This year, DPI’s Annual Meeting was centred around the theme of a Circular Economy. Around 175 people from across the world attended the event, held at the Holiday Inn hotel in Eindhoven on 13 and 14 November.
DPI had once again drawn up a varied programme comprising research review meetings, poster sessions, a Young DPI Meeting, a full afternoon session featuring four leading speakers on the subject of a Circular Economy and the Conference Dinner.
The morning of the first day was devoted to Review Meetings of the different Programme Areas and the poster sessions. After lunch, Jacques Joosten kicked off the afternoon session with a presentation in which he looked back on the DPI highlights of the year and looked forward to the future.
The highlights included quantitative data on journal publications and PhD theses, selected scientific achievements and recognitions for DPI researchers and the some spin-offs resulting from DPI’s research projects. Jacques also gave an update on developments in the four research areas of the new DPI programme. While the new programmes for Polyolefins, Performance Polymers and Polymers for Oil & Gas are up and running, the Functional Polymers and Surfaces programme has had to be put on hold owing to a lack of participations.
Jacques Joosten had an important announcement to make: in August 2018, DPI’s Supervisory Board unanimously and definitively gave the green light for the continuation of DPI. The Supervisory Board – in which our industrial partners are represented – has faith in the future of DPI as a unique and viable international research platform. Jacques: “We see a clear upward trend and are all excited and keen to enter into a new era. In 2018 two new industrial partners joined DPI: Dow Chemical and Hutchinson. Our partner-base in the new set-up comprises 15 companies. At the moment, the number of industrial participations amount to 17 and we have a total of 53 projects in place involving 60 researchers. We are continuing in our efforts to increase the number of industrial partners and the number of participations. We aim to expand the volume of projects so as to eventually grow to some 150 researchers.”
Touching on more recent developments and linking up with the theme of the afternoon, Jacques Joosten updated the audience on DPI’s recent initiatives to set the ball rolling in the area of Circular Economy. In October 2018, DPI organised a Polyolefins Circularity Workshop in cooperation with its industrial partners in the field of polyolefins. The goal of this initiative was to explore the technical and economic feasibility of achieving full circularity of flexible plastic packaging. The DPI polyolefins community, consisting of large multinationals with a global presence, represent an ideal base for launching such an initiative. As a key outcome of this initiative, DPI envisages a focused polyolefins recycling programme covering both mechanical and chemical recycling. The workshop was very successful and DPI is currently exploring the possibilities for follow-up actions. Earlier, in 2017, DPI – in association with a number of companies from across the polymer value chain – had created an exchange platform called PlasticsRevisited.
DPI Golden Thesis Award 2018
The DPI Golden Thesis Award for 2018 has been granted to Dr. Dirk Jan Mulder in recognition of his excellent research as published in the thesis Adjustable nanoporous polymers based on smectic liquid crystals. Dr. Mulder defended his thesis successfully in October 2017 at the Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands). The research described in the thesis formed part of the research programme of DPI and was conducted under the supervision of Prof. Albert Schenning, head of the Stimuli-responsive Functional Materials & Devices Research Group at the same university.
The Golden Thesis Award is granted every two years for the best PhD thesis resulting from DPI-funded research. Dirk Jan Mulder was declared the winner from among the three finalists competing for this year’s award. The other two candidates were: Hans van Franeker (Eindhoven University of Technology), with a thesis titled Droplets, fibers & crystals: controlling the nanostructure of polymer and perovskite solar cells, and Monica Zakhari (Eindhoven University of Technology) with a thesis titled Microscale simulations of the mechanics of spongy-particle systems. The award was presented during the plenary session of the DPI Annual Meeting 2018 in Eindhoven on 13 November.
The three contenders had been selected from the seven nominations received this year. During the plenary session, each of them gave short presentations describing their PhD research in the presence of the Award Committee comprising Prof. Dick Broer (Eindhoven University of Technology, chair), Prof. Costantino Creton (ESPCI Paris) and Prof. Thijs Michels (emeritus professor Eindhoven University of Technology and Former Scientific Director of DPI). The committee judged the candidates on four criteria: scientific quality and originality, relevance and societal impact, presentation, and embedding within DPI.
