27 January 2020

Total of seven Utrecht public-private projects granted within NWO ENW-PPS

2.5 million euros for public-private research towards more sustainable steel production

A public-private consortium led by prof. Bert Weckhuysen and Ward van der Stam (Chemistry), has been awarded an NWO grant for the project “Transforming carbon-rich industrial waste gases of metallurgical plants into valuable products.” Together with Tata Steel, Leiden University and M2i, the researchers will work towards more sustainable steel production by converting released CO2 into valuable basic chemicals.
The project budget of 2.5 million euros is financed 50% by NWO and 50% by the industrial partners. In addition to this project, another six smaller public-private projects have been awarded to Utrecht researchers within the NWO ENW-PPS-programme.

With a CO2 reduction of more than 50% compared to the conventional blast furnace process, the recently developed HIsarna process is an important step forward in Tata Steel’s ambition of fully carbon neutral steel production. This consortium is centered around the use of the HIsarna top gas. Tata Steel, Utrecht University, Leiden University and M2i have joined forces to convert the CO2-rich, high-temperature emissions of the HIsarna top gas into valuable basic chemicals by thermo- and electrochemical means. For this purpose, in addition to new catalysts, new thermo- and electrochemical measurement methods will be developed, which are generically applicable in the broader field of catalysis and process technology.

New generation of antibodies for the treatment of leukaemia

Another major NWO ENW-PPS grant has been awarded to a project of 830,000 euros with Wei Wu (Pharmaceutical Sciences). Together with the VU (project lead), AMC, QVQ and argenx, the researchers will work towards a new generation of antibodies for the treatment of leukaemia.

Chronic lymphatic leukaemia is the most common form of blood cancer (the uncontrolled proliferation of certain white blood cells). Expression of the chemokine receptor protein CXCR4 is raised in leukaemic cells, and this plays an important role in their cell division and migration to the lymph glands where, through interactions with other cells, they promote cell division and are less susceptible to cell death. We will examine whether the inhibition of certain CXCR4 complexes and/or the activation of the immune system is the most effective way of deactivating CXCR4-positive tumour cells. This will lead to a new generation of CXCR4-directed antibodies for the treatment of leukaemia.

Catalysts, antibodies and plastics

In addition to these two projects, five smaller public-private projects have been granted to Utrecht researchers within the NWO ENW-PPS programme.

A road map for the application of lignin (Pieter Bruijnincx and Florian Meirer)

LIFT project (300 k€) for Pieter Bruijnincx and Florian Meirer, with consortium partner BASF

A circular economy needs non-edible biomass as a sustainable source of carbon for the production of materials we use every day. Lignin is a component of this second-generation biomass that has great potential for value creation, but its use also poses considerable technical challenges. In this project we will search for the relationship between lignin’s complex structure and its suitability for different material applications, in order to yield a rational, predictive choice for its ideal application.

Colourless and odourless catalytic hydrogenation (Bert Weckhuysen)

LIFT projct (300 k€) for Bert Weckhuysen, with consortium partners Croda, VibSpec and BASF

Isostearic acid has numerous applications including cosmetics, foods and lubricating oils. Its commercial production is performed by hydrogenating the fatty acid iso-olein, which can be derived from vegetable oils. This process makes use of a combination of fixed catalyst materials, which catalyse the hydrogenation reaction and also remove any undesirable colour and odour components that might negatively influence the properties of the end product. In this research we will look for a new hydrogenation catalyst that allows the selective production of isostearic acid with a high degree of purity. This will be a search for the best catalyst material having the ideal balance of active sites with regard to both acid and metal properties.

Throwing light on serum antibodies (Albert Heck and Jean-Francois Greisch)

LIFT project (300 k€) for Albert Heck and Jean-Francois Greisch, with consortium partners MSVision, Genentech and Roche

Our blood contains numerous antibodies that protect us against diseases. An infection causes a large and rapid rise in the concentration of certain antibodies, because they are directly involved in how the body tackles the disease. This proposal seeks to expand our understanding of patient-specific antibodies by purifying them directly from serum and characterizing them. To enable the characterization of serum antibodies we will implement new mass spectrometry methods that employ electrons and infrared and ultraviolet light.

Controlling temperature at the (sub)micrometre scale (Bert Weckhuysen and Robin Geitenbeek))

KIEM project (50 k€) for Bert Weckhuysen and Robin Geitenbeek, with consortium partner DENSsolutions

Small events can have large consequences, especially in the active research field of nanomaterials. However, the performance of nanomaterials and the influence exerted on them by their direct surroundings are difficult to measure. Temperature is a good example of this, with many consequences including product yield and catalytic reaction selectivity. To get a grip on this, a three-part project has been set up; using microreactors (by DENSsolutions) temperature can be controlled on the (sub)micrometre scale, mapped using luminescence thermometry in combination with confocal microscopy, and lastly the resulting knowledge applied research into catalysts and chemical processes in which temperature on this scale is crucial.

Value from waste: from old plastics to new building blocks (Pieter Bruijnincx)

KIEM project (45 k€) for Pieter Bruijnincx, with consortium partner CiorC

In order to create circular value chains it is necessary that the plastics used in packaging and consumer goods can ultimately be recycled chemically. One challenge in chemical recycling, turning a polymer back into its original building blocks, is that cost constraints make it difficult to add much value in this process. The aim of this project is to manufacture monomers with a higher added value, building blocks that could be reused as a polymer performance improver. This will provide an attractive, circular alternative to a building block that is currently only available through fossil sources.