René Kleijn appointed Professor of Resilient resource supply
The energy transition ranks high on the European policy agenda, but what does it take to get there? René Kleijn researches how we can extract, use and reuse raw materials in a responsible way. Since 1 March, he has been appointed professor of Resilient resource supply.
To get rid of fossil fuels, we need to switch to renewable energy sources. And for that, we need all kinds of critical raw materials. We use them, in the magnets for wind turbines for instance, or in the batteries of electric cars and the solar cells of solar panels. René Kleijn's research focuses on the supply of raw materials we need for this transition. 'That starts by looking at how we extract them, and whether that is done in a responsible way. But also which countries we get the materials from and how dependent we are on those countries.'
Currently, we are largely dependent on China for most of our critical metals. 'We need to become a lot more self-sufficient in Europe when it comes to raw materials. That does not mean that we should extract everything in Europe alone, but that we should also make deals with other reliable countries.' In addition, circularity is a big topic in his research. 'How can we better reuse the raw materials we already have in circulation? That way we don't have to keep extracting new materials from the earth.'
An increasing focus on resource supply
In the past few years, the availability of raw materials has become an increasingly 'hot topic', Kleijn said. 'When I talked about the materials for an energy transition in 2010, people almost started to laugh,' he said earlier in an interview. Currently, raw materials policy ranks high on the European policy agenda and the research field is expanding rapidly. 'We are becoming increasingly aware that there are challenges in terms of raw material supply,' says Scientific Director of the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML) Martina Vijver.
Kleijn is a major contributor in raising awareness about the topic. One of the ways he does this, is through frequent media appearances. Next to that, he also plays a crucial role in positioning the CML in the field of Industrial Ecology, circular economy and resource efficiency, said Vijver. 'Under René's leadership, the MSc Industrial Ecology programme has become the world's largest in its field. As Scientific Director, I am therefore immensely proud of René for now being a full professor. This appointment is absolutely deserved.'
The first chair in the Netherlands
Kleijn is the first professor of this kind. 'The subject keeps growing, so it makes sense that they also link a chair to it,' Kleijn says. 'This chair is not only new within the CML, but it is the first one in the whole of the Netherlands. Therefore, it is quite unique and also very exciting that I have been assigned to it. The moment I realised this was actually going to happen, I was extremely happy. It's the icing on the cake.'
René hopes that policymakers will listen more to science in the future. 'Perhaps this chair can help to raise awareness around critical materials. You see that at the moment there is still little clarity in policy about what we need for the energy transition. We should already be thinking about the amount of raw materials we need for the next generation of wind turbines, solar cells and electric cars. Perhaps my professorship can contribute to more awareness, but maybe also help me to get more policymakers to listen.'
Text: Inge van Dijck
Photo: Barbra Verbij