While praising the excellent quality of the work of all three researchers, the award Committee was unanimous in its choice of the winner: “The research work of Dirk Jan Mulder has led to a completely new class of polymers.” The newly developed nanoporous polymers, with a new pore chemistry, open up an entirely new class of nanoporous materials with unprecedented properties. The thesis illustrates the possibilities and advantages of using smectic liquid crystalline polymer networks for the fabrication of nanoporous materials. The large surface area to volume ratio of the materials makes them interesting for applications such as filtration, separation, adsorption, catalysis, and ion conduction. The research also looked into the application of the nanoporous materials as membranes. Dirk Jan Mulder: “It would be great if the findings I have reported could be translated into new membrane technology. Using concepts and techniques well known in the field of displays, the work described in my thesis could lead to new developments.”
Dirk Jan Mulder was delighted with this recognition for his work. “I am grateful to Professor Schenning for encouraging me to undertake this research a few years ago and for nominating me for the DPI Golden Thesis Award this year.”
Dr. Mulder is currently working at Rolic Technologies (a subsidiary of BASF) in Switzerland and is based near Basel. At Rolic he is among other things working on the development of optical films for e.g. display applications. His responsibilities further include identifying and translating industry needs into innovative solutions.
The four invited speakers spoke to a packed audience about the different aspects of the challenges that plastics are presenting to the world today and the need to find solutions that will help achieve a circular economy for plastics.
Dr. Søren Bøwadt, of the Directorate-General for Research & Innovation at the European Commission, stated that the resources of our planet are increasingly under pressure from an ever-growing population and its material needs. To facilitate a circular economy in which the environmental footprint is reduced while safeguarding industrial competitiveness and the global standard of living, a holistic strategy for plastics is needed that involves all actors in the value chain and has the active support of the public authorities. The European Union’s Circular Economy Package, he said, designated plastics as a priority area and its Plastics Strategy focused on four key areas for action: improving the economics and quality of plastics recycling, curbing plastic waste and littering, driving innovation and investment towards circular solutions, and harnessing global action.
Dr. Just Jansz, founder and managing director of the consultancy firm Expertise Beyond Borders, emphasised that given the growing public concern about plastic waste, industry must embrace the circular economy. He argued that plastic waste is in fact an unused but valuable feedstock. Full circularity of plastics, he said, cannot be realised through mechanical recycling alone; it will also require chemical conversion technologies to enable feedstock recycling or regeneration, including depolymerisation, pyrolysis and gasification. The toolbox we need should include thermal conversion, i.e. incineration with energy recovery and proper off-gas cleaning. He urged polymer producers to act and become part of the solution.
Prof. Kim Ragaert, professor of Materials Science and Polymer Processing at Ghent University (Belgium), gave a talk titled “To recycle or not to recycle – it’s hardly a question”, focusing on mechanical recycling as the most common means of revalorising plastic waste. She walked the audience through the current state of affairs with regard to mechanical recycling in Europe, looking at what is being recycled and how. After identifying the major hurdles – both technical and otherwise – that stand in the way of recycling in terms of quality and quantity, she went on to take a critical look at the challenges and consider ways in which these could be overcome.
Dr. Patricia Vangheluwe, Director of Consumer & Environmental Affairs at PlasticsEurope, pointed out that while plastics continue to benefit society, in the public perception these benefits are being overshadowed by the negative consequences associated with them. A more collaborative effort across value chains is needed to achieve a Circular Economy. PlasticsEurope has formulated ambitious targets for 2030, with a voluntary commitment from member companies to work towards their achievement. Dr. Vangheluwe mentioned a number of initiatives taken at the European level that should stimulate efforts towards achieving circularity: the European Commission’s Plastics Strategy, SusChem’s Plastics SIRA (Strategic Innovation & Research Agenda), the presence of SusChem’s European Technology Platform and various sector-specific initiatives such as Styrenics Circular Solutions and Polyolefins Circular Economy Platform. PlasticsEurope is cooperating on a global level with bodies such as the Global Plastics Alliance.
We asked Dr. Vangheluwe for her comments on the DPI event. She said she was very pleased to have been invited to speak during the Circular Economy session, which she found to be very stimulating and enlightening. According to her, a concerted and collaborative effort across value chains is needed in order to make real progress towards achieving a Circular Economy. She applauds DPI’s initiatives in bringing together industrial stakeholders – such as recently from the polyolefins industry – to discuss circularity issues, possible solutions and the way forward towards concrete actions. Dr. Vangheluwe: “As a collaboration platform supported by industry, DPI is a unique institution with a unique concept. As such, DPI can be a major catalyst in accelerating developments towards circularity. The road to circularity will involve a lot of collaborative research at the precompetitive level – and this is exactly the field in which DPI has built considerable expertise.”
The DPI Annual Meeting gives scientists working on DPI projects an opportunity to present their research by means of posters and compete for the DPI Poster Award. In keeping with the practice introduced last year, all attendees of the annual meeting were invited to rate the posters and cast their votes for the three best posters. The first prize was awarded to Hanne van der Kooij for her poster entitled “Soft materials in a new light - Illuminating nanoscale dynamics by Laser Speckle Imaging”. The second prize went to Rob Verpaalen (“Programmable helical twisting in oriented bilayer films”) and the third prize to Annelore Aerts (“π-extended anthracene as mechanophore”).
Hanne van der Kooij’s research, which she is conducting at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, concerns a technique called Laser Speckle Imaging, which is used for elucidating the hidden dynamics in turbid systems. It is already being used in medical applications for imaging subcutaneous blood streams. In her research project, Hanne van der Kooij’s is exploring its use for the imaging of opaque and turbid systems such as coatings. The technique is also proving to be useful in the case of self-healing and self-cleaning materials, for example. Within the DPI framework, Hanne’s supervisor Dr. Joris Sprakel is working with coatings companies to explore commercialisation of the technique, which according to her can also be used to examine the quality of coatings and the possibilities for making them greener and better. Hanne van der Kooij: “The project was initiated by Dr. Sprakel, who wanted to gain more insight into certain aspects of coatings, which are fascinating complex systems and whose drying process plays such a crucial role in their use. The Laser Speckle Imaging technique makes this possible.”
Hanne van der Kooij expects to obtain her PhD at the end of 2019.
In keeping with tradition, a Conference Dinner was held on the evening of the first day. It offered the guests – some 125 people from a variety of companies and universities – the opportunity to get to know one another in an informal setting while enjoying the delicacies served up by the Holiday Inn kitchen staff.
After dinner, participants had the opportunity to visit the annual international Light Art Festival GLOW Eindhoven.
Young DPI Meeting
This year’s Young DPI Meeting was held on Monday, 12 November, the day before the start of the two-day Annual Meeting. The purpose of the Young DPI Meeting is to enable new researchers starting work on a DPI project to get acquainted with the DPI organisation and to get to know one another.
The meeting, which was attended by 13 young researchers from across the world, was opened by DPI managing director Jacques Joosten with a brief introduction in which he explained that DPI represents a unique concept for collaboration between industry and academia that gives young researchers the opportunity to gain experience in working to industrial requirements and the possibility to pursue a career in industry.
Jacques Joosten’s presentation was followed by a session, titled “More Balls Than Most”, led by a juggler who, in a two-hour time frame, proposed to teach the participants the fundamentals of juggling. Using juggling as a metaphor for organising one’s life (keeping balls up in the air), the juggler explained that what is important in juggling is also important in coping with one’s busy daily life: focusing on a fixed point, being flexible but keeping a firm footing and maintaining a stable/constant rhythm.
Participants represented a broad international spectrum and included Belgian, Chinese, German, Indian and Japanese researchers working in the Netherlands; German and Iranian researchers working in Belgium; Chinese, Kazakh and Russian researchers working in France; and Czech researchers working in Prague.
The meeting, which was organised along the same general lines as in previous years, was a great success and was highly appreciated by the young researchers.