Jacques van Rooij

From stepless transmission to energy transition

It started in 1976.

Because in that year Jacques finished mechanical engineering at TU/e. He graduated with Professor Alexandre Horowitz; a striking man who also devised products for Philips, among others. The well-known Philishave, for example, is an idea that originated in his brain. When Jacques was able to graduate, Professor Horowitz was 70 years old. And at that age, he had to have permission from the student in question to play a part in that graduation. But Jacques insisted, so that permission became a formality.

Continuously variable transmission
Jacques went to work at the Center for Construction and Mechanization. He developed an interest in transmissions that would become the foundation for his career. His specific interest was in the continuously variable transmission. For the uninitiated: a standard transmission works with gears and requires an active contribution from the driver. A continuously variable transmission works – as the name suggests – continuously. Without gears. Without stairs. Without driver intervention. Jacques: “So that is much more comfortable. You see them more and more, especially in Japanese cars. It is a rather international product. Conceived in the Netherlands, made in Japan, and widely used in the US. They are now also made in Tilburg. At Bosch, formerly Van Doorne Transmissions.
And now: new developments
The times of the transmissions are now behind him. Jacques recently retired and decided to focus on new developments; projects and inventions that improve the world. Literally in this case. Because with his contribution to the University Fund, he supports Mohammadreza Baigmohammadi, a postdoctoral researcher in the Power&Flow group, led by Professor Phillip de Goey. This group focuses on innovations in 'combustion'. And more specifically: on metal fuels; metal powder particles as fuel. A project with enormous potential, but also its specific challenges because metal, and especially its ignition, is difficult to control.
Jacques tells how he got involved in this project. “I got in touch with Ms. Karen Ali, the chair of the fund. She introduced me to Philip de Goey. I thought it was a very interesting and especially hopeful project. That's why I decided to support it." With Jacques's contribution, Mohammadreza can contribute to the project for 2 years. In addition, Jacques Mohammadreza advises on his projects. Jacques explains: “He is working on something new. A new development. I don't understand his field, but I do know about developing new things. The systems for arriving at new insights and developments that I learned during my Mechanical Engineering study also work here. That was a broad study, which may have little or no similarity with the Metal Fuels project, but the scientific methods are the same. Moreover, I now have a lot of practical experience. And that is also useful in complex projects like this one.”
Large scale
Jacques hopes that his contribution will speed up the road to a sustainable, circular economy. And this project, he believes, can play a crucial role in this, especially because the fuel itself is not lost and can be used again and again: “I am also interested in this project because you can mainly use these metal fuels on a large scale. For example in power plants. I really hope that with this we can get rid of those polluting coal-fired power stations and achieve really drastic CO2 savings. Without hiding in the ground, as the established industry proposes.”
Jacques hopes that we will quickly solve the CO2 problem: “If that doesn't happen, the climate will undergo an undesirable change. But I believe we can. We need a few ingredients for a recipe against climate change. And of these, capital and creativity are the most important.”
“You don't hold back creativity. And that's a good thing." According to Jacques. “We need creatives. And luckily they will always be there. Just look at the auto industry. There was also very little movement. And then Elon Musk came and shook this conservative sector to its foundations.” He also sees such a creative spirit in Philip de Goey. Someone who can not only invent it but also sell it. He has now done just that; to Bavaria. According to Jacques, these are qualities that you also need as a scientist: “You have to move forward and outwardly, even if this breaks with the standard image that people have of scientists. It's what I always did.”

Jacques is also a teacher to help future generations to develop their competences and skills. In the Innovation Space, teams of students try to realize projects themselves. One of those teams – Team Solid – laid the foundation for the Metal Fuels project. Another team started the Lightyear project. “I am now also supervising two projects.” He thinks this Innovation Space is an excellent way to prepare students for the future: “They have to work together, do a lot themselves and then call in the expert if they think it is necessary or useful. Jacques: “If they ask me, I come and I give them advice. For example, about applying for patents and protecting intellectual property. I know a lot about that, so it's great that I can put my knowledge at their service."
Electric to the South Pole
Another team is developing a car. And not just any one. “They are working on a car that will drive to the South Pole on solar energy. That's pretty brave. Especially since they don't know anything about cars. Then on the one hand you have the advantage of a fresh look and not being bound by conventions. And on the other hand, you have the disadvantage of a lack of knowledge. Fortunately, I can help them with that.” Jacques likes that they have this Pipi Longstocking mentality: “If you say in advance 'it's difficult and it doesn't work', you will never get one step further. So just go do it. There's a lot to be said for doing something right if you don't understand it."
Prosperity and wealth
Jacques has a clear opinion about where the money for projects should come from: “We grew up here in prosperity and wealth. Then you can hoard it, but you can also give it back to society. That is not an obligation, but it would be nice if more people would do that to the best of their ability.” He also finds this important because the government is increasingly withdrawing from scientific projects and companies are mainly looking for quick returns. Jacques: “You have to have sold a project 10 times before you can do it once. Then you will never come to anything new. Companies express everything in profits and risks instead of thinking in opportunities and believing in possibilities.”

Fortunately, there are funds such as the TU/e ​​fund, says Jacques: “Because that way you create the space for new developments. Like the project around the Metal Fuels. This would never have happened without the fund. And it's so incredibly important that we keep developing new things.”
Everything is possible

His advice to the next generations is therefore “Assume that everything is possible. There are probably things that are really impossible because of physics, but for the rest: think about it and just try it and be optimistic!”