Dirk is 22 years old, team captain of Team CORE and ambitious. Not primarily to make a great career, but in his quest to overcome even the toughest hurdles on the way to a sustainable world. And that ambition is expressed in the project. As captain of a team that really includes all disciplines of the TU/e, he has a special goal: processing and upcycling waste that can now be recycled poorly or not at all. And the much more effective and efficient recycling of the precious metals we find in our electronics. Part of his funding comes from the donation of Hans Fischer, whom we interviewed before. This donation is specifically aimed at the part of the project that deals with 'difficult waste'. And that's what this interview is about.
“There are several substances that we simply cannot process properly at the moment. For example, if you burn fire-retardant plastic at 'normal' temperatures, there is still a lot left. Fly ash is also such a residue, just like residues from pyrolysis that are difficult to break down further. (Pyrolysis is a process in which carbonaceous material is heated very strongly without adding oxygen, which changes its composition. The production of charcoal is one such example. Closer to home: the automatic cleaning mode of electric ovens, where dirt is heated to breaks down.) We want to use these substances to heat an oven. Then you need a lot of heat in the beginning, but after that, you can 'co-fire' fairly easily, as you do with the coal in a steam train."
Where a normal oven reaches about 900 degrees, Dirk wants the mercury to rise a few hundred degrees further. Up to 1450 degrees to be exact. “Because then even fire-resistant plastic, which is in our telephones, for example, will give up. The process is now largely circular. Anyone who has ever seen plastic burn knows that it is harmful to the environment. So the question is, what happens to emissions? “We wash them and collect them,” says Dirk, “And the best thing about this project is the residual material that comes out of it. We can use this to make garden tiles and pots, for example. It's rock hard and sturdy. This is real upcycling of all kinds of difficult materials.”
It is not yet 100% circular. “And it will also take a while before that happens. But we already wanted to do something. Because doing nothing and waiting until it is suddenly completely circular is not an option. In that case, we would rather be largely circular and continue to develop.”
Dirk is pragmatic. And he looks ahead. “We are now aiming for a factory in 2024. If it is up and running and we can interest and retain companies, we will use the profits from that factory to perfect our system. In this way, we eventually arrive at a fully circular system. If you want to do this, you have to do it right. Think big, on an industrial level. Because we can only really make a difference if we reach that scale.” The first steps towards a prototype oven have now been taken. In Dirk's words, it looks like a 'large, upturned flower pot'. The heat that is released is used again to melt and recycle the precious metals. Thanks to Hans Fischer's donation, the oven will soon be a reality. But Hans and the fund are not the only sponsors. Prorail also contributes, because the fabrics from the oven are also very suitable for making split between and under railway rails. Dirk expects that many branches can handle the products from their ovens. Because that way they can also contribute to a cleaner planet. “And so the circle is complete. They clean raw materials, we profit, we continue to innovate and in this way, we become circular together. Because we don't want to greenwash; want real progress. And we have to make great strides in doing so. An example: the fact that Shell now has to comply with stricter rules has more impact than the positive contribution of all vegans to the environment.”
Dirk has been taught business thinking at an early age. His father is an entrepreneur and now also the COO of CORE, the company that will make the concepts of Team CORE a reality and commercially exploit it. He does not want a C-level role yet. “I'm still too young to fill that in properly. For that, I have to make some more meters first. And I first want to learn a lot from people like Hans Fischer.” He is pleased that these opportunities are being offered at TU/e. “A lot is possible in this region and at TU/e. As a student, if I have a good idea and I substantiate it, I can knock on a teacher's door with it and the ball starts rolling. That's great isn't it?" Dirk thinks it is great that donors like Hans Fischer continue where others take their pension and sit back. “How beautiful it is that after such a successful career, in which you have achieved so much, you still say 'I'm not there yet. I want to mean even more.”?”.
This region = innovation
Like many others, Dirk sees the Eindhoven region as the epicenter of innovation. “We are the province that shows black growth figures even in difficult times. We empower young people to shape the future. Because here we are geared to investing 'from the bottom up'; helping and empowering the new generation. You don't see that anywhere. And you can hardly underestimate how clever that is. Because then you have to dare to plan 30 years in advance. Because after so many years it has become a habit. 30 years! And then you also see the Brabant slant at Brainport; that working together, giving each other something. In many initiatives, you see that the creator wants to make a profit. Here you want the other to earn something from it too. Because you feel and know that you will move forward together. I don't see that anywhere else in the Netherlands.”
All disciplines of the TU/e. And a few more.
The composition is just as special as the ambitions and drive of Team CORE. Literally, all TU/e disciplines are united in it. Moreover, it has been supplemented with people from Fontys and Avans and a number of external experts. According to Dirk, these different backgrounds and approaches make the project so successful. According to him, you cannot have too many different insights with a project of this complexity: “Young people, old people, university graduates, HBO graduates, and external experts work on this project here. You can do that here at TU/e. That space is here. And it is good for your development as a professional and scientist. Because we are very good at creating specialisms, but you won't get very far as a soloist. Collaboration yields so much more. And certainly, if all those disciplines work together and inspire each other. The best things happen outside your comfort zone.
Minister of Innovation
A conversation with Dirk goes in all directions in a beautiful way. His ministry is also discussed. Because the TU/e asked him to take a seat in the student cabinet. And that arose from his work in the Innovation Space. Does he have ambitions to play a leading role in politics in the future? Dirk “There are only a few positions that I would aspire to. All in positions where you can call the shots. I am more of a director than a specialist. I have to hang above matter. And just like the CEO role we talked about earlier; I'm still too young to properly fill such a role. Moreover, it is also immediately political. Every day you get up to do your job and you must always prepare for resistance. And I'm willing to defend myself, but if it takes more time than my work, I thank you."
So Dirk will remain here in Brabant for the time being. If only because after a week outside the provincial borders he already misses the sausage rolls. And moreover: “I want to gain many more new impressions, speak to people, do interviews, change my mind and more. I still want to learn a lot. And I can do that here.”