“Wouldn't it be nice if we had to explain to our grandchildren what garbage is?”. Ardi Dortmans is director of science at Circular Economy & Environment. Both inside and outside TNO he links research to what society needs. In this way, the research field is always moving.
"All nine focus areas of TNO have their own director of science. For the Circular Economy & Environment (CEE) unit that’s me. Inside and outside TNO I set out the direction for our work, always in consultation with colleagues, of course. What research are we going to initiate, who are we going to work with? From TNO I link the research to what is important in the outside world and help ensure that we have the very best researchers in house. There are about 150 in total, about 110 researchers in the CEE unit and 40 in other units."
Material technology and scarcity
"The circular economy and the environment are very relevant themes today. In the eighties, when I joined TNO as a recently graduated biomechanical engineer, this was hardly the case. My interest in sustainability has grown over the years. I became increasingly fascinated by the concept of scarcity. The availability of raw materials is finite. In the world of materials technology there was a growing awareness that we had to deal with this more consciously.
Around 2016, the circular economy came on the agenda for me. We can only achieve it if it is based on a good revenue model, if the concept is backed by society and if the government wants to give it solid backing. That gives us buttons to push. If we want to be fully circular by 2050, there is still plenty to be done: The Netherlands is now about 25% circular. I sometimes say to my children: imagine that you are my age. Then maybe you have grandchildren. Wouldn't it be nice if you had to explain to them what garbage is? The fact that TNO is making a contribution to this is an important motivation for me."
Fully circular economy
"At TNO we are working on applications to achieve a fully circular economy by 2050. For example, we are developing technologies that will enable us to produce new high-grade plastics from discarded plastics. For a healthy environment we are building models and sensors with which we can gather reliable information about the quality of the living environment and the origin of harmful substances. Only with reliable information can you develop policies to combat nitrogen, CO2, particulate matter and microplastic problems."
National Science Agenda
"I also enjoy working outside TNO in my area of expertise. I find it important to initiate something in the outside world from time to time. This, in turn, gives rise to ideas that are interesting for TNO to take up. I have been coordinator of the NWA Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency route since 2016.
If you get the chance to organise the Netherlands, why not grab it? It provides a good network and recognition, you give something back to the research field and you always get something in return. If everyone does that, then a research field will remain in motion. I'm also trying to get my younger colleagues at TNO enthusiastic about this. This way TNO will always continue to innovate."