During lockdown, BRISK2 has been speaking to Work Package Leaders for their reflections on BRISK2 and the future of renewable energy. Project Manager from Wageningen University & Research (WUR), Wim Mulder shared his thoughts with us.
The importance of BRISK2
Crucial knowledge concerning energy is spread over different countries, research institutes, universities and companies around Europe. BRISK2 is important because it enables collaboration and the sharing of information instead of duplicating work, therefore allowing for significant advances to be made towards a more sustainable use of energy resources.
I have worked at WUR as a project manager on a range of projects, and as a senior researcher and consultant, for over 25 years. In addition to managing and leading projects, I work with other colleagues on finding new innovative opportunities. WUR colleagues Carl Safi and Rene van Ree work on BRISK2 with me. We lead WP7 and WP14, and together we discuss the project’s approach. Most importantly, we make sure that regular communication is established with all the partners involved in our work-packages. That way, we maintain a smooth workflow and monitor the work advancements.
Prior to BRISK2, we conducted a literature survey in which we described the potential of protein containing biomass in the energy sector. You can read about it here: (http://task42.ieabioenergy.com/publications/proteins-food-feed-biobased-applications/). We concluded that extra profit can be made if proteins are initially isolated from underutilised biomass, and the leftovers are used as an energy source. We are exploring this strategy further in BRISK2. At the start of the project we had many discussions on choosing the best biomass for our research. In the end, we choose to work on three different types of biomass: palm kernel meal, brewers’ spent grain and seaweed.
We are now developing a process that allows us to extract high-purity protein from these types of biomass. These protein fractions can then be used in food. For example, we are currently running a project with Heineken and Duynie to valorise the protein of brewers’ spent grain. The high-purity protein factions can also be used in the production of feed and in bio-based applications, for example, in the manufacture of coating or adhesive.
BRISK2 has given us opportunities to explore the potential of protein-based biomass in the energy sector and the project broadens our professional network. At WUR, we are developing different biorefinery strategies to get the most out of complex biomass. We share these biorefinery tools and then we develop them further. BRISK2 has allowed us to deepen our knowledge on the protein biorefinery approach by taking into consideration the specificity of each biomass selected. Furthermore, the knowledge we acquired is indeed a step forward to finding a unified biorefinery process that can be extrapolated to any type of biomass involved.
Some BRISK2 transnational access visits to WUR and the other partners will need to be rescheduled because of the outbreak of the Coronavirus. In terms of broader impact from the virus, outsourced research is practically speaking, situated at the end of the economic process, so the effect of the virus on research will need to be monitored over time.
Initial impact can already be noticed at production sites and we are also noticing that some companies are being more careful with outsourcing research due to the COVID-19 turmoil. COVID-19 has given us all time to reflect.
I am a scientist, so while I always look to science for a breakthrough, I think we need to see a breakthrough in how, where, and how much we work – all over the world. We have to renew our minds and be open to change.
As a scientist, achieving breakthroughs in science is my main driver and passion. But certainly, and there are only few who would disagree, is that a breakthrough is needed on how we will supply future generations with sustainable energy on a planet that is habitable. Hopefully BRISK2 will bring us closer to achieving this objective.
My colleague Carl Safi mentioned a quote that struck a chord with me:
Lord Robert Baden-Powell said once, “Try to leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best”.
This quote has driven my entire scientific career. Hence, as a researcher, every time a breakthrough is achieved, I feel proud and satisfied, because through science and fruitful collaboration, great things can be achieved that will make our world a better place.