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.”