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bioplasticsMAGAZINE_1102

Personality Martin Kumar

Personality Martin Kumar Patel bM: Dear Mr. Patel, when and where were you born? MP: I was born in Donaueschingen, Germany but spent the first seven years of my life in Ghana, West Africa. When I was 7 years old (in 1973), I moved to Germany together with my parents (Indian father, German mother). bM: Where do you live today and since when? MP: Today I live in Utrecht, Netherlands, where I have lived happily since 2000. bM: What is your education? MP: After my training in chemical engineering (at Karlsruhe University, Germany) I did most of my Ph.D. research at the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research Karlsruhe but I completed my thesis at Utrecht University. bM: What is your professional function today? MP: Since 2001 I have been assistant professor at the Department of Science, Technology and Society at the Copernicus Institute at Utrecht University. bM: How did you ‘come to’ bioplastics? MP: It was actually a part of my Ph.D. thesis in which I studied options to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions related to the chemical industry. I was fascinated by bio-based chemicals but I also studied the contribution of incremental process improvements and of recycling. When I started working at Utrecht University, I seized the opportunity to further develop this topic in research and in teaching. bM: What do you consider more important: ‘biobased’ or ‘biodegradable’? MP: Packaging accounts for 40% of all plastics used. Recycling is working out for some packaging applications (e.g. PET bottles) but is very challenging for some others (e.g. packaging films). For the latter, a biodegradable solution would be desirable if combined with digestion for recovery of the embodied energy (in the form of biogas) and soil improvement (valuable carbon and potentially some fertilizing ingredients). For the remainder, durable biobased plastics are a convincing solution under the condition that they are applied in a responsible manner - and the same holds true for their waste management. To conclude, I consider biobased more important today than biodegradable. bM: What is your biggest achievement (in terms of bioplastics) so far? MP: I am not alone here but I believe that I have contributed to the awareness that there is a need for environmental accountability. A bio-based product is not great just because it is made from biomass. It really needs to be better in terms of its environmental profile, but it also needs to be economically viable (and socially acceptable). We need a culture of checking out these things before it is too late, i.e. ideally at the R&D stage. bM: What are your biggest challenges for the future? MP: Helping to find ways to channel creativity, personal drive and regulation into technological solutions that are sustainably sound – sound as transitional solutions and ideally, sustainable for the longer term. We need to offer means and methods for assessment which become broadly accepted and used. We need to contribute to a culture of transparency and openness – for reasons of trust and because it needs to go fast. Big changes are required but we will only get there if we are convincing! bM: What is your family status? MP: I am happily married to an Italian scientist, who left the sunny South of Italy to move to the rainy and cloudy Netherlands. bM: What is your favourite movie? MP: It’s not really a movie – more a documentary film showing Pablo Picasso at work. He paints and completely repaints, on the same canvas. What creativity and what perfectionism. bM: What is your favourite book? MP: Saint Exupery’s ‘The little prince’. bM: What is your favourite (or your next) vacation location? MP: One day, I would like to visit the South of India. bM: What do you eat for breakfast on a Sunday? MP: Polysaccharides and pectins in the form of Butterzopf (a plaited bread loaf with butter - and jam) made by my mother.. bM: What is your ‘slogan’? MP: “‘here is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come’ (Jules Verne). bM: Thank you! 52 bioplastics MAGAZINE [02/11] Vol. 6

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