Stories#074 Jos’ energy innovation

#074 Jos’ energy innovation

The story of Sevim’s ‘CRTL-Climate’ is a story of Jos’ energy innovation

Life isn’t meant to be a straight line, according to Jos Keurentjes. That’s why he fulfils several roles. From program director Energy Innovation at UT to student at the Conservatory. UT alumna Sevim Aktas once learned that you could gain a lot from 'professional copycatting’: looking at how someone else does something and adopting elements of that. And who better to do that with than Jos, who does a variety of things with great dedication? Sevim asks him about his motivations in his work and private life.

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Monday 25 april 2022 

Natural curiosity

Sevim: ‘Hi Jos, I feel it’s been ages since we had coffee together at the Starbucks on campus. I believe you’d just been appointed as programme director Energy Innovation.’  

Jos: ‘I think you’re right. Weren’t you moving to Brussels at the time?’ 

Sevim: ‘Then it must’ve been almost two years ago. What have you been up to?’ 

Jos: ‘Many things. One of the things we’re looking at, for example, is negative emissions technologies. To realise the ambitions in the Paris Agreement, we must do more than just reducing emissions – we must remove CO2 from the atmosphere. That’s quite a challenge because of the low concentration. And current technologies are highly energy intensive. So we strive for finding more energy-neutral ways of doing this.’

Sevim: ‘I read that the energy programme aims to help make society more sustainable. What do you think is the most overlooked issue when it comes to sustainability?’

Jos: ‘I think we underestimate the problem of the plastic soup. Aside from being programme director at UT, I’m also responsible for creating a circular economy for the plastic industry. The Netherlands does relatively well when it comes to waste collection, treatment, and recycling. But there’s always a leakage. 10,000 tonnes annually, in the Netherlands alone! It winds up in soil, rivers, and the ocean: the infamous plastic soup. Then, it degrades into smaller particles: microplastics. This ends up in our food and, eventually, in breastmilk and the organs of foetuses. Very recently, it has even been found in human blood. It’s expected to lead to serious health issues worldwide. That’s why I’ve become quite activistic in pushing for the production of inherently sustainable materials. A special kind of plastic, of which the micro pieces aren’t harmful to nature or health.’

Sevim: ‘In an ideal world, that activistic mindset would be ingrained in every researcher’s DNA. Unfortunately, it’s not. How do you think we can make sure that we actually achieve these goals?’

Jos: ‘We should ask ourselves how we can translate our knowledge into practical solutions for future problems. What needs to be done to get there? What can we do to help implement this? That’s how we approach things at the energy programme. We call it mission-driven research. We need to make roadmaps to bridge the gap between our research and its societal applications. To make impact.’

Sevim: ‘I think young professionals like me would also benefit from that approach. Sometimes you get so caught up in day-to-day work that you forget what you’re doing it for.

Now that we’ve covered some of your professional endeavours, I’m curious: what has been a personal highlight for you in the past two years?’

Jos: ‘Well, that would definitely be the fact that I got into the Conservatorium.’

Sevim: ‘Wow, congratulations! Tell me more...’

Jos: ‘Music has always played an important role in my life. I’ve been playing the violin for as long as I can remember. I’ve always played the piano as well, but I never really had the time to improve those skills. Because of the pandemic, I suddenly did. So, I decided to practise more seriously. Eventually I got stuck. A conductor friend then advised me to take advanced-level lessons. I ended up auditioning for the Conservatorium, and I was accepted! I’m the oldest student they’ve ever had, and the only one that never had piano lessons before.’

Sevim: ‘Amazing. But, perhaps, also a bit nerve-wrecking… You’re used to being the expert, and suddenly you’re the pupil again. Didn’t you feel a lot of performance pressure?’

Jos: ‘Honestly, I’ve never felt any pressure because I’m just doing it for fun. My starting point is a natural curiosity. The thing is, and I also say this to my students at UT: life isn’t a straight path. There are many different routes. I chose to not pursue music professionally when I was eighteen, and yet here I am, taking classes at the Conservatorium in my spare time. I just hope that I can continue making music for many years to come. I’ll never make a career out of it, but it’s my ultimate source of happiness.’

Sevim: ‘That’s very inspirational. Do you have a bucket list of other things you’d like to try?’

Jos: ‘Aside from raising awareness for microplastics, I want to spend more time in the mountains. That’s where I feel my best: surrounded by nature and silence. Just me, my girlfriend, a backpack, and a tent.’

Sevim: ‘Especially in today’s challenging times, it’s crucial to have something in your life that gives you positive energy. I’m glad to hear that you’ve found that since we last saw each other. Who knows what's next?’

Jos: ‘Well, looking at your resume and the many things you’re doing, I’m sure that there are exciting things coming your way.’

Sevim: ‘Great, then we’ll have lots to talk about over our next cup of coffee!’


Prof. dr. ir. Jos Keurentjes (1963)

is director of the Centre for Energy Innovation at UT. Before taking on this challenge, he was part of the board of directors of TNO as chief scientific officer, from 2014 to 2020. At AkzoNobel he held two roles; first as research manager for Process Technology (1991-1997) and later as corporate director technology (2007-2014). In between these jobs he was professor of Process and Equipment Design at TU Eindhoven. Keurentjes studied environmental health at Wageningen University, where he also did his PhD research in bioprocess engineering. He completed both cum laude.

Sevim Aktas

is a policy officer at the European Commsision in Brussels. Her main expertise is climate and energy. Sevim studied Advanced Technology at UT and Energy Systems at Oxford University. Since October 2021, she’s a member of the Young Twente Board, an organization where young talents help to enhance the international position of the region. You can follow Sevim on Instagram: @sevimaktaseu.