Sustainable and innovative projects receive millions from the National Growth Fund

From the next generation of completely circular solar panels to realising bio-based plastics and products; the transition to regenerative agriculture - the combination of food production with nature restoration; accelerating the transition to animal-free research; making the Dutch steel industry more sustainable in the area of emissions and circularity; the professionalisation of lecturers. Six of the 18 projects that were awarded a (provisional) grant from the National Growth Fund involved researchers from the Faculty of Geosciences. As a faculty, we believe in an integrated approach to complex transitions, so we are extremely pleased to be honoured with these grants.

Circular, integrated high-efficiency solar panels

Prof Wilfried van Sark

The next generation of solar panels will be completely circular, have extremely low levels of CO2 emissions, can be integrated into building facades or car roofs, and will be much more efficient, which means they will take up even less space. The project achieved the higher level of efficiency by adding several layers of solar cells on top of one another in the solar panel. Safety, circularity and affordability are the guiding principles in the design. The project involves participants from the entire chain: from the suppliers of raw materials to the building and automotive companies that will use the integrated solar panels at a massive scale. The partners also collaborate with other EU countries. Together, they will give a new stimulus to the Dutch and European solar panel manufacturing industry. And in so doing, they will contribute to the energy transition and make the Netherlands and the EU less energy-dependent. Professor of Integration of Solar Energy Wilfried Van Sark is Utrecht University’s representative in this project, which has been awarded a definitive grant of 135 million euros, and another conditional grant of 277 million euros.

Regenerative agriculture in the Netherlands (Re-Ge-NL)

To keep the Dutch agricultural sector viable, we will have to transition to an agricultural system that is both profitable and supported by society by improving the soil and restoring nature. This concept is called ‘regenerative agriculture’: the combination of food production with nature restoration. The Re-Ge-NL innovation programme was developed by Next Food Collective, Utrecht University, Wageningen University & Research, and the University of Groningen in collaboration with 54 partners from throughout the food production system: farmers, cooperatives, networks, chain parties, financial institutions, suppliers of knowledge and technology, and education & research institutions. Environmental expert Dr. Jerry van Dijk is Utrecht University’s representative in this project, which has been honoured with a conditional grant of 129 million euros.

Centre for Animal-free Biomedical Transition

Dr. Jarno Hoekman

The Centre for Animal-free Biomedical Transition aims to use the grant from the National Growth Fund to accelerate the transition to animal-free biomedical innovations. This will offer both social and economic benefits by facilitating better pharmaceuticals with fewer animal tests. Several researchers at Utrecht University from a variety of fields of expertise are involved in this project. Innovation scientist Dr. Jarno Hoekman is affiliated with the Faculty of Geosciences. A grant of 125 million euros has been reserved for the centre.


Biobased Circular

Photo of Martin Junginger

Biobased Circular’s ambition is to create and accelerate a new industry for bio-based plastics and products in the Netherlands. The project’s main focus is sustainable resource availability: the intensive production of primary crops will gradually be replaced by nature-inclusive crops, residual flows and recycled materials. The project group aims to achieve that by promoting partnerships (chain management) in entire value circles together with the SME sector (including compounding, processing and applications), the agricultural sector, the chemical industry, and logistics and recycling companies. Professor of Bio-Based Economy, Energy & Resources Martin Junginger is Utrecht University’s representative in this project, which has received a conditional grant of 102 million euros, with another 236 million euros reserved for a later phase of the project.

Growing with Green Steel

Professor Ernst Worrell; Photographer: Marc Wallican

The ‘Growing with Green Steel’ proposal aims to use a variety of innovations to make the Dutch steel sector (including production, use and recycling) more sustainable in the areas of emissions, circularity and the Netherlands’ earning potential. In the area of emissions, the proposal plans on contributing to reducing the sectors CO2 emissions by 30%, and reducing other emissions like NOx and fine particulates by 50%. In the area of circularity, the proposal aims to encourage steel recycling, for example through technology that allows more scrap steel to be re-used in production. Finally, the proposal will also make the knowledge acquired exportable, which will improve the country’s earning potential. Professor of Energy, Materials & Environment Ernst Worrell is Utrecht University’s representative in this project, which has been honoured with a grant of 124 million euros.

National Approach to Teacher Professionalisation

Good education and a well-educated population are the foundation for our country’s prosperity and well-being. And good teachers are essential for building that foundation. The opportunities for teacher development are highly fragmented between primary, secondary and vocational education. These development opportunities also do not fully utilise the latest scientific insights. This project will assist teachers in their professional development after they have earned their basic qualifications. This will result in better education, and the project will help address the shortage of teachers by making the profession more attractive.  Professor of Geography & Education Tine Beneker is the Faculty of Geosciences’ representative in this project, which has received a grant of 73 million euros, along with another conditional grant of 87 million euros.

The National Growth Fund

Through the National Growth Fund, the government will be investing 20 billion euros in projects for long-term economic growth between 2021 and 2025. We will all eventually benefit from these long-term investments. Economic growth results in higher incomes, so that we all have more money to spend. And with that growth, we will be able to continue investing in our health care, education and the measures needed to address climate change.