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A future proof universityHow will the University of Twente become more sustainable?

24 November 2021

Dutch universities are working hard to make themselves and society more sustainable. The same goes for the University of Twente. In Shaping2030, the mission and vision of the UT, sustainability plays an important role: by 2030, sustainability ought to be the standard for all education and research at the UT, as well as for the way in which the organisation operates. In short, sustainability is an important prerequirement for all activities of the UT. "The UT's energy consumption has already been reduced enormously, but our ambitions go much further." says Brechje Maréchal, environment & sustainability policy officer at the UT.

CO₂-neutral by 2030, CO₂-negative by 2050

"One of our main goals that the UT has set for itself is to be a carbon neutral campus by 2030 and a carbon negative campus by 2050," explains Brechje Maréchal. "This means that by 2050, the campus will absorb more CO₂ than it emits." To make these goals more manageable, the UT has set an interim goal of reducing CO₂ emissions by 15% by 2023. Additionally, the Dutch government has also set sustainability targets, for which the UT is on the right track. But as the UT's aspirations go further than this, more ambitious goals have been set in 2020, by the organisation itself.

In recent years, the number of students at the UT has grown significantly, but despite this, the UT has managed to reduce its total energy consumption every year between 2005 and 2020. "Of the four technical universities in the Netherlands, we have the lowest energy consumption per employee and student," says Ray Klumpert, head of maintenance and real estate at the UT. "In 2014, we were also the first university in the Netherlands to start mapping out its own carbon footprint."

Unique sustainability initiatives

Now, in 2021, the UT is working in many different ways to meet the sustainability targets for the future. An important category for this are the buildings on campus. A CO₂ road map was made to show exactly how the buildings can be made more sustainable, which serves as a guide in the field of sustainability. Examples of how buildings can be made more sustainable include better insulation, self-generation of energy (e.g. by using solar panels) and the UT's own cooling network. The UT's cooling network is unique in the Netherlands and provides a sustainable way of cooling, for instance for the laboratories on campus.

A new sustainability initiative can be found at the Boerderij (formerly Faculty Club), which is switching entirely to geothermal heat. This is done by placing three loops at a depth of 300 metres, through which water is flowing. Using a mathematical model specially made for the use of geothermal heat, a calculation was made of the redistribution of the introduced cold and heat over the next 50 years. If this method of cooling and heating works well, it can be used at more locations on the campus in the future, which can contribute to making the buildings more sustainable.

Another important category for the UT is water. For example, in various places toilets are flushed with rainwater, there are waterless urinals and people are encouraged to use tap water as drinking water. An example of a unique sustainability initiative is the Water Lab that will be placed on the Hogekampplein. In this lab, pond water is purified so that it can be used for watering the sports fields. This can save about 20,000 m₃ of drinking water per year. If the water demand increases, this can be scaled up to 40,000 cubic metres.

Challenges of the future

Thanks to the measures that have been taken, the UT already meets the target set by the Dutch Climate Act for universities in 2030: 49% reduction in CO₂ emissions of our buildings compared to 1990. However, apart from the UT's successful sustainability initiatives, there is still much to be done to achieve a carbon-neutral campus in 2030. As the UT has drawn up a CO₂ footprint report every year since 2014, it is possible to see in percentage terms what is causing the emissions. Which provides clear pointers for new sustainability initiatives. Although much remains to be done, Brechje Maréchal has a positive outlook on the future: "Change is and remains a challenge, but with the knowledge within the UT we see a world of possibilities!"

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