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Issue 02/2018

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Report Studying

Report Studying “Bioplastics“ in Maastricht By: Michael Thielen Just about half an hour from the bioplastics MAGAZINE offices interested students can achieve a Master’s degree (MSc) in “Biobased Materials”. In late 2017 bioplastics MAGAZINE visited the premises of Maastricht University on the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geleen, the Netherlands. We spoke to Dr. Menno Knetsch, teacher and Programme Director of the Master Biobased Materials and Dr. Yvonne van der Meer, Associate Professor & Head of the Department of Biobased Materials. “We ask potential students, who might be interested, if they knew that over 99 % of our plastics are currently made from distant fossil resources,” Yvonne said. ”They are produced overseas, and are gradually accumulating in our environment. Can we attain a world with biobased plastics from nearby sources, which are produced locally without endangering our planet? Yes, we can!” In order to master these challenges, a next generation of professionals is needed who can think multidisciplinary and design new creative solutions. In their multidisciplinary programme the Biobased Materials Research Group of Maastricht University connects learning to research. The research group is taking part in the Aachen Maastricht Institute for Biobased Materials (AMIBM) and both are closely involved in teaching. Other research cooperations include RWTH Aachen, Fraunhofer IME and ITA, TU/Eindhoven and more. On the research side the group is currently working for example on aromatics from biomass. One PhD student is working on finding alternatives for PLA for bone screws that avoid the disadvantage of acidic degradation products. There are projects on developing a route from biobased levulinic acid to adipic acid or projects on reducing the water footprint in the production of bio-PET bottles. In other projects students try to find ways to replace acrylates in super absorbers by biobased and possibly biodegradable alternatives or explore an enzymatic route to isolate the polymer from chitin, with the target to develop a water repellent spray-on coating for textiles. And besides some packaging projects the researchers are also investigating composites using keratin waste, e.g. from chicken feathers. But the group is also looking into questions such as economic and social side effects of sustainability or on the different aspects of land use or water needed for biomass based materials. A big advantage is the unique infrastructure from the location at the Brightlands Chemelot campus which offers great opportunities for the research group to collaborate with local industry and companies and integrate academic and industrial research into their unique educational ecosystem. Such companies at Chemelot include DSM, Avantium, Synvina, Lanxess, Reverdia, Arlanxeo, GFBiochemicals, Sabic, OCI Nitrogen, Vinçotte Nederland and quite some more. “Almost every day we have new companies at Chemelot,” Yvonne added with a smile. “But seriously,” she added,” every now and then there are new startups from students who graduated here. To start the Master’s programme, students need a Bachelor diploma in biology, chemistry, polymer science and engineering or other natural sciences, polymer chemistry, or even biomedical engineering or the like. “We currently have a wide array of students not only from the Netherlands,” Menno Knetsch said. “There are students from all over Europe, USA, Mexico, Shanghai and more…. All have a scientific background, but with different focus.” The two-year full time Master’s programme is fully taught in English. “This is a global topic. The problems we are working on are global, and that’s the reason” they added. Students interested in the master programme can contact the program staff via Yvonne van der Meer Jules Stouten, Master-Student working in the lab We are sad to inform our readers that Menno Knetsch, one of the interviewed scientists, passed away only a few days after the visit. 38 bioplastics MAGAZINE [02/18] Vol. 13

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