. “During my course of study I especially enjoyed the project-based subjects. How to make use of your knowledge? How do you translate that into something on paper? I had fun tackling these challenges in working groups. You cooperate with others to solve a problem. The University of Twente was quite right to pursue that approach in the Twente Education Model (TOM).”
Fundamental by preference
After graduating, Michiel opted for the Master’s track in Chemical Engineering. He discovered a talent for research, and entered the University of Twente’s PhD programme. “The idea of going straight from a Master’s degree to an engineering job in an industrial plant really didn’t appeal to me. Solving short-term and medium-term problems is just not my thing. Another option would have been a job with an engineering firm. The only problem is that conceptual choices about the type of reactor and separation technology involved are actually made long before a project gets to the drawing board. I much prefer delving into the fundamental background. That way, you can achieve major technological innovations over the long term. Why do things work the way they do, and how does that translate into processes?”
From experiment to design
As a PhD student, Michiel researched the use of membrane technology to separate gases. In the context of a major European research project, he worked on a membrane capable of separating gases at high temperatures. This was the stepping stone to his current job as a researcher at AkzoNobel.
“My current research explores ways of improving technological processes, by transferring materials and heat more efficiently, for example. This involves cooperation with experts from a range of different backgrounds, such as fluidics and distillation. It’s not a question of trial and error. First, we try to understand how something works. That means generating data in the lab, using computer models and translating the results into a chemical-engineering design. My job is all about conceptual design. I’m very glad to have been a student at Twente.”
Wondering what Michiel is doing at AkzoNobel? Watch the video clip: https://youtu.be/rOvCjrRXqiw.