70 students work on raw materials of the future
Making plastic and paint without petroleum does not happen by itself. That requires a lot of scientific research. Three Dutch universities have been working together with major companies such as AkzoNobel, BASF and Shell in the Advanced Research Centre Chemical Building Blocks Consortium (ARC CBBC) on the energy, raw materials and materials transition since 2016.

Part of ARC CBBC's research focuses on converting CO2 to usable materials: Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU). In an interview with Change Inc. PhD student Sofie Ferwerda of Utrecht University talks about her research together with BASF on the use of captured CO2 as a building block for chemistry.

Moving away from petroleum 

That CO2 is not currently being utilised by companies. Together with methane, Ferwerda turns it into highly-reactive synthesis gas, a mixture of CO and hydrogen. This can then be used as an alternative to carbon from oil in making plastic. "In this way, we can make sustainable plastic from other raw materials. For a company like BASF, this makes it attractive to be able to move away from petroleum in the future."

Best catalyst

Ferwerda: "We mainly make and research catalysts here in the lab. These are needed to change chemical processes or make them more efficient. For example, we look at whether you can use cheaper or less harmful substances. We want to understand those materials better and study how they actually work in a chemical reaction. The aim is always to find the best catalyst."

High eyes

Scientific director Bert Weckhuysen, professor of catalysis, energy and sustainability at Utrecht University, agrees that CO2 is perfectly usable as a raw material for chemistry. This can be captured from industry or waste incinerators, but in the future it can also be captured directly from the atmosphere (Direct Air Capture). "In Utrecht, we are investigating CO2-catalysis to make carbon compounds together with hydrogen, methane and other elements," says Weckhuysen: "You can make plastic from that, for example. We are casting a high light in the world with this."


The Advanced Research Centre Chemical Building Blocks Consortium is the national research centre for circular and sustainable chemistry in the Netherlands. Within the ARC CBBC researchers from the universities of Groningen, Utrecht and Eindhoven work together with research institutes such as AMOLF and DIFFER, industry representatives and the government to green the chemical industry. Research themes are energy transition, feedstock transition and material transition.

Read the full article from Change Inc.