Reinventing Chemistry Together

22 April 2021

Science, industry and government work together
on clean, smart and circular chemical products of the future

The next phase of the Advanced Research Center Chemical Building Blocks Consortium (ARC CBBC)

Utrecht, The Netherlands, 22 April 2021 – With today’s celebration of its fifth anniversary, the Advanced Research Center Chemical Building Blocks Consortium (ARC CBBC) enters a new phase under the leadership of Nobel Prize winner Ben Feringa and Spinoza Prize winner Bert Weckhuysen. Academia, businesses and the government will be working together in the coming years on impactful solutions to reduce the ecological footprint of the chemical industry. Through excellent science, the training of talented researchers and the development and use of unique measuring instruments, they want to provide society with clean, smart and circular products.

Impactful innovation

As part of an anniversary symposium “Reinventing Chemistry Together”, several prominent speakers from industry, government and academia took the stage today. Drawing examples from their research projects within ARC CBBC, several talented researchers also got their moment in the spotlight to illustrate the way in which they are fulfilling their shared ambition to tackle climate change and sustainability challenges. In three ARC CBBC laboratories, PhD candidates from various universities conduct research, together with scientists from AkzoNobel, BASF, Nouryon and Shell, in the area of materials, coatings and energy carriers.

Mona Keijzer, State Secretary for Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, acknowledged their collective pledge for a sustainable future: “The Netherlands now has a strong international position as the most competitive economy in Europe and as an EU innovation leader. By making targeted investments in research and development—in the field of green chemistry, for example—we remain able to achieve sustainable growth. It is necessary for companies, knowledge institutions and government to play a more active role together, to ensure that we train and retain sufficient talent. Only with nimble fingers and clever minds will we be able to maintain this advantage in know-how and actually bring technology to the market. That is why it’s good that the Dutch chemical industry continues to work collectively towards this goal.”

Multilateral collaboration

Chemistry is everywhere. It’s in our everyday products. At the same time, society confronts some daunting challenges for which the chemical industry can provide solutions. Since May 2016, the R&D departments of AkzoNobel, BASF, Nouryon and Shell have been working in an open-innovation approach with the universities of Eindhoven, Groningen and Utrecht. Together, they are searching for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, prevent waste streams and develop efficient chemical processes and new materials, such as coatings and catalysts. They have been doing this with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate, the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and scientists from other academic institutions, such as the University of Amsterdam, the technical universities of Delft and Twente, and Wageningen University & Research. In size and impact, ARC CBBC can compete with major international initiatives on sustainability and circularity. The long-term goal is to lay a new foundation for the Dutch manufacturing industry of the future.

Prof. Bert Weckhuysen said: “With the consortium’s establishment, we laid a solid foundation for the next five years. Several bilateral and multilateral research programs are now at full strength, with more to come. In a broad set-up with room for more parties, we work together on the future of chemistry. The results so far are impressive. They include not only great scientific publications but also breakthrough technology for cleaner processes and new materials based on waste streams. In collaboration with our industrial and academic partners, the three ARC CBBC laboratories in Utrecht, Groningen and Eindhoven have now been equipped with unique expertise, for example, in the field of catalysis. We have also attracted top scientific talents, who will build their own complementary research groups at the heart of sustainable and circular chemistry. By giving them every opportunity and providing them with the necessary resources, they become innovators and intermediaries, laying a new foundation for chemistry. This cross-fertilization creates innovative ideas that allow us to reinvent chemistry, as it were.”

Young talented researchers

More than 80 positions have been filled within ARC CBBC for talented young researchers who are affiliated with 10 Dutch universities. It is ARC CBBC’s ambition to expand the number of research positions to 150 in the coming years. This new generation of scientific talent shares a common vision on sustainability and wants to develop the chemistry for the future. The central aim of their work is to provide the chemical industry with new and improved chemical building blocks for clean and circular products that we can use in our daily lives.

For example, Mirjam de Graaf, PhD candidate at the Utrecht University, says: “I want to develop ingredients for air-purifying paint, using light as the energy source to initiate the chemical reaction.” According to Morteza Hadian, PhD candidate at Eindhoven University of Technology, great progress has been made in using methane as a raw material without emitting CO2. “My ARC CBBC colleague in Utrecht is looking for the perfect catalyst. Here, in Eindhoven we see how its interaction with methane can be improved. In the beginning, it was just a theory. But it really works!” Hugo den Besten, PhD candidate at the University of Groningen, shows how researchers aim high: “Finding the building blocks to make a durable coating is not enough. We want it to be just as good or even better than the currently available coatings.”

Prof. Ben Feringa said: “We have more than a century of experience with a chemistry from which we learned how to come up with products, such as fuels, plastics and medicines. The challenge now is how to make all those products of our modern society more energy-efficient and how to manufacture them using green electricity. Other preconditions should be that the materials be recyclable and that they can be endowed with ‘smart’ functionalities. Imagine how nice it would be, for example, if the windshield of your car could clean itself thanks to a smart coating!”

For more information about the work of the researchers, see the ARC CBBC media platform “Chemistry from the lab to the people“. Here, the researchers will share their ambitions for sustainability over the coming years through vlogs, articles, blogs, videos and podcasts.

Dutch version:

Note for editors

If you have additional questions or would like to interview one of the ARC CBBC scientists or PhD candidates, please contact Caroline Ubachs via: or +31(0)6 17106606.

The ARC CBBC office can be reached via