First ARC CBBC lab for sustainable chemistry opened at UU

Public-private cooperation aims on climate goals 2050

Yesterday, the research institute ARC CBBC is opening its first lab in Utrecht. Together with the chemical sector, university researchers are working on fundamentally new principles for the development of current and future energy carriers and materials. “We want to employ the greenhouse gas CO2 as a renewable feedstock.”

Reach climate goals 2050

In the Advanced Research Center Chemical Building Blocks (ARC CBBC), 36 of the most talented chemists, physicists and engineers of universities throughout the Netherlands are cooperating with AkzoNobel, BASF, Nouryon and Shell, four multinationals in the chemical industry. Bert Weckhuysen (Utrecht University) is the scientific director of ARC CBBC. “We want the Netherlands and the rest of the world to reach the climate goals for 2050”, says Weckhuysen. “The chemical industry doesn’t just want to be part of the problem, but also of the solution. The sector will have to become greener.

As an offical opening act, Henk Kummeling and Isabel Arends filled the ARC CBBC logo with a fluid.

CO2 as a feedstock

For example, ARC CBBC sees the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as a potential source for advanced materials and as a carrier of sustainable energy. Weckhuysen: “At the moment, CO2 is just a waste product, emitted in large quantities by, among others, chemical companies. The question is whether this small molecule would really be capable of serving as a new source for plastics and fuels. We would then be using carbon in a circular way, which is essential in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. At ARC CBBC, we are developing totally new processes and catalysts; the particles that make chemical reactions possible. Our new lab in Utrecht has been furnished specifically for this line of research: we can make, characterize and test catalysts.”

Knowledge on coatings

To save energy, ARC CBBC is also looking for fundamentally new insights into the way materials behave. “A second important theme of our research is coatings”, says Weckhuysen. “They are everywhere, as thin layers applied on surfaces. Think of windows that are coated to reflect heat and to prevent them from getting dirty. Until now, we lacked the knowledge about how these coatings are formed at the nanoscale, and how we can control their formation. A coating can seem smooth, but be rough-textured at the nanoscale. We are just now beginning to understand particles to that level. With the right coating, common materials will be able to offer more functionalities and be protected from weathering. That will soon lead to drastic savings on the use of materials and energy needed for their production."

Inspiration from the Utrecht city poet

During the coming years, ARC CBBC's PhD candidates, Postdocs and Master students at the hub Utrecht will work in the new lab on the fourth floor of the Vening Meinesz Building B. To inspire them, the Utrecht city poet Ingmar Heytze wrote a poem. In his work, entitled 'Dimension of miracles' - named after a 1960s cult novel from Robert Sheckley - the universe is speaking to man and vice versa. "Humans are getting more and more insight into the universe and in the vulnerability of life on our planet. The main idea of this poem is that academic researchers are able to help mankind treat Earth wisely."

On the PhD candidates' office wall, a poem by Utrecht city poet Ingmar Heytze has been painted.

Check out the report and full photo gallery of the afternoon on the website of ARC CBBC.