Panos Kouris, who started at TU Eindhoven and has been based at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus with his start-up Vertoro since last year, has won the Marc Cornelissen Brightlands Award 2021. His advanced plans to extract lignin from wood waste as a fuel for ships and as a raw material for plastics were best appreciated by the expert jury. Dysmus Kisulu of Solar Freeze and Werner Schouten of The Young Climate Movement were the two other finalists.
Theo Bovens, the Queen’s Commissioner for Limburg, awarded the biennial prize, a work of art and a cash sum of €35,000, during a meeting on the campus in Geleen on Wednesday afternoon.
This year, 25 candidates from the Netherlands and abroad applied for the third edition of the contest. The professional jury ultimately chose three finalists. “All three are winners, although only one can win the prize” said jury chairman Emmo Meijer. “We are impressed by the diversity of the entries. Great ideas and plans from all over the world. This award is important in the transition to a more sustainable world and in the fight against climate change.”
Vertoro (“the Green Gold”) is all about lignin. In a pilot plant on the Brightlands Chemelot Campus, wood residues, agricultural products, and paper waste are used as raw materials for extracting lignin. It can serve as a replacement for polluting diesel in ship engines and as a raw material for naphtha crackers instead of fossil oil. “The maritime sector is responsible for a significant portion of CO2 emissions,” says Kouris. “So if we replace diesel with lignin, those emissions will drop significantly and we won’t have to pump up oil anymore. I am very happy with the prize. With the money, we can bring science even closer to society.”
The jury also had high praise for the two other nominees: Solar Freeeze‘s Dysmus Kisulu and Werner Schouten of the Young Climate Movement. With Solar Freeze, the Kenyan Kisulu wants to bring affordable, communal cooling systems for farmers onto the market that allow users to store their fruit and vegetables for a longer period. The mobile refrigerators run on solar panels; farmers can rent the refrigerator by the hour at a low cost. The Young Climate Movement carries the sustainable voice of young people and connects this voice through, among other things, the drafting of a climate agenda and transition plans and campaigns with politicians, policymakers, and the business community. It is important, according to the jury, that the voice of the young generation is heard. And reason enough to offer the organization a workplace on campus.
Tribute to Marc
The award is a tribute to polar explorer and sustainability pioneer Marc Cornelissen, who died in 2015 during a polar expedition. A year after his death, a foundation chaired by former minister Maria van der Hoeven took the initiative for the award, which was first presented to Martine Bouman that year. The objective is to encourage sustainability pioneers in areas such as circularity, nutrition, digitalization, and health. The amount of money must be spent on the further development of the rewarded innovation. In 2018, medical entomologist Bart Knols won the award for his role in fighting the malaria mosquito.