Science - April 16, 2020

Grant for electrocatalysis

Albert Sikkema

Lars Kiewidt, a postdoc in the Biobased Chemistry and Technology group, wants to turn side streams into chemicals and other useful materials with the aid of electricity. He received one of six tenure-track grants from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) in March.

Kiewidt will be using the NWO grant of 900,000 euros to look for catalysts that can convert side streams from the food and agricultural industry into useful compounds. For example, processing potatoes results in a waste stream with a lot of starch, which Kiewidt wants to use to make chemicals. To do this, he needs to develop electrocatalysts that transform the biomass efficiently into the desired materials, for example coatings for the paper industry.

The big challenge for Kiewidt is finding out which electrocatalysts will convert the biomass into useful compounds and what these catalysts should look like. Electrocatalysis — triggering chemical reactions with electricity — is a hot topic in the life sciences. Scientists expect that we will have plenty of green energy in the future but we will face a shortage of oil-based raw materials for the chemical industry. Kiewidt therefore expects the production of chemicals from biomass to become a significant branch in the chemical industry.

The NWO grant will allow Kiewidt to research this subject for the next five years and hire a PhD student to help him.