Science - September 9, 2004

Millions for green chemistry

There is 8.2 million euros available for Wageningen scientists to do research on ‘green’ chemical technology. The coordinator of the programme is Professor Gerrit Eggink, who was appointed special professor of Industrial Biotechnology.

‘Environmental regulations are getting stricter and prices of conventional oil-based products are rising,’ tells Eggink. ‘We can’t say when for sure, but in the long term we will no longer be able to afford petrochemicals based on oil. This is the background to the project Bio-based Sustainable Industrial Chemistry (B-Basic).’ The project is worth a total of fifty million euros.

Eggink is from the research institute Agrotechnology and Food Innovations and will remain attached to this institute. His new chair is located within the sub-department of Food and Bio-process Engineering. Eggink expects there to be a ‘substantial overlap’ between his professorial activities and his position as coordinator of B-Basic. Of the 8.2 million euros that Eggink has to spend, 2.7 have come from Wageningen UR and the rest from the government and big companies such as DSM, Shell and Akzo.

The aim of the project is to develop biotechnology techniques to convert renewable materials into bulk, intermediary and end chemical products. ‘Here we will focus on research on the micro-organisms that can be used to do this,’ explains Eggink. ‘We want to make existing organisms more robust so that they can survive more extreme conditions, and therefore be capable of producing more.’

The professor goes on to explain that many organisms cannot deal with the substances they produce, often perishing if the concentration of the products becomes too high. The scientists aim to create a new generation of less sensitive micro-organisms by using selection, gene technology and modification. At the moment I can’t be much more specific. ‘An external commission is now looking at our proposals, but we expect to be able to make a start in November.’ The Wageningen participants will include the Environmental Technology group and Microbiology. TU Delft is the main headquarters for B-Basic. / WK

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