Professor Rothenberg is involved in many projects and companies, not the least of which is the plant-based materials company Plantics. As an entrepreneur, he is working to make the world a better place; as a researcher, he uses his unique knowledge and experience in sustainable chemistry to solve problems for industrial and energy businesses, among others.
Could you give us a general overview of your work?
We’ve been working a lot on sustainable processes, sustainable materials, and in the last few years more on sustainable energy. Working on the energy transition, we have projects on electrolysis and the storage and release of hydrogen. We do this also with industry. Biomass conversion is another strong theme in the group. We seek simple solutions that work in real life. Several of our projects are collaborations with companies. Some are big, some are small, some start-ups. If we invent something useful, we consider starting our own spin-off company. I work with many copmanies, but limit it to one company in one field, to avoid conflicts of interest. And we work with companies that take us seriously, that are willing to share information.
We are happy to connect you
You work with a lot of different partners. How do those collaborations come about?
People come to you because you offer them something they need. Companies come because we actually solve problems for them. In a project with Rhodia-Solvay, we helped the company find a new hydrocyanantion catalyst. On another project with Tata Steel we developed a catalytic process for breaking down the cyanide that’s generated during steel manufacturing. Another project I did with the waste water company: they had a problem with used toilet paper clogging the drains. You know what the best thing is about used toilet paper? Nobody wants it. It has a negative price, it costs minus seventy Euros per ton. Now, it turns out the energy company is across the road from the waste water company. You can take the used toilet paper that clogs the drains at the water company and sell it to the energy company. If you work on things that affects the lives of lots of people – then after a few years people come to you.
“If you work on the important stuff – the stuff that affects the lives of lots of people – then after a few years people come to you
What would you say is the most consequential work you’ve done here?
The chair you’re sitting on. That invention that made this chair possible is worth a phone call from Stockholm. They haven’t called yet, though.
Are you referring to your work developing plant-based, sustainable plastic with Plantics?
Yes, this is definitely our most important invention. Plantics is still small, but growing. We employ almost fifty people, and we have two factories and are building two more. Plantics products have a negative CO2 footprint, so we are really making the world a better place. (He reaches behind his desk and holds up a plastic plant pot. He cracks it in his hand before handing it to me.)
This is the DOPA plant pot, made by Plantics. You crack it, you put it in the ground, and as the plant grows the pot decomposes into plant food. This plant pot is 100% biobased and compstable.
Since we’re on the topic of finding the right partners: is the availability of good people also what makes Amsterdam Science Park’s research ecosystem so special?
There’s a number of things. There’s good transportation; there are of course lots of smart people; it’s close to a good airport and close to a nice city. You say to people: come here. And they come to us. As I said in your ‘Boundless Minds movie’: science is all about the people. You benefit from good facilities, and so you can attract good people.
“We look for relatively simple solutions that work in real life
How do you see the further potential of the Amsterdam Science Park’s ecosystem?
Amsterdam is an amazing brand. It can compete with London and Paris, places ten times its size. And there’s enough money in Amsterdam. The NWO institute ARCNL is a nice example of what is possible here. Half the money comes from ASML, the other half is from the UvA and NWO and other partners. That’s a good model. Half of the funding from external partners, half from here – and it is large enough! The starting investment was forty million Euros. All it takes is people who are willing to get things done.
Amsterdam Science Park offers endless opportunities for co-creation, bringing business together with talent, researchers and startups. Contact the Science and Business team to help you find a good match and become part of the park’s dynamic environment.
Looking for partners to collaborate. Or looking for a certain expertise? Or would you like to locate your business in the Amsterdam Science Park? Drop us a line and we help you to find a perfect match.
Find out the possibilities Amsterdam Science Park has to offer for your